Da Boat, Da Boat… Am I Living on Fantasy Island?

February 14, 2010

Preface: I encourage you to use the links (blue words) within the essay. The articles and documents map the social and political environments in which these events occurred, and this discussion is taking place.

So there I was minding my own business, sitting in my junkanoo shack, pasting ties for Haiti and thinking about the (few) degrees of separation between me and Papa Doc Duvalier when the rainbow phone rang.

One of the members of the nefarious international conspiracy to destroy the Bahamas with the most dangerous of  WMDs, homosexuality, was calling. Excited and flamboyant and hysterical with joy, proclaiming: “the gay cruises are returning, the gay cruises are returning”.

When did they leave? Where did they go? Did they find the Isle of Lesbos?

I checked the Tribune and there was the headline:

Gay Cruise Returns to Nassau

And a Poll:

In 1998, 2004 and again in 2006, cruise ships carrying groups of gay and lesbian passengers were greeted with angry protests when they pulled into the port of Nassau. Another ship is scheduled to visit the Bahamas in April. Do you think Bahamians are now accepting enough of alternate lifestyles to allow this ship to sail in without any problems?

Imagine my disappointment when the Ministry of Tourism stated that they were not going to nor have they ever subsidized or provided the cost of cruise fares for local homosexuals. Then I heard the dreaded CLICK.

I was just about to ask if the government had ever prohibited the arrival of ‘gay cruises’  to the Bahamas. I know that the Ministry of Tourism would never willingly ignore the lucrative market that is ‘Gay Tourism’.

So i did some investigating to figure out what all this talk in the Tribune was about. Here is what i found:

In 1998 the Ministry of Tourism issued a press release including a speech by the Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham regarding the Bahamas’ position on gay tourism, homosexuality and human rights to the people of the Bahamas via national television. The statement begins:

The Commonwealth supports and in no way hinders gay and lesbian travel into or within The Bahamas.

And ends:

The investment of in excess of $30 million by Holland America Lines in the development of its private Port of Call at Half Moon Cay is an example of that private sector investment in our economy. We welcome that investment…and we look forward to an increase in the number of cruise passengers visiting The Bahamas on HAL ships in the years ahead.


I was in Rawson Square in July 2004 when Rosie O’Donnell’s cruise arrived, with a handful of brave, proud, gay straight and transgendered Bahamians welcoming tourists and their families to Nassau, and providing an alternate to the Save the Bahamas Campaign Protest in Rawson Square. Trust me, besides the protesters, securely contained in Rawson Square, Bahamians on Bay Street were going about their daily lives, selling their goods, filing in and out of offices and facilitating the needs of tourists.

Here are the only statements I could find from the government referring to the cruise, or the protests of its arrival.

In this first statement Prime Minister Perry Christie responds to calls for an official position on Homosexuality, Homosexuals in the House of Parliament and Gay Tourism:

There has been no difference, no deviation, no distinction, to be drawn between the governments of The Bahamas when it comes to this.”

Prime Minister Christie’s 2004 Statement

The Ministry of Tourism contributed to the discussion as well.

Ministry of Tourism’s 2004 Statement

“The Bahamas has run an extremely successful campaign in recent years to invite visitors to our country and Bahamians must embrace all those that come to enjoy what we have to offer…

Statement by Minister of Tourism 2004

I attended the College of the Bahamas’ School of Social Sciences’ 2006 sessions on Censorship addressing among other issues, the Plays and Film Control Board’s banning of Brokeback Mountain. The Morality Police were not in attendance and taking names, in fact very few members of the christian community or the Bahamas Christian Council showed up at all. And copies of the film can still be rented or purchased from local distributors.

Here are a few of the articles and academic papers emerging from this national discussion on homosexuality and censorship.

Censorship, Academic Freedom and Legal Regulation: A Bahamian Case Study

Bahama Pundit: On Censorship

Bahama Pundit: Bahamas Bucks Gay Agenda

I was also present in October 2007 at Hard Rock Cafe when Police and Immigration officials raided an Ebony Pyramid Cruise event, with high-powered automatic weapons and video-cameras, some with masks and all with badge numbers hidden from public view.  While some officers were openly mocking the event’s guests and deliberately recording the faces of individuals thought to be local homosexuals, it was also obvious that some officers present did not want to be a part of this ‘regular exercise’ of police procedure.

As a part of the Rainbow Alliance of the Bahamas, I met with Police officials to discuss the Hard Rock Cafe raid and a series of raids on gay establishments in Downtown Nassau that weekend. It seems the raids were instigated by a disgruntled and misinformed former employee of the Hard Rock Cafe, who was told to adhere to a work schedule that included the ‘event’ or face termination, a few ‘rogue’ police officers and unnamed christian leaders. This all taking place days after the Bahamas Christian Council launched campaigns and attacks against Homosexuality, The Rainbow Alliance of the Bahamas and the Local Media.

I feel satisfied that the unfortunate events of the 5th – 7th October 2007 were not instigated by any official Police or Government policy. Ebony Pyramid Entertainment have continued to make the Bahamas one of their cruise destinations. And i am certain that no law has been Gazetted that would contradict the 1998 statement by the government, despite public perception.

So what could the Tribune be talking about? Is this a deliberate attempt to confuse gay people?

The ‘returning gay cruise’  Pride Cruise will in fact be making its inaugural voyage to the Bahamas.

In the poll attached to the article over 75% of the respondents indicated that Bahamians were not sufficiently accepting of alternative lifestyles to allow the gay cruise to visit without protest. What is even more amazing than the headline is the fact that gay cruises have been arriving in the Bahamas since 2007 with no protest. Not a word from the Bahamas Christian Council, not a word from ‘gay tourism’ protesters, nor the media. And even now, almost a week after the article, not one person or organization has initiated any protests.

Was the Tribune just adding a little sensationalism to my day or were they trying to engage a broader and more serious discussion?

A discussion on gay tourism, is essentially a discussion about how  we construct and identify categories of persons  that enter the Bahamas, what they can do while here and who is responsible for this process.

This is a discussion about migration and immigration policy. This is the same discussion that the human rights community is and we as as a nation should all be urging, compelling and demanding our government to engage.

If this is only an attempt to raise readership with eye catching captions, I say: we should not force gay tourism protesters to share in the profits of gay tourism or the gay economy, this is still a democracy, they still have rights.

Let us pretend it is not, let us take it as an opportunity to engage a much needed discussion about migration and immigration. A discussion that should have always been at the forefront of a National Agenda (considering our history as West Indians and former slaves) and has become even  more important in the wake of the un-natural disaster in Haiti on January 12th 2010.

I have to go now. I know, I know, there’s so much more to talk about, but I have a sudden urge to pull out my ‘Plantation to Paradise: Tourism and Culture in the Anglophone Caribbean’ by Dr. Ian Strachan…

To Repatriate or Not to Repatriate

February 10, 2010

Like every Bahamian on the evening of January 12th I found myself asking what can i do? I knew I could find a few dollars to donate to the relief effort, but I wanted to do something more, something more like teaching a man how to fish.

A few days after a good friend came up with a great idea and we started Haitian-Bahamian Solidarity letter Writing Campaign. Angelique Nixon is a Bahamian living and teaching in the USA, she is an artist and an activist and this is the sort of idea that only an artist-activist can conjure or create. So we found three other Bahamian artist-activists Helen Klonaris, Lynn Sweeting and Nicolette Bethel and asked them to help us bring this idea to life.

We asked Bahamian citizens/residents to write the government of the Bahamas requesting support for Haitian migrants and Haitian Bahamians.

The letter urges the government to:
• grant all Haitian migrants living in the Bahamas temporary status;
• grant a period of time of immunity for Haitian refugees seeking asylum in the Bahamas while Haiti rebuilds Port Au Prince;
• address the Haitian-Bahamian community directly with a strong and compassionate statement of government support;
• encourage the development of a long-term relationship of exchange with Haiti, recognizing our mutual need for one another.

It is a good idea because it provides a mechanism for Bahamians to inform their government as to what migration and immigration policy should look like. It is a great idea because you can contribute to the creation of national policy with the click of a button.

Here is a link to the Haitian-Bahamian Solidarity website where you can find a copy of the letter, a contact list for all MPs, the Prime Minister, the Minister responsible for Immigration, the Minister of National Security and a full description of the campaign.

http://bahatiansolidarity.wordpress.com/

You can also find us on Facebook at Haitian-Bahamian Solidarity:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=281205531302&ref=ts

So, to Repatriate or Not to Repatriate.

Not a difficult question, or is it?

I knew that the release of the first 102 Haitian detainees was not negotiated on the basis of compassion. Detaining people for the purpose of repatriation requires a working judicial system to receive and process said detainees. I imagine the government acted under a legal obligation, but i can’t state anything with certainty because the Ministry of National Security never presented the policy or laws that prompted the decision to release the 102 detainees. The Prime Minister just stood up and said there would be no Haitian repatriation exercises for the immediate future, presumably the following six months.

Three weeks have passed and 121 additional Haitian migrants have been detained by Bahamian authorities. Initially 59 migrants were found on New Providence and were charged with Illegal Landing with women and children being held at the Detention Centre and men being incarcerated at Her Majesty’s Prison. We were told by the Prime Minister that they would serve six month sentences and then… well we never got to that. Or have we? Did I miss it in some obscure government press release? On the community announcements on ZNS 1540 AM radio?

On Sunday 62 migrants were detained by Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers in the waters of Exuma. When i say detained what i mean is “not [been] apprehended but [is] in a contained position…”. These Haitian migrants apparently will be repatriated.

Maybe The Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham does not know what repatriate means? Maybe his government adopted the American ‘wet foot-dry foot policy? Maybe his government believes that ‘enunciating decisions’ is the same as creating, establishing and  disseminating  policy? Or maybe this is a contingency plan, the sort of thing you use in case of an emergency?

In any event we are left to guess about what has really prompted these decisions and more importantly what the government’s next move will be.

I am in a state of confusion, as i try to inform myself, to access relevant laws, policies and official statements i realize that I am in a STATE of confusion…

Below are links to articles in the Tribune and the Nassau Guardian discussing the detention and repatriation exercises and the inconsistency in the government’s decisions.

Let your government know your position on Haitian migration and immigration policies. Join the Haitian-Bahamian Solidarity letter writing campaign, send a letter to your MP, join this discussion by leaving a comment and share this blog with your friends and contacts…

peace, clarity, wisdom, blessings


62 Haitian migrants detained

http://www.tribune242.com/searchresults/0202010_Haitianboat_news_pg1

Questions raised over decision to repatriate Haitian migrants found onboard boat

http://www.tribune242.com/news/02092010_alimmigration_news_pg1

78 immigrants to be sent back

http://www.thenassauguardian.com/national_local/357820795380169.php

politics, dirty tricks and pic-up stics…

February 6, 2010

You may not have heard but i held an art exhibition at the HUB community based art gallery recently.  In Jux-Tie-Position i used neckties to symbolize the dominant western culture and junkanoo fringing techniques to symbolize bahamian culture and produced fringed neckties to examine our cultures and the issues that arise in each. One of the pieces in the exhibition is called ‘Coffee Break’, this piece is fringed in a comic strip and the question attached to it is: Will Bahamians develop a culture of professionalism or do we only go to work for the free coffee and newspapers?

I do not think we as a nation as a society are moving towards developing a culture of professionalism, we are also moving away from developing a culture of honesty, integrity and accountability.

A profession among other things has a standard, a set of rules and policies to which all that belong to that profession should and are required to ahere to.

Bahamians are developing a culture of doing what seems best and right at the moment of decision.

Any critique of decision is labeled as victimization or thinly veiled dislike.

This blog like  my art i.e. Jux-Tie-Position and my stand-up routine are art as activism and create spaces for honest constructive critique of what we do and how we do it…

please join the conversation and leave a comment…

oh and check out the article about my exhibition Jux-Tie-Position in the latest issue of NUWOMAN magazine on shelves now…

and check out this review in blackfood.org

http://blackfood.org/store/?p=1209

blessings…

erin greene