Jamaica diasporans hijack PM’s message

Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller.
Associated Press / Evan Agostini

Jamaicans who attended a Manhattan gathering billed as a community forum with Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller were witnesses to a disrupted address from the leader by disgruntled diasporan residents intent on reversing the buggery laws now in place on the Caribbean island.

The mostly partisan group that waited more than an hour to hear the leader; cheered her entry into the east-side located St. George’s Episcopalian Church and welcomed her to New York City despite forecasted rainy conditions and a raging inferno that wreaked havoc just blocks from the venue.

Many seemed shocked by the disruption.

Some watched helplessly as protesting diasporans launched a verbal assault on their island leader — to the ire of JA PM.

She was visibly riled as protesters to the country’s buggery laws shouted down her optimistic message praising Diasporans for contribution to the island.

Initially, emphasizing braggadocio about Jamaicans being great and “little but tallawah,’ she infused the names of Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and Nanny saying how great Jamaicans have been.

She said when President Barrack Obama visits Jamaica on April 9 “she is likely to raise the issue of a pardon for the nation’s first national hero, Marcus Garvey.” That statement drew loud applause and approval.

The leader also won cheers when she humorously mentioned the might of immigrants, saying their tradition of sending “something back in suitcases, barrels and remittances” was a source of pride.

“We are proud of you,” she said.

It was then that a voice shouted “Liar! Liar!”

Echoing the jeering accusation, more boisterous voices added to the disruption that interrupted her appraisal of diasporan residents.

The diplomat seemed to morph into a force of tyranny assailing her assailants who were determined to disrupt her keynote presentation.

She responded to their cat-calls with anger challenging repudiation of her record on gay rights.

The prime minister said she recognized the demonstrators because they had previously attempted to derail her visit to the United Nations one day earlier when she attended the unveiling of the “Ark of Return” monument honoring victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Seemingly committed to a sense of purpose, the dissenters publicly rebuked the prime minister for neglecting to enforce her majority in Parliament to reform the 1864 colonial law which prohibits same-sex marriage and other public display of homosexual conduct.

In response, she said along with her government she had always respected the rights of all citizens including those who identify themselves to be lesbians and homosexuals.

A name-calling episode followed and seemed to send the leader into a tailspin which ultimately forced a halt to the community forum promised by an invitation to all Jamaicans extended from the island’s consulate.

Some individuals fired back seemingly supportive comments of the PM although derogatory to the group — many of which seemed inappropriate to the religious house of worship.

Eventually, the dissenting group carrying a Jamaican flag was escorted from the church.

The abrupt end to the meeting sacrificed any hope for a question and answer segment or even a more detailed presentation from the leader.

The principal reason PM Simpson-Miller attended the forum was to endorse a launch of the sixth biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference slated for Montego Bay.

Slated for June 13 to 18, the aim of the unifying event is to provide a forum for exchange of dialogue between Jamaicans residing throughout the world.

With a greater number of Jamaicans residing outside the island, the theme, “linking for growth and prosperity’ seemed elusive to gay rights advocates who faced off with the leader.

Prior to the heckling rant, the PM discarded a prepared speech that explained the aim of the conference.

During an earlier launch on Feb. 20 in Kingston, she stated that the conference would address issues related to healthcare, education and implementation of a charter for long-term returning residents.

At that time she said: “we are refining the mechanisms to strengthen the relationship between the Jamaican Community overseas and the government communities and people (here) in Jamaica.”

She also said then: “we are conducting a mapping survey of our nationals overseas in an effort to locate and tap this reservoir of skills for Jamaica’s long term development.”

“As we launch the Jamaica Diaspora 2015, I am pleased to learn that a feature of the conference this year will again be the Day of Service.”

“On the designated day, members of the diaspora will carry out their projects all across the country, and not just in western Jamaica.”

But what must have been an easy explanation in the capital city of Jamaica was a difficult task here.

As if taken from a latter-day soap opera aired on the national radio station titled “Portia faces life” a media observer dubbed the foreign visit “Portia faces strife.”

Luckily for the visiting head of state — except for her own personal media entourage — there were no major press crews to capture the unfortunate interchange between nationals.

“I am very disappointed with the behavior of the prime minister,” Duane Coombs said.

“Although I don’t endorse the bad behavior displayed by the demonstrators inside a church, I would have hoped the PM would have used her elevated status to show better judgment and decorum.”

“I hope her performance will not go viral and further harm the country’s reputation.”

Since then Jamaica Anti-Homophobia Stand (JAHS) issued a statement saying: “The silence of Prime Minister Simpson-Miller in the face of such horrific persecution of LGBT Jamaicans is inexcusable. I hope that the St. George’s community speaks out against her complicity in these massive human rights violations.”

Jason Latty-Travis, president of the Caribbean Alliance for Equality added: “The prime minister has too often escaped scrutiny for her record of failure around protecting all Jamaicans, including LGBT folks. Jamaicans need her to speak out against the atrocities and then implement a plan to address the crisis.”

“We will continue to raise our voices in support of our LGBT brothers and sisters still in Jamaica,” Dwayne Brown, founder of JAHS said. “It is the Christian thing to do and the right thing to do.”

Prior to the showdown, presentations from Diasporan conference participants – Vivion Scully, Jampro; Harry Bhoorasingh, Jamaica National; Consular General Herman G. Lamont, Ambassador Sheryl Saunders, Director Diaspora Affairs Joan Pinnock; Minister of Foreign Affairs A.J. Nicholson and Lisa Ann Ogilvie, conference project manager presented an overview of plans for the event.

Ogilvie gave a concise and detailed preview of the logistics of the global forum citing symposiums, exposition, and workshops scheduled for the biennial meeting of diasporans from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“It will not be a talk-shop, we will formulate an action plan which will be implemented.”

Ogilvie asked that potential participants log onto www.jamaicandiaspora.gov.jm.

More from Around NYC