Andrea, Jamaica, and the Refusal to Answer Questions

Lester Feder – Photo Politicos

Today I contacted Lester Feder, the journalist who wrote the BuzzFeed story about Andrea Minichiello Williams. Lester writes on LGBT stories for BuzzFeed and so it appears he flew over to Jamaica to be at the conference where Andrea spoke. As soon as I learnt this I corrected my original piece.

I contacted him to try and get some context for the quotes of Andrea from the Conference. In my piece below I expressed concern, as others have done elsewhere, on the way that Andrea was reported as having equated homosexuality to paedophilia. I asked Lester a few simple questions to help flesh out the details.

i) Did Andrea or anybody else at any time condemn anti-gay violence in Jamaica?
ii) Was there any expansion on the alleged link between homosexuality and paedophilia given? Was the context of Andrea’s reported statement anything to do with specific examples in Jamaica?
iii) Were any of the speeches provided on paper?

The purpose of these questions was to get to the bottom of what Feder reported and to help all of us clarify what Andrea did or didn’t say. The response was surprising. After some rather aggressive emails Lester then said the following.

My reporting speaks for itself. Your post is riddled with errors — I have no axe to grind, I focus on international LGBT issues for BuzzFeed; accuracy is a top priority; and I was indeed at the conference. I encourage you to speak with others who were there if you have more questions about what took place.

What errors I wrote aren’t clear and Feder certainly didn’t deign to tell me. But more than that issue, stop and think for a moment. A number of people have suggested that the refusal of Andrea to deny the statements attributed to her is an admittance of guilt. Possibly true, but if we hold to that line of thinking, the refusal of Feder to answer simple questions that would help to strengthen a case against Andrea Minichiello Williams is itself a cause for concern.

  1. If Andrea and her fellow speakers never condemned anti-gay violence in Jamaica, how hard would it be to simply confirm this? Might it actually be that that is one of the things they did do and the reporting of such condemnations damages the view that the conference was all about demeaning gay people?
  2. If Andrea didn’t expand on the link between homosexuality and paedophilia that it is reported she made, how hard would it be to simply confirm this? Might it actually be that some good evidence was presented to support this assertion (I doubt such evidence exists but I would love to see it if it does) but it is inconvenient to report it?
  3. If the speeches weren’t provided as hard copies, how hard would it be to simply confirm this? Might it actually be that transcripts were available and that reading them would give us a better context of the claims made?

The whole point of my writing this blog post is simply this; if we demand transparency from our significant Christian spokespeople like Andrea, we also demand transparency from the journalists who report on them and not the kind of aggressive defensiveness I experienced today.

When I woke up this morning and wrote my first piece on this issue I was lined up with those who were demanding answers from Andrea. Less than 12 hours later, when the one journalist reporting the allegedly controversial event won’t answer even basic questions about what went on, I want to suggest that we all need to reflect as to whether we can really rely on anything in this whole affair.

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  • James Byron

    I expect “Your post is riddled with errors — I have no axe to grind” refers to the part of your original post that reads “take one look at his feed of stories and you very quickly realise that he is only interested in one kind of foreign stories. This should set our alarm bells ringing.” Even if you weren’t implying anything untoward by “this should set our alarm bells ringing,” it’s easy to read it that way.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      He says he is a foreign correspondent but actually he *only* does LGBT foreign stories. Before moving to BuzzFeed he spent a year advocating for same-sex marriage. I think it’s fair to point that out.

      • James Byron

        Yes, that’s fine, but you said, “In summary, we have one report from a man who obviously has an axe to grind. Then, based on this one uncorroborated report some people have jumped to a number of conclusions as to what Andrea Minichiello Williams intended by her speech (of which we only have snippets). It’s not good enough I’m afraid.”

        It’s easy to take that as an accusation of, at best, inaccuracy, and at worst, deception. I’m not saying that’s what you meant, not at all, but I can see why it’d get a reporter’s back up. It could easily be taken as questioning their professional integrity.

        • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

          I’m not questioning his integrity, I’m suggesting he approaches the story from a particular angle and we have no corroborating accounts so we must advance with caution. The fact he refused to answer simple questions just compounds that caution.

          • James Byron

            Fair enough to say that we all have an angle, but phrases like “axe to grind,” questioning if Williams said what she was reported to have said, and calls for corroboration would make any journalist bristle.

            If you’ll excuse an unsolicited suggestion, I’d email Feder back, assure him that his intergrity wasn’t be called into question, ask if he wanted anything said to that effect, and take it from there. I of course accept that it’s not my call. Just what I’d do.

            • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

              I never questioned his integrity, I asked him to flesh out his account so we could get a better picture of what happened.

              • James Byron

                As I said, I accept that, just noting how it could appear from his perspective.

        • Sigfridii

          Is Feder a journalist or a blogger with an agenda? It certainly looks like the latter (and BuzzFeed is hardly serious journalism).

          • James Byron

            Serious enough for the Indy, the London Evening Standard, and the Daily Mail to pick up on it.

            Along with a great many others, I await Mrs Williams’ comment.

            • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

              Daily Mail? Positively mainstream…

              P+

      • Ray Descombes

        Yes it is. And it would also be fair for him, reading your op, to see your questioning as hostile and not engage further.
        As for @A_Minichiello and @cconcern, Andy Walton (@waltonandy) asked for a clarifying statement over a week ago. Surely that silence is more significant.

        • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

          All I’m saying is that if you read meaning into one silence but not the other you should examine your biases.

          I mean, why should Andrea respond to such a hostile article from BuzzFeed? Works both ways.

  • The Church Mouse

    Here’s the Wikipedia (yes, I know) take on gay rights in Jamaica:

    Jamaica has been described by some human rights groups as the most homophobic place on Earth because of the high level of violent crime directed at LGBT people.[1] The United States Department of State said that in 2012, “[h]omophobia was widespread in the country”.[2] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2012 said that “discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression is widespread throughout Jamaica, and … discrimination against those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex … communities is entrenched in Jamaican State institutions. Those who are not heterosexual or cisgender face political and legal stigmatization, police violence, an inability to access the justice system, as well as intimidation, violence, and pressure in their homes and communities.”[3]:page: 95 Human Rights Watch said in 2012 that because of homophobia, “human rights defenders advocating the rights of LGBT people are not safe in Jamaica”.[4]

    The law in Jamaica that Andrea Williams was undoubtedly defending (whatever form of words or context she used) states:

    “Section 76. Unnatural crime. Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery … shall be liable to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for a term not exceeding ten years.

    Section 77. Attempt. Whosoever shall attempt to commit the said abominable crime, or shall be guilty of any assault with intent to commit the same, or of any indecent assault upon any male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof, shall be liable to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding seven years, with or without hard labour.[5]

    Section 79. Outrages on decency. Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the court to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour.[5]”

    I’m very interested to hear what possible valid argument can be made in defense of this dreadful and inhumane law, particularly in the context of shocking levels of discrimination and violence against gay people.

    I’m in total agreement with the need to establish exactly what Andrea actually said, however, any defense of this appalling law seems to Mouse to be shocking.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      For the record I’m under no illusion that Jamaica is not a pleasant place at all to be openly gay.

    • James Byron

      Thanks for that, CM. :)

      S.79 is the Labouchere Amendment — the infamous blackmailers’ charter — carried over word-for-word. A crime that Britain only eliminated in its entirety in 2003.

      However conservative a view a person takes on gay sex, it’s a terrible law, a bad seed that Britain sowed around its empire. The sooner that legacy is gone the better.

    • http://u-church.blogspot.com/ David Shepherd

      While the intent of the law may be construed as homophobic, we might well ask whence these laws were derived.

      Section 76: ‘The definition of “buggery” was not specified in these or any statute, but rather established by judicial precedent. Over the years the courts have defined buggery as including either:
      1) anal intercourse by a man with a man or woman, or;
      2) vaginal intercourse by either a man or a woman with an animal.’(source: Wikipedia)

      So, section 76 derives from UK jurisprudence, but is not directly homophobic, it is anophobic and bestiaphobic. Lesbians are excluded from prosecution under this law.

      Section 77: ‘Whosoever shall attempt to commit the said abominable crime…’ The law targets the attempt by a man to copulate anally with a man or woman, whether by consent or assault.

      Section 79 is directly homophobic. Gross indecency between men was established through UK Law: Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 extended buggery laws to include any public or private form of sexual activity between males. This persisted in Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956.

      It was only amended by the post-Wolfenden Sexual Offences Act 1967 which decriminalised private homosexual acts, while maintaining that any sexual act involving more than two partners, or in a public lavatory would not be treated as private.

      The Sexual Offences Act 2003 decriminalised group homosexual acts. So, the appalling Jamaican law was simply disengaged from the post-Wolfenden engine of UK legislative developments.

      Indecency is an offence against public morals. It holds that there can be no offence when the public has lost its morals.

  • James Byron

    The Church Mouse’s twitter feed has just linked a report from the Jamaican Gleaner. It doesn’t corroborate everything, but it does corroborate details of the conference, and has some fresh quotes from Williams.

  • James Byron

    Thanks for the radio link.

    In it, Williams defends Section 28, a law grossly homophobic in both its language — “A local authority shall not promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” — and its effect. Where the Labouchere Amendment was the blackmailer’s charter, Section 28 was the bully’s charter, creating a climate of fear in which teachers were afraid even to mention homosexuality, calling open season on homophobic abuse within schools. Who knows how many lesbian and gay youth were driven to suicide by that law.

    Williams defends Section 28, defends it in love.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Actually, we had a teacher in my sixth form who famously ran a one hour PSHE session where he basically said “I am now going to give you a list of all the things that by law I am not allowed to tell you. I am not allowed to tell you that the GUI Clinic is on XY road and is open between hours of A and B. I am not allowed to tell you the number of the gay helpline is etc. … Since I am not allowed to tell you those things, don’t ask me. Does anybody want to clarify with me anything that I am not allowed to tell you?”

      Class act.

      • James Byron

        Sure was. Would that more followed that example!

  • http://u-church.blogspot.com/ David Shepherd

    I just love all this CA talk about Mrs. Williams’ silence. So rich coming from their leader who refused to distance himself from pressure groups that openly declare their desire to change the whole construction of marriage. Consider this quote from Colin Coward’s transcript of the BBC Radio 4 interview (From http://changingattitude.org.uk/archives/3558.):

    Chris Sugden: Well, I want to hear you then say that there is a difference and you denounce those who in these pressure groups are saying they’re wanting to change the whole construction of marriage.

    Edward Stourton: Okay, you’ve got 30 seconds to say what you want to say, Colin Coward, because sadly we’re coming to end of our time.

    Colin Coward: I am not going to denounce anybody. I am simply going to repeat that society has accepted equality for lesbian and gay people. It is the church, a minority in the Church, who are opposing it, and that minority has to repent of its own homophobia and change.’

    Even he refuses to distance himself, denounce and condemn the more extreme pressure groups that want to change the whole construction of marriage when he thinks it will alienate his treasured allies.

    Hypocrisy first class!

    • James Byron

      How’s that equivalent to Williams’ silence?

      • http://u-church.blogspot.com/ David Shepherd

        The hypocrisy lies in the persistent CA demand for Mrs. Williams to end speculation with a clear statement of her stance (‘how hard would it be to simply confirm this’), while refusing to end speculation about their own position in respect of pressure groups whose stated purpose is to undermine marriage.

        Their respective silences are no more equivalent than St. Paul’s comparison of Gentile idolatry with Jewish temple sacrilege in Romans 2. To be hypocritical, they don’t have to be.

        • James Byron

          You’re not comparing like with like. Coward was asked to denounce a description so vague it could mean anything, and refused; Williams has been asked to explain direct quotes. She’s not been asked to denounce anything: just to explain what on earth occurred in Jamaica.

          • http://u-church.blogspot.com/ David Shepherd

            What part of ‘no more equivalent than’ do you not understand, but be my guest and plough on regardless.

            A simple qualified denuciation on Colin Coward’s part would have sufficed: ‘We abhor any attempts on the part of pressure groups to want to change the whole contruction of marriage’. The hypocrisy is in insinuating a charge of concealment against silence in one case and not against their own tacit connivance.

            The difference in reasons for ending one’s silence (whether to clairfy a direct quote or one’s stance on groups who undermine marriage) does not mitigate their own hypocrisy.

            • James Byron

              Yeah, clocked that, and like I said, consider the two examples to be so distant that they merit no comparison. Saying that actions in one incident contradict the response to another requires some point of comparison.

              Once more, we’re distracted from the real issue: are the reported comments acceptable?

              • http://u-church.blogspot.com/ David Shepherd

                Situations can be comparable without being equivalent. Both involve silence in the face of a moral challenge. They are therefore comparable.

                Their reasons for silence differ and are therefore not equivalent. But then I never said they were.

                Let’s move on.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Shall we mention that their website *still* hosts the Clergy Consultation document, co-authored by a man who in his autobiography admits to being serially unfaithful to his partner, which tries to give a theological justification for, to all intents and purposes, a quick shag?

      No, let’s not mention that.

      • James Byron

        Is that equivalent to Williams’ silence?

        • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

          I’m not claiming it is.

          • James Byron

            Fair enough, but in that case, why raise it?

            • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

              It stands on its own merit.

  • Pingback: » Christian Concern’s Jamaica Anti-Gay Controversy Grows Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion

  • Guest

    There should be no place in the world in which it is “pleasant” to be “openly gay.” Jamaica’s penalty for sodomy is just, as was OT Israel’s.

    • http://u-church.blogspot.com/ David Shepherd

      WAS IT JUDGEMENT OR THE DESIRE TO RESTORE THAT PROMPTED CHRIST TO SET ASIDE THE PUNISHMENT OF THE LAW FOR THIS WOMAN?

      ‘When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.’

      When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

      Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

      “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

      Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

      “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. (Luke 7:36 – 43)

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