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Thursday 15 November 2018
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Jason Jones: Altar boy to fighter

EVER SINCE he was a little boy there was one thing Jason Jones could do well: sing. At the age of 12, he became an altar boy at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church where he would also act as the featured soloist, sometimes singing as his grandmother Ivy Telfer played the church organ.

“I was the entire choir,” Jones says during an interview last week with Sunday Newsday. Not only would he sing at St Patrick’s, but his services were often required at as many as three churches on a given Sunday. While attending Newton Boys RC and, later, Fatima College, the young tenor would regularly compete at the Music Festival, filling Queen’s Hall with his voice. But if Jones was a born singer, he was also a born fighter.

Last month, at the height of the Carnival season, the 53-year-old Trinidadian filed a lawsuit challenging two provisions of the State’s criminal law. A team of about half-a-dozen lawyers have crafted a legal action which asks the court to strike down two sections of the Sexual Offences Act – which criminalise buggery and “serious indecency” – as violations of his fundamental rights as a gay man.

“I wanted to draw a parallel between Carnival and gay rights because Carnival is about resistance,” Jones says.

Reaction was swift.

“Go to hell,” said one Facebook commentator.

And even amid the gay Carnival reverie, persons found the time to issue death threats, Jones reports. But he is undaunted. He has continued a number of public engagements, including one where he was invited to address a group of students. In one instance, he says, a child who was being constantly harassed by homophobic bullies decided to stand up for herself after hearing him speak.

“Death threats aside when you learn about situations like that child’s it changes things,” he says, tears welling up.

“It’s so overwhelming to realize how terrible discrimination is.

It’s so bad a 13-yearold girl can be on the verge of committing suicide. A simple thing like talking can change things. Today, when I walk the streets, people are saying thank you.” Jones was born in Cascade at Nicole’s Nursing Home (now defunct). His mother was a high-flying British journalist, Monica Jones, and father Mervyn Telfer, the first face seen by newly- Independent Trinidad and Tobago when Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT ) came on air in 1962. As a result, Jason grew up around figures Chalkdust, Stalin, Sparrow and more. However, after falling into singing and the stage, he left Trinidad to live in London in 1985. He sought a better quality of life as a gay man and a chance to further his career as a singer. His mother later married Rex Lassalle, a former lieutenant in the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment who, together with Raffique Shah led a mutiny by the Regiment on April 21, 1970.

“Rex was a father figure in my teenage years so it’s no surprise I should be doing this,” Jason remarks.

But his fighting spirit may have an even earlier antecedent. Jason, who was already strikingly tall during his teenage years, recalls how he was targeted by a browbeater on the very first day of school at Fatima College.

“I was targeted constantly,” he says. “It was either fight or die.

I didn’t have a choice.

I’ve always been a fighter. I don’t shy away from a fight at all. On the first day, this really short student pushed me. I fought back, especially since he was so much shorter than me. We had a huge fight. But I was taller and more experienced because I would often fight with my brother.

I gave as good as I got.

After that he stayed away, as did the entire school.” But Jason would still avoid situations in which he would be vulnerable to attack.

“I would never do things like sport or be anywhere where I would be alone,” he recalls. “I actually had a near breakdown doing the affidavit. There were a lot of memories that came back. I realize I don’t want another generation of students going through that.” In 1992 the activist came back to Trinidad for Carnival. Then decided to stay to be closer to his family. He’s been dividing his time between both London and Trinidad since (he holds duel citizenship).

Often the difference between the worlds he navigates is painful.

“Sometimes, I can’t walk down the street here without somebody shouting buller,” he says. But what today many hold as self-evident wasn’t so clear to the younger Jason.

“My parents outed me,” he says. “One day they sat me down and had a talk with me because there was so much homophobic bullying happening to me and I didn’t even know what a bullerman was. They sat me down and explained what it meant. They didn’t avoid the pink elephant in the room.” And this is what we need more of, he argues.

“Today, LGBT youth are killing themselves because of awful hatred that is sanctioned by society, by some religions, and by the signals sent in the law,” he says. “It is vile.” But though he has been bolstered by many expressions of support and encouragement, every now and again, Jason remembers what it was like to be a child singing on a stage, getting those first pangs of stage fright.

“The absolute terror is at the end of the performance,” he says of his solos. “I could always get started but at the end of it I just turned into a wreck.” But stage fright or no, his plans to sing on.

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