Homophobia in Jamaica and “Murder Music”
“Gays are killed in Jamaica!”
To illustrate how conditions really are for LGBT people in Jamaica, I have urged people to watch a YouTube video that features the photo above. While looking at the above photo, you listen to a very homophobic, “kill LGBT,” song.
Awhile ago, the video was removed from YouTube. You can now hear the same very homophobic song without the photo at http://bit.ly/HRNgiE)
There is a terrific article out about homophobia in Jamaica and “Murder Music,” music that calls for LGBT people to be killed. The article is in the December 2010 issue of the online Guernica Magazine. It is by Ilan Greenberg, the title is “Murder Music” and you can read it at http://bit.ly/gjX4Iu
Jamaica’s dancehall music is being blamed for the country’s violent attacks on gays. But there are many who don’t see the music as homophobic, only the battle cry of a changing nation.
Dancehall is a beat-heavy, lyrically-dense, energetic, and synthesizer-driven music that has much in common with American hip-hop. It evolved in the early nineteen nineties out of the classic reggae of Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff—the often feel-good, reefer-party music championing the Rastafarian visions of social justice and pan-African celebration, which had powered Jamaica to worldwide recognition in the nineteen seventies and had catapulted Jamaican musicians into the far reaches of global iconography.
Surging in popularity worldwide, dancehall acts routinely fill venues like Madison Square Garden. The biggest dancehall performers sell out their U.S. concert dates within minutes. In Japan some forty thousand fans roar to the beat of dancehall acts in a sold-out stadium concert staged every September. Dance moves pioneered by dancehall fans frequently turn up in the videos of American hip hop stars.
But dancehall is hugely controversial—inside and outside Jamaica. Detractors echo many of the same complaints voiced against American hip-hop, including that the music promotes misogyny and violence. But the brief against dancehall far exceeds criticism inveighed against any other genre of popular music. Dancehall is a crucible for Jamaica’s irreconcilable notions of class and masculinity and identity. Most of all, dancehall is accused of fomenting vicious anti-gay violence.
But in no arena is dancehall—and Jamaican society overall—more troubled than in grappling with sexual orientation. Blaring on most street corners and from car radios, dancehall’s virulent homophobia, a curdled hatred for homosexuals explicitly and pervasively articulated in the music’s lyrics and deeply entrenched in dancehall culture, foments a quotidian reign of terror against Jamaican gay people. Jamaican gays call it murder music.
In a country where gay people are routine targets for violence, where the homes of suspected gay people are burned down at night and lesbians frequently confront the threat of rape, where police habitually refuse to intervene in crimes against gay victims and where men do not sit next to each other on a public bus in fear they will accidentally brush up against another man and consequently expose themselves to violent attack, dancehall implacably channels the country’s anti-gay animus.
As much as dancehall’s professional promoters strain to sideline the issue and Jamaica’s boosters look to avoid the topic, dancehall’s homophobia has become nearly unavoidable—one Jamaican compared it to the way the issue of race metastasized everywhere in the Jim Crow South. Walking a busy Jamaican street one afternoon, I listened for patois anti-gay epithets; I heard it tumbling out of a majority of conversations at a frequency that seemed entirely implausible if I had not already been told by Jamaicans of the country’s gay fixation.
At dancehall events, like Kingston’s all-night street dance parties, a deadly hostility toward homosexuality co-mingles with an obvious gay aesthetic. The question is why.
“You go to Passa Passa”—an all-night dance party held every Wednesday in one of Kingston’s roughest neighborhoods—“and you see men dancing in pink pastels, dancing as effeminately as they possibly can,” said Donna P. Hope, a professor of reggae studies at the University of the West Indies, tapping her nails against her desk. “These guys are supposed to be gangsters. What is going on here?”
In Jamaica, some want to increase the penalty for “the abominable act of buggery” (Act 76, sex between consenting adult males) from 10 years at hard labour to life imprisonment:
A member of Jamaica’s parliament recently drafted a proposal to change the current sentence for breaking Jamaica’s “gross indecency” law, which generally applies to any gay sexual conduct public or private, from a 10-year prison sentence to life. In May, 2008, in an interview on the BBC program Hard Talk, Jamaica’s newly elected prime minister, Bruce Golding, declared that he would exclude homosexuals from his cabinet. “Jamaicans require a very clear anti-homosexual statement or most Jamaicans will actually think the prime minister himself is gay, as absurd as this sounds,” said Deann Fontaine, a Jamaican film maker.
Some Jamaicans see gays just about everywhere:
Rampant homophobia cohabitates with the pervasive belief that some extravagantly large percentage of the island population is, in fact, gay. In dozens of interviews with both gay and straight Jamaicans, I was repeatedly assured that at least half the men in Jamaica are gay.
Isn’t this fascinating? There is much more in the full article.
It is really worth reading the full article, Guernica Magazine, December 2010, “Murder Music” http://bit.ly/gjX4Iu
Also see “Gays live – and die – in fear in Jamaica” 07/25/09 http://bit.ly/eavV5i
What the heck? Check out “Come to Jamaica and Feel Harassed” 02/23/06 http://bit.ly/fvM0WJ
If you’re tired of looking at the photograph of the “gays are killed in Jamaica” banner, but want to keep reading about homophobia in Jamaica and the Caribbean take a look at these articles:
“28 LGBT Jamaicans granted asylum in U.S. in 2010” http://bit.ly/g84GcQ
Amnesty International USA “‘Battybwoys affi dead:’ Action against homophobia in Jamaica” http://bit.ly/lfBJm4
Hour.ca “What happened to ‘One Love’?” http://bit.ly/cHUwYv
Human Rights Watch “All Jamaicans Are Threatened by a Culture of Homophobia” http://bit.ly/cmYPES
The Atlantic “How AIDS Became a Caribbean Crisis” http://bit.ly/cOSZTH
UK Independent “Jamaica: A grim place to be gay” http://bit.ly/dhHA8y
“BIGGEST BATTYBWOY KILLING ANTHEMS OF ALL TIME” http://bit.ly/d11aQ4
YouTube video: “HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean: A deadly cycle of stigma and secrecy (part 2 of 5)” http://bit.ly/mIHIDN
This is a powerful video from one of the founders of J-Flag about what life is like for LGBT people in Jamaica: “Thomas Glave – Oslo Freedom Forum 2011” http://bit.ly/siiLfs
“21 Years of Musical Mayhem – ‘Boom Bye Bye’ – 1992 to 2013” http://bit.ly/18GUWn8
May 2012: “Taboo Yardies” a new film documentary about homophobia in Jamaica. See article http://nydn.us/J9Sgq9