Reggae and Homosexuality: Can’t we just get along?

– Casey Gane-McCalla

A Rose by any other name

Boom, Bye Bye in a Batty Boy Head,” I must have heard the song a thousand times, many times turning my hand into a make shift gun and pulling the trigger when the gun sound came on. When the song came out I was a teenager eager to show my masculinity by belittling anything soft or sensitive as gay. Batty Boy became another in a long line of homophobic insults to be hurled at my friends and gay people.

As I grew older and matured, I became more tolerant of homosexuality. I met some cool gay people and began to realize the homosexuality was not something evil or bad, but just a way of life that has existed as long as man. Still, I was also tolerant of homophobia in Reggae. I sang along with TOK as they transformed the Christmas melody, “Do You Hear” into a song about committing arson on a homosexual’s house and burning them. Back then I did not believe that these songs incited violence against gays. For it wasn’t just gays who were getting burned, shot and tortured, but “soundbwoys”, police informants, other Reggae artists and “bad mind” people.

Still while the some of the violent anti-gay lyrics are not necessarily calls for violence at gay people, it is hard to say that they don’t incite hatred and prejudice.

Religious Defense Argument

There have been many defenses and justification for homophobia in Jamaican culture and Reggae music. As with homophobia from many religious institutions many Reggae artists use the bible as a justification of anti-homosexual lyrics.

While there are parts of the Bible that condemn homosexuality, one can also find parts of the Bible that justify slavery “Slaves Obey Thy Earthly Masters.” (Colossians 3:22). There are also parts of the Bible that encourage tolerance for everybody judge not lest thee by judged and by which thee judge let thee be judged” and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7).

The Bible may condemn homosexuality but it also condemns adulterers and fornicators yet you hardly hear or see the hatred and prejudice against men who cheat on their wives (except from the wives). If one were to take certain people’s interpretation of the Bible at its word and homosexuality is a sin. Is it a sin as bad as murder or stealing which affect other people and the whole community?

What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes does not have negative affect on society. If the anger against gays in Jamaica could be redirected to murderers, rapists and thieves surely Jamaica would be a better place.

Much of worldwide homophobia is rooted in Islamic or Judeo – Christian faith. Anti-gay Reggae music is the symptom of homophobia and not the cause. Most laws against gays and condemnation of them come from religious institutions. Yet preachers and Imams who preach against homosexuality are not forced to sign compassion acts to travel to preach abroad.

Colonial Past

Another defense for homophobia in Reggae music and Jamaica is the Buggery Act. In a recent interview on Jamaican television, well-known Reggae artist, Bounty Killer, brought up the Buggery Act, which was instituted by the British. While the British are responsible through their laws and religious institutions for much of the roots of homophobia in Jamaica. England has progressed, Jamaica, a nation of many other problems, has not.

But the laws instituted by the British are not the whole reason for resentment among gays in Jamaica. The British also passed laws against marijuana yet there is hardly the same animosity towards marijuana smokers that there is for homosexuals in Jamaica.

 Developing World Scapegoat

Still while homosexuals or unfairly persecuted in Jamaica and in Reggae music, Jamaicans and Reggae artists are unfairly persecuted for their homophobia. While gay activist groups have made the news through their protests of Reggae artists, Reggae artist’s anti-gay attitudes in some ways it seems that Reggae has been scapegoated for the worldwide problem of homophobia.

Despite its high profile, Jamaica is a small and poor country. Reggae music is one of the few industries that brings money into Jamaica. By banning Reggae acts from performing overseas due to homophobic themes the gay community is effectively putting sanctions on Reggae and Jamaica as a whole. While sanctions can be used to change a country’s laws, they cannot change the views of a society. By forcing Reggae artists to sign to this fact makes them think they are being made to change their beliefs, even if they are wrong.

Other countries that treat homosexuals unjustly hardly seem to get the same treatment as Jamaica. In Saudi Arabia homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment, corporal punishment (flogging) and even death. This is also the case in Iran and Afghanistan, where the U.S. used claims of human rights violations as a factor in justifying their military invasions. Homosexuality is also punishable by imprisonment in Qatar, which is set to hold the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Wouldn’t it be more proactive for gay rights groups to boycott Middle Eastern oil than to boycott the music of a small third world country?

 The way forward

Rather than just condemning the people who direct prejudice against homosexuals, gay rights groups should also support Jamaicans who fight against homophobia. Jamaican gay rights activist Maurice Tomlinson has been extremely brave by standing up for the treatment of gays in Jamaica as has the group J-FLAG.

Also, the progress in Jamaica against homophobia must be noted and receive the same media attention, as the bigotry. Prime Minister Portia Simpson and the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) ran on a campaign of tolerance of homosexuality and the traditionally conservative Jamaica Gleaner recently ran an editorial called “PM Should Decry Homophobic Bigotry”. Commercials encouraging tolerance of homosexuality were shown on Jamaican TV.

In 2001, a white rap artist Eminem had similar issues with his lyrics and was also threatened with boycotts and protests. To calm those protests Eminem performed with Elton John at the Grammy Awards. While Eminem made no apologies and signed no statements claiming he would renounce homophobia, performing with Elton John made it clear that he tolerated and accepted homosexuality and was willing to work with homosexual community.

Perhaps collaborations between performers of the gay and Reggae communities could help ease the tensions. Eminem has since come forward to support gay marriage, as has Grammy winning Reggae artiste Beenie Man, an artist once accused by the gay community of committing “murder music”.

Homophobia will not go away in Jamaica. It is deeply rooted in English colonialism, the Anglican Church and American missionary efforts, who spread their anti-homosexual views through Jamaican churches. Reggae music is one of the few voices for Jamaicans and the Third World, and by boycotting and censuring these artists poor people across the world are losing international spokesmen. Jamaica, is losing one of its few sources of income.

Jamaicans, especially Reggae artists, are a very proud people who do not like being subjected to other people’s rules. The fight against homophobia in Jamaica should not be defined by protesting and banning Reggae artists, but by eliminating the Buggery Law, fighting against religious institutions that promote homophobia, supporting Jamaicans that stand up to homophobia and educating Jamaican people on gay rights and tolerance.

Reggae and Homosexuality: Can’t we just get along?
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