Last edited: January 01, 2005

Jamaican Business Joins Chorus Against Anti-Gay Songs

Inter Press Service News Agency, December 4, 2004
Posted November 30, 2004

By Zadie Neufville

KINGSTON—Jamaica is preparing itself for what many people believe could be economic fallout from the decade-long battle between gay rights groups and the local entertainment industry.

Ten years after the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and British gay rights group Outrage began their campaign against the homophobic lyrics of dancehall stars, the local business community has begun its own “clean-up” of dancehall.

The groups have targeted some of the nation’s top international artists including Beenie Man (Anthony Moses Davis), Buju Banton (Mark Myrie), Bounty Killa (Rodney Price) and TOK (a five-man group), for their homophobic lyrics. The campaign has been successful, causing the cancellation of reggae tours and the removal of dancehall acts from major shows across Europe and the United States.

“We are now realising some of the consequences of our failure to address prejudice and discrimination,” says a spokesman for the Jamaica Federation of Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-Flag), who asked to remain anonymous.

Activists have intensified the campaign against prominent dancehall acts since the murder of local gay-rights campaigner Brian Williamson in June. Graphically violent lyrics promoting the death of gays, dubbed “murder music” is blamed for the killings and violent beatings of homosexuals locally, as well as the beating death of British bar man David Morley in London on Oct. 30.

Outrage says the growing popularity of the music is the reason for a 10-per-cent increase in “gay-bashing” incidents recorded by the London Metropolitan Police in 2003.

Williamson’s murder, JFLAG says, brings to 30 the number of gay men killed on the island since 1997. That year, 16 men were murdered during a prison uprising because other inmates believed they were gay.

Homophobia is deeply ingrained in Jamaican society, taught in church and supported by legislation. Gay sex here is punishable by up to 10 years hard labour in prison under the 140-year old Buggery Act.

Dancehall supporters say the artists are protesting the dark side of the local homosexual community. They point to the growing number of young males having sex with men for economic reasons and the mostly unreported sexual abuse of young street boys.

They call dancehall stars the “scapegoats” in a conspiracy driven by racism and aimed at decriminalising homosexuality, and warn that the local business community could be targeted next by the activist groups.

In an effort to protect “brand Jamaica”, which trade and tourism officials say is the fifth most recognised worldwide for its music and culture, businesses have launched their own efforts to “stop the violence in the music”.

On Oct. 1, the Jamaican subsidiaries of Cable and Wireless, Courts, Digicel, Pepsi Cola, Guinness-owned Red Stripe and local giant Wray and Nephew Limited announced they intend to cut ties with artists who “promote violence of any form” from advertising campaigns.

Just over one week later, Sandals Resort International dropped the word “heterosexual” from its advertising.

In a collective statement the corporate giants said, “We are concerned that the continued use of violent lyrics could ultimately lead to the decline of our music industry as well as a social and economic backlash.”

Tourism is Jamaica’s second largest earner of foreign exchange and is responsible for about one in four jobs in the country.

The companies are some of the biggest sponsors of music events and regularly use stars of dancehall (a form of rhythmic poetry set to music, which pre-dates rap) to endorse their products.

The all-inclusive Sandals Group includes Beeches hotels and is part of the locally owned ATL Group, which counts Air Jamaica and the island’s second daily newspaper, the ‘Jamaica Observer’ among its holdings.

Sandals, which prides itself on exquisite Caribbean weddings and traditionally targets couples and families, says it dropped the word “heterosexual” from its ads in “direct response to emerging commercial and social laws” in some places where it does business.

In a release, the chain said its attempts to do what is “traditionally regarded as niche marketing” are now interpreted as discrimination.

But the JFLAG spokesperson noted the hotel “continues to discriminate against homosexual couples by exclusion on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

“The only change is that they don’t publicly state this in European advertising,” he said.

Many Jamaicans have long called for the “cleaning-up” of dancehall, which has also been chastised for derogatory lyrics about women and for promoting violence towards policemen.

While not supportive of homosexuality, many of these critics believe violence in the music, which often leads to fights between stars and their supporters at major stage shows, contributes to record high murder rates in Jamaica. There have been more than 1,250 murders in this island nation of 2.6 million people in 2004.

Dancehall gay bashing made headlines internationally when Buju Banton (Mark Myrie) released ‘Boom Bye Bye’ in1992. Its lyrics include: “The world is in trouble/ Anytime Buju Banton arrives/ Gays will have to run/ or get a bullet in the head/ Bang, Bang in a gay boy’s head / Home Boy won’t support nasty men, they must die.”

Then, veteran journalist and human rights activist John Maxwell described ‘Boom Bye Bye’, as “dangerous public mischief.” According to him, the song was not only “anti-social and uncivilised, it was also against Jamaican law and (the) constitution.”

Maxwell blames the media’s double standards for the continued prevalence of such lyrics. He accuses the industry of developing “an unholy alliance with the dancehall community” with its extreme homophobia and anti-law sentiments while speculating how to fix the nation’s crime problem and supporting more repression and greater firepower for the police.

“It has taken various homosexual groups to bring this contradiction to the attention of most Jamaicans,” he said recently.

Some hotels, like Club Ambiance in Runaway Bay, Half-Moon Club in Montego Bay and Mocking Bird Hill in Port Antonio have already made themselves “gay-friendly” and are listed on Internet sites such as Planet Out, Ferrari International and Gay Travel.

While not describing itself as gay-friendly, the popular Hedonism Hotels has a policy of “we don’t ask, you don’t tell,” a spokesman told IPS. The chain caters to adults only and has hosted the outrageous but popular U.S. TV programme, the Jerry Springer Show, as well as several nude weddings.

The cancellation of music shows is now hurting promoters and artists, industry insiders say. In September, Outrage successfully lobbied for the removal of Elephant Man and Vybz Kartel (Adidja Palmer), from the list of nominees at the British Music of Black Origin (MOBO) awards. Both had been nominated in the Best Reggae Act category.

Bounty Killer’s planned performance at the Krakrock Festival in Avelgem, Belgium in September was cancelled. In August, Beenie Man was dropped from a MTV concert, one of many planned as part of the MTV Music Awards.

Health officials have recently blamed homophobia for the growing rate of HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, while gay rights groups accuse authorities of condoning violence against gays.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released Nov. 16, accused Jamaican authorities of fostering “an atmosphere of violence toward men who have sex with men.”

“High level political leaders, including Prime Minister PJ Patterson and Minister of Health John Junor, repeatedly refuse to endorse repeal of discriminatory legislation, ignoring not only international human rights standards but also reports by both the government’s national HIV/AIDS programme and its advisory national AIDS committee,” added HRW.

But in a meeting with journalists in the United Kingdom in November, Minister of Tourism Aloun Assamba said there is no proof of “systematic” violence against Jamaican gays.

“The government does not condone violence against any group or any individuals,” added Assamba.

While government has no immediate plans to change the laws, organisers of Sting, the largest reggae show in the Caribbean, announced Nov. 17 they would not pay artists who used violent lyrics at this year’s show.

“We are going to ensure that they (artists) follow the law and we have included it in their contracts,” said Spokesman Howard McIntosh during a media briefing.

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