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Thursday 09 October 2008


Hate Songs: Homophobia in Jamaica

Posted in: Features
By Craig Young - 17th April 2008

jamaica.jpg
When it comes to LGBT equality, Jamaica is an oil slick in the pristine Carribean. Toxic homophobia even pervades its popular culture, particularly within the reggae offshoot labelled 'murder music.'

It is no accident, then, that Jamaica hasn't decriminalised male homosexuality, and retains its colonial-era Offences Against the Person Act 1870, 'updated' in 1969. However, Section 76 labels gay male sex as 'buggery', with a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment. Section 77 criminalises even the intent to have gay sex, with no sex actually having taken place, and carries a seven year penalty, while Section 79 refers to 'gross indecency,' which pertains to enabling gay men to have sex.

The current People's National PM Bruce Golding has claimed that 'foreign' concepts of lesbian and gay rights have no place in socially conservative Jamaica, while the Opposition Jamaican Labour Party has only addressed the issue once in 2004, when a former Justice Minister advocated decriminalisation of homosexuality and sex work.

There is a small but heroic LGBT rights movement. In 1974, the Gay Freedom Movement came into existence, providing outreach to LGBT prisoners and youth, as well as running an HIV/AIDS and STI prevention service. After its founder sought asylum in the United States due to Jamaica's increasing homophobia, JFLAG replaced it, and carries on its work. It isn't easy. In 2004-2005, two HIV/AIDS activists, Brian Williamson and Lenford "Steve" Harvey, were murdered. Altogether, JFLAG estimates there have been thirty homophobic murders in Jamaica (c1997-2004).

In Britain, gay human rights activist Peter Tatchell and gay journalist Johann Hari drew attention to the existence of virulent incitements to homophobic violence and murder through use of firearms in the work of several anti-gay reggae dancehall artists. Tatchell became involved in a campaign against such 'murder music.' Offending artists included Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Vybzz Kartel, Elephant Man, Siizzla, Capleton, TOK, Anthony B and Shanna Ranks. After an effective boycott took place in the United Kingdom, there was an agreement not to record any such further homophobic hate songs, although newer artists aren't covered.

However, Canada has indicated that it is determined to enforce criminal law when it comes to homophobic hate speech, especially incitement to homophobic hate crime, in its own context. In 2005, the European Parliament also condemned these hate songs. One Maori rap singer attributed revulsion against the content of murder music to decreased reggae popularity amongst Maori and Pacific Islanders in Aotearoa, offending those with takatapui, whakawahine and fa'afafine whanau and aiga members, or friends.


Craig Young - 17th April 2008