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Thursday 10 November 2016

Homophobia, reggae and speaking out

Posted in: Music
By Sarah Murphy - 18th February 2016

Diana King shot to fame in the 1990s with the hit single ‘Shy Guy’ and it wasn’t long until she had fans worldwide hooked on her next hit, ‘I Say a Little Prayer’.

Coming to Auckland for roots and reggae festival, Raggamuffin, this will be Diana’s first visit to our shores. A late addition to the lineup, the songstress is replacing her Jamaican contemporary Beenie Man, who was taken off the bill after he refused to answer questions about his homophobic past.

In 2012 Diana became the first ever Jamaican artist to publicly come out, taking to Facebook to announce to her fans and to the world, what had been rumoured for a number of years.

Speaking of coming out Diana says; “I wish I had done it earlier. When I finally did, I thought - oh!, it was a feeling of relief.

“I have kids, two kids, so I was worried about them and my son he actually gave me the extra boost of courage.”

She says it was important to talk to her then 17 year old son about her sexuality; “We’d never spoken about it. He made me feel really comfortable, he said I love you no matter what, you’re my mum, you’ll always be my mum and I love you to bits.”

Worried about him being bullied for something out of his control she says; “I spoke to him about my frustrations, relating to him and his life, I didn’t tell him what I was going to do, because I wasn’t sure but Facebook is the biggest social media for us now, the most fans, so that was the best way for me.

“I’ve been very reclusive in my career, I don't really like to talk so that was the way I did it and I was free.”

Receiving a lot of support from her fan base, the feedback she received on Facebook was about 95 per cent positive, “The other 5 per cent are unfortunately always Jamaicans,” she says.

“I actually expected it to be much worse, but it wasn’t.”

A country rife with homophobia - a nod to its history as a British colony -homosexuality is illegal in Jamaica, LGBTI people face up to 10 years imprisonment.

Intolerance and violence against LGBTI people is extensive, as a society, being anything other than straight is unacceptable.

“I think we’re taught that, you know we’re taught that from the bible, very religious,” says Diana. “My friend and I were talking about how ironic it is that it was the English who introduced Christianity in many places like India, who have just started to repeal their LGBT laws back to oppression and we still hold on to it in these countries and England has let go.

“We still hold on to it. They are very poor countries, Jamaica, you know we are always dressed the best, the best hairstyles, the best clothes but it’s a very poor country and when you have poverty, you’re going to have that need of another group of people to look down upon.”

Diana now resides in the United States and holds US citizenship, with the current situation in Jamaica she says she isn’t thinking of moving back anytime soon. “The LGBT community is getting more and more visible and vocal, last year we had our first pride and I didn’t think that would happen in my lifetime.” She says the pride event is taking place again this year and she hopes to be able to attend and support the community.

Explaining the context Diana says; “It’s a weird type of homophobia.”

“When you speak to people one on one they don’t care really, it doesn’t bug them, but when they knock heads, it’s a weird thing, it just turns ugly, it’s very fascinating, to say the least. Even friends will turn on you, if in that moment, someone says something negative, they have to go to that side.”

“The most oppressed are gay men, especially if they are flamboyant. You could just be walking down the street and someone just shout something and a crowd would just come from anywhere. That same person, the gay person, will have friends just like these, who they hang out with everyday who have no problem with them, but in that moment, if there is an outside anger, from someone else, they join them. It’s the weirdest thing.”

“It’s a really hard way to live,” she says.

“When you’ve travelled and experienced a certain level of freedom, it’s really hard to go back to feeling like you have to hide and in Jamaica you cannot be out, you can be but you have know know you might get hurt.”

Diana hasn’t performed in Jamaica for four years and when she returns to her homeland she says she’s very covert. “I don’t just go there for vacations, because I’m paranoid, I’m not going to lie, I’m paranoid.

“I don’t want to be anywhere where I’m constantly looking over my shoulder. So I don’t go, my family stills there and it’s really sad because I feel that way. They know me, they know my face, I cannot hide. I don’t want to be constantly travelling around with bodyguards and living in fear. my family come to visit me, i don't go, I don’t go like when I used to go back and forth, I only go when I’m working.”

The music industry in Jamaica isn’t exempt from homophobia, in fact far from it, Beenie Man is just one example of the prevalence of homophobia, violence against the LGBTI community is encouraged in the lyrics of a number of high profile Jamaican artists.

“It’s always there. Personally I have no had any Jamaican artist approach me in any negative way, but that’s the hypocrisy that I was talking about,” says Diana.

“I don’t know, when the topic of LGBT people comes up it’s like there’s a button that is pressed and people just go off and they feel like they need to say negative things, even though they don’t necessarily believe that, you know. I know it’s because that’s what we’re taught, we’re taught that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination and we’re all going to hell and so the artists just happen to vocal with this, they’re artists they do music so they echo what most people say. It seems normal to them and it was normal until they became international so now the world is watching and there’s such loyalty to the Jamaican audience that even if they do not feel like that they don’t say it, they don’t want to say it because of this loyalty to the Jamaican audience that makes no sense to me because that is not how you get paid. You know, how many shows can you do on a small island? You can’t be loyal to ignorance.”

Reggae has a history of with politically conscious lyrics, Bob Marley’s lyrics “stand up for your rights” will forever be cemented in our minds as an indication of the genre’s strength, but is it important for contemporary artist to speak their mind and speak up for what they believe in?

“I think it’s very important and I’m sure that is what some Jamaican artists think they’re doing but I cannot understand,” says Diana. “The first time I went abroad to perform and when I did my first album and it was a success it taught me a lot, I don’t understand what their experiences were but when I looked out at the audience it was all types of people, every colour, every race, religion and it made me realise that these are the people who are my fans and so I have a responsibility with my words.

“I think that’s very important but it should be inclusive and respectful, you cannot be hateful with your lyrics as an artist, whether you’re a singer or a writer, with your art because those are the things that have no language to everyone and when people experience it, it should be positive or knowledgeable, it should uplift, it shouldn’t be bringing any group of people down or any type of hate.”

Diana’s future plans are testament to her commitment to the LGBTI community and having experienced first hand the prejudices within the music industry, her latest protect is a groundbreaking move. “The one plan I have is to launch [a record label for lesbian women], I have my own label now as an independent artist, it started off just for me because I need to own my intellectual property but then I have a friend whose actually a lesbian artist and I signed her a few years ago and the next thing I know Im dreaming of having a label for lesbian artists.”

“I’m pretty excited with that,” she says. “It started off with just me, now it’s evolving and it seems really nuts, but I think it’s needed, it’s necessary and I’m going to put everything into that, to make it work.

“I came first as a woman, a female artist, and then whatever comes with that, the negativity, the hardship that comes with that and to add to that I’m also a lesbian artist, so I’ve seen how hard it is, just being female in this world, so I think that’s my way to contribute.”

Sarah Murphy - 18th February 2016

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