In the Diaspora (this is one of a series of fortnightly columns from Guya-nese in the diaspora and others with an interest in issues related to Guyana and the Caribbean)

It must appear easy for me to be writing from the comfort of my Canadian apartment, to express my concern on the homophobic environment present in the Caribbean region. I mean, I live in a country that publicly prides itself on the equality and justice of its citizens. I would however, like to make it resoundingly clear to my Caribbean brothers and sisters that as a gay black immigrant from the island of St.Lucia, I too experience issues of hate motivated crime, I too face homophobia in a purportedly progressive and metropolitan city like Toronto.

At the beginning of October, the Stop Murder Music (Canada) coalition along with groups like Egale Canada and Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) sent a clear message that anti-gay dancehall artists like Elephant Man and Sizzla would not be welcomed on Canadian soil unless they publicly denounced their anti-gay lyrics which incite violence and murder against the gay and lesbian community. Both Elephant Man and Sizzla’s Toronto concerts were cancelled, causing public education and outcry around the homophobic environment present in the Caribbean. The campaign against homophobia continues in Canada as well, and black gay and lesbian voices are coming forward to provide a face to homophobia within the black community.

This past weekend I was disheartened to know that Buju Banton’s performance at the 1st Annual Guyana Music Festival continued despite public outrage. In his music, Buju Banton has openly advocated, encouraged and glorified the violence against and murder of gays and lesbians. He has remained unrepentant and unapologetic of his “murder music”. Buju Banton’s song “Boom Bye Bye” incites the execution-style killing of gays and lesbians by shooting them in the head, pouring acid over them or setting them alight and burning them like car tyres. On another front, this past Saturday the People’s National Movement endorsed Sizzla to perform at the Beyond Youth Rally in Trinidad and Tobago. To add insult to injury Sizzla was met earlier last week with open arms at Piarco International Airport by no less than the Minister of Tourism, Mr. Chin Lee. Sizzla has also remained unapologetic and unrepentant of his lyrics of violence and murder against the gay and lesbian communities.

You may wonder what’s the problem with such Caribbean artists? Haven’t both artists signed the Reggae Compassionate Act (RCA) to renounce homophobic hatred and halt the production of “murder music”? I think we need to be clear here. Both artists continue to earn royalties from the sale of their “murderous” lyrics and both artists continue to perform these tracks whilst on tour for the 2006-2007 period. Both artists, upon their return to Jamaica, denied ever signing any deal or apologizing to gay activists. Anti-gay lyrics in dancehall fuel the already homophobic flames in the Caribbean and as we are seeing in Jamaica verbal assaults easily translate into physical and sexual violence. In 2007, over 100 gays and lesbians have been attacked in 43 separate mob attacks in Jamaica, seven gay men have been brutally murdered, whilst four lesbians have been raped. Across the Caribbean, many gay and lesbians citizens experience daily tribulations of violence, stigma, discrimination and fear. While the governments in the region need to address this immediately, they have all remained silent on the issue. High level political parties like the Jamaica Labor Party and the People’s National Party in 2001 both fostered an atmosphere of violence toward men who have sex with men by adopting popular songs and dance that glorified the kicking and stomping of gay men. The People’s National Movement in Trinidad and Tobago has now received the endorsement of Sizzla, whose lyrics glamorize and promote violence to his audience, our next generation. What sort of messages are our governments and private sponsors sending to our youth? It is important that we, as Caribbean citizens, start to question our homophobic laws and culture. We cannot as a people stand by whilst governments continue to discriminate and abuse the rights of people because of their sexual orientation. It’s only a matter of time before the international community starts to question the Caribbean and its human rights abuses. The Caribbean cannot afford to ignore such social abuses, whilst reaping the rewards of tourism dollars.

I would like to end by saying that we also have the issue of HIV/AIDS to be concerned about when we allow artists such as Buju Banton, Elephant Man, Sizzla, T.O.K., Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Vybz Kartel and Capleton financial success in the Caribbean. In 2002, Sizzla boasted to his audience that he has personally murdered homosexuals: “I kill sodomites and queers, they bring AIDS and disease upon people…shoot and kill them”. He has never apologized for his comments, which continue to perpetuate the stereotypes that promote homophobia and discrimination in the Caribbean. This not only encourages anti-gay/lesbian violence, but also directly hampers the fight against HIV/AIDS in the region. Deep-rooted homophobia in Caribbean culture translates into the belief that HIV is a “gay disease” and acts as a major barrier to addressing HIV within the Caribbean. HIV infection in the Caribbean is primarily heterosexual and second only to sub-Saharan Africa. We cannot afford to lose this fight! We need to discuss the pink elephant in the room, before it grows out of control. We should also address the concerted efforts playing out in political, social and legal circles to further entrench buggery laws in the region. This sort of entrenchment will only further exacerbate the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region. It is high time that elected officials start making tough decisions to promote political and civil rights, to help foster a sense of equal belonging that does not exclude us as non-citizens because of our sexuality. We cannot approach human rights like a buffet, where we pick and choose curry goat instead of curry chicken! Gay rights are human rights, and we should protect the rights and freedoms of all, gay or otherwise.

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