Thursday, December 9, 2010

BOOM BYE HATE: Homophobia Does Disservice to HIV/AIDS Prevention

In this Part 2 of 2, GET DOWN Blogger Alysia C. continues her series on HIV & The Caribbean by taking a look at homophobia and it’s effect on HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in the Caribbean and Caribbean-American Community.

In order to gain deeper understanding of the "murder music" phenomenon and the perpetuation of fear, stigma and hate, I interviewed "Carlos", a 29 yr old gay Guyanese born man now living in New York City. "Carlos" confirmed that Boom Bye Bye is also one of his favorite songs.

I guess "Carlos" and I, like many others, are so busy enjoying the rhythm and vibe of the music that they just aren’t paying too much attention to the lyrics.

Carlos, who immigrated to the United States from Guyana at the age of 12, confirmed in our interview that though he was just starting to understand what sex was when living in Guyana, he knew of the existence of gay men, known in Guyana as “battyboys” and “anti-men”. “In Guyana, the people are in denial about it (homosexuality). It’s pushed under the rug, not talked about. And when it is known (it’s met) with hostility and hatred.” And there isn’t a wide-ranging network of outreach organizations assisting and educating gay Guyanese men and women. “Gays in Guyana live very isolated lives, here there is more awareness due to the U.S. culture (but among Caribbean-Americans it’s seen as) an outside thing, that it comes from white people and is (the result) of American influence.” As Thomas Glave, a Jamaican professor and writer now living in the States, (and also co-founder of J-FLAG along with Brian Williamson) once said, “The music exacerbates public homophobia. We don’t need this kind of advocacy of violence in Jamaica, which is already very violent.”

So what does this mean for the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean? Though we know there are multiple ways in which to contract HIV (sharing needles, from mother to child via breast milk, vaginal secretions, etc.), it is still a disease strongly associated with homosexuality. As such, the negative and violent attitudes Caribbean culture harbors about gays have tremendously affected the fight against the virus and disease. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals who in engage in risky sexual behavior fail to get tested as much as they should. Previously, I've covered the statistics of reported high rates of new HIV cases among the Caribbean diaspora in this blog. The stigma and discrimination prevent them from accessing vital HIV prevention, treatment and care services. And with the possibility that their homosexuality (or suspicion thereof) may be leaked to the public5 some Caribbean people may not seek HIV/AIDS education, testing or treatment. The harassment they would receive from family, friends, and neighbours keeps them in the dark and leaves them at a higher risk of contracting the virus and/or needlessly suffering from the disease.

Things are a little different when it comes to the Caribbean-American community. Whether born in the West Indies and now living in the States or the child of Caribbean immigrants, Caribbean-Americans and Caribbeans living in the United States often walk a fine line. They juggle the beliefs and traditions of their Caribbean culture with those of American society. Caribbean-American youths may live in a society where homosexuality is more widely accepted but they are also often raised with / exposed to the harsh Caribbean take on homosexuality and HIV/AIDS.

Though Caribbean-Americans may be exposed to these homophobic views, if living in the States, especially here in New York City, they there are few barriers to accessing HIV/AIDS testing, education and treatment information. According to Dr. Monica Sweeney, Asst. Commissioner of the Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control at the NYC Health Department, New York state law recently amended that the public health law, Article 27F. This amendment requires that heath care professionals routinely offer an HIV test to all patients, from 13 years old to 64 years old, in primary care settings, emergency departments and inpatient settings. Patients must also be provided information on HIV/AIDS risk and treatment.

But easy access to HIV/AIDS testing treatment doesn’t equal acceptance or tolerance. Even with our growing acceptance of gays and lesbians, Americans also struggle with negative attitudes and violent treatment of homosexuals. Even among some middle school and high school youth, there exists an unbelievable level of gay bullying. So much so that several teens have committed suicide over the past few months as a result of gay bullying and harrasment. We, as Americans, have come a long way in the fight for gay rights but if there are kids killing themselves because of the treatment they are receiving in school, then we as well have a farther to go.

Both The Caribbean and Caribbean-American communities have a lot of work to do to. We must be willing to talk openly and honestly about our issues. Carlos hit it the nail on the head when he said, “[There must be a] willingness for people to confront their biases and homophobia. (There needs to be a] generational shift. People need to be open to talk about it [homosexuality] and not shun their family.”

If we continue working to erase the stigma associated with homosexuality we will see progress made in HIV/AIDS education, testing and treatment throughout the Caribbean. Grassroots efforts must be made to engage the community in a meaningful dialouge in additon to change in all levels of Caribbean society, politically, financially, socially and emotionally.

Susan Timberlake, a senior advisor on human rights and law with the Geneva-based Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said it best, "…unless we deal with the stigma and discrimination and the punitive legal environments that exist, we will not have an effective response to this HIV epidemic."

My people, what do you think? Why is homophobia so prevalent in the Caribbean? Should the buggery laws be repealed? What do you think is needed for real change to occur? Do you take issue with ‘murder music’? Is there a place for gays and lesbians in Caribbean society?


5 ‘Homophobia, Prejudice and Attitudes toward Gay Men and Lesbians

Alysia Christiani

For more information please visit:

Jamaica Forum For Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays

New York City Dept of Heath and Mental Hygiene

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans And Intersex Association, Latin America & Caribbean

Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender And Queer Jamaica

Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination- Guyana

Murder Inna Dancehall

BOOM BYE HATE: Homophobia Does Disservice to HIV/AIDS Prevention

In this Part 1 of 2, GET DOWN Blogger Alysia C. continues her series on HIV & The Caribbean by taking a look at homophobia and it’s effect on HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in the Caribbean and Caribbean-American Community.

CHORUS (x2): (Its like) Boom bye bye / Inna batty bwoy head / Rude bwoy no promote no nasty man. Dem haffi dead.

VERSE: (Two man) Hitch up on an rub up on / An lay down inna bed / Hug up on another / Anna feel up leg / Send fi di matic an / Di Uzi instead / Shoot dem no come if we shot dem—(GUNSHOT SOUND)

The words above are lyrics to one of my favorite reggae songs. Boom Bye Bye recorded in 1988 then re-released in 1993 by famed dancehall artist Buju Banton. Hearing the song takes me back to my high school days. Red light basement bashments. Summer time BBQs. Folks on the dancefloor doing the bogle and the buttafly. Good times, right?.

Not if you were a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered teen listening to the song. Why? Because Boom Bye Bye is one of the most hate filled, homophobic songs in reggae music. It’s basically a call to kill / inflict bodily harm on all gays and lesbians. For those not versed in Caribbean slang/patois, I've loosely translated the lyrics as:

CHORUS (x2): (Its like) Gunshots / In a gay man’s head / Real men don’t promote that nastiness / They should be killed.

VERSE: (Two men) are hugging and rubbing / then lay down in the bed / Hugging one another. And feeling up their legs / Get the automatic / And the Uzi instead / Shoot them come let’s shoot them—(GUNSHOT SOUND)

At the time the song came out, neither my friends nor I gave a thought to the lyrics. I knew what he was saying but all I cared about were the rhythm and vibe of the music. And after all, it’s just a song. No one took it seriously. Or did they?

The truth of the matter is that many people did take the song and the sentiment behind it seriously. Homophobia runs deep in the Caribbean community From Jamaica to St. Lucia, Guyana to Barbados and beyond, Caribbean culture is embedded with Christian fundamentalist beliefs and hyper-masculine attitudes that fuel the idea that homosexuality is immoral and a sin. And that anyone who strikes out against ‘battyboys & sodomites’ (gays and lesbians, note: the term batty is Caribbean slang for buttocks), verbally, emotionally, and even physically, isn’t doing anything wrong. Indeed, such behavior is often approved, encouraged, and even celebrated.

Approval of such behavior was witnessed by a Human Rights Watch1 researcher when, Brian Williamson, a leading Jamaican gay rights activist and co-founder of J-FLAG, Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays, was murdered in 2004. Shortly after his mutilated body was discovered, a joyous crowd gathered around the crime scene laughing, celebrating and calling out “let’s get them one at a time,” “that’s what you get for sin,” and “let’s kill all of them.” Some even sang lyrics from the Buju Banton song as well.2

Williamsons’ murder is only one of many violent acts committed against gays and lesbians in the Caribbean. Numerous men and women are murdered, beaten, chopped, and burned once they were found out to be or even suspected of being homosexual. And usually the attacker(s) face little or no legal punishment. How is this possible? When homophobia is so deeply entrenched in a society it is hard for a victim of gay bashing to find sympathy or legal recourse for what they’ve been through.

Legally speaking, there are currently 11 countries in the English-speaking Caribbean that still have laws criminalizing sexual and intimate conduct between persons of the same sex. Known as ‘buggery laws’, (buggery is a British term for anal intercourse and beastiality) the Inter-American Commissions for Human Rights named the following countries as still having buggery laws on the books: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. Punishment for breaking these laws is most often imprisonment / hard labor from two to ten years.3

Even in leisure time entertainment, specifically danchall reggae music, homophobic attitudes and beliefs are promoted and celebrated. Hugely popular songs by world famous dancehall artists contain lyrics such as:

Everytime I see a battyboy (gay man) / me gun it haffi (have to) buss (bust/shoot) / all battyboy (gay man) you know dem must bite de dust / because a dem the boys a bring it / the AIDS virus4

Songs containing such lyrics, which has come to be known as “murder music”, are beloved and sung by many Caribbeans and Caribbean-American’s. I too, being of Guyanese descent, have been guilty. With the recent rash of high profile “gay bullying” incidents, which have been closely followed here at GET DOWN, I decided to take a deeper look at how the music and culture that I grew up might have a negative impact on the ability to stop stigmatizing HIV and AIDS, and provide prevention and education in my own community.

To Be Continued on Friday, December 10th....
Part 1 of 2


1Human Rights Watch is one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights.

2 ‘Hated To Death: Homophobia, Violence and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic’ Human Rights Watch 2004

3 Caribbean petition to Inter-American Commissions for Human Rights to urge the repeal of anti-homosexual legislation Oct 2010

4 Batty Boy Fi Die – Red Dragon

Alysia Christiani