Thursday, December 9, 2010

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

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