Longform

Jamaica Yes Problem

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Even after making the move to Florida, Selwyn has lived a life of duplicity. Partly in an attempt to conceal his orientation, he has fathered three daughters, the last two with his young wife back in Jamaica. Yet his true yearnings are for men; he says he fantasizes about them while having sex with his wife. And as soon as he fathers a son, Selwyn says, he'll stop having sex with women.

Selwyn does give thanks for his current surroundings, a home he rents in Progresso, a mixed African-American and Caribbean neighborhood between downtown Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors. He has lived there since 1990, working as a home-duty nurse and sometime church official, at one time even holding weekly services in his home. "Here, you can live with a man and nobody will even think anything," he notes.

But go back and live in Jamaica as an openly gay male?

"You want me to get killed?" he shouts, his suddenly excited voice reflecting his fire-and-brimstone training in the charismatic church. Then he settles back down and nearly chokes up as he remembers a Jamaican friend who worked at a Montego Bay hotel with him back in 1986. Some of the guy's "friends" discovered he was gay and lured him out of his apartment. He was found hacked to pieces by a machete. "Nobody was ever charged," Selwyn recalls. "Once the police found out he was gay, they didn't even bother to investigate."


Jamaican youth who stay in school and go to church are fed a diet of fire, brimstone, and intolerance straight from the pulpit. So, islanders say, the "good bwoys" take those attitudes with them into adulthood. The "bad bwoys" who fall into street life and thuggery hear the same message. And if they don't hear enough of it out on the curb, dancehall music -- an outgrowth of reggae in which MCs "toast" often risqué lyrics over booming sound systems -- does the rest.



Naturally, on the world's loudest island, reggae music always plays an enormous cultural role. Dancehall, the populist, crowd-pleasing staple of radio and nightclub alike, is almost compulsively homophobic. Ruled by chart-topping singers like Elephant Man, Sean Paul, Beenie Man, and Bounty Killer, the prevalence of their songs often provides the oxygen needed to keep the antigay fire roaring. "It's certainly connected to the violence gay and lesbian people experience in Jamaica," Heflin posits.

Buju Banton's 1992 "Boom Bye Bye" escalated the violence level with its chorus, "Any time Buju Banton come, battyboy get up and run/Ah gunshot inna head, man."

TOK's 2001 album, My Crew, My Dawgs, featured a track called "Chi-Chi Man." The song advocated shooting up a gay bar: "Dem a-drink inna chi-chi man bar/Blaze di fire mek we dun dem!/Rat-atat-tat, chi-chi man haffi get flat/chi-chi man fi dead, and that's a fact!" More recently, the ever-popular Beenie Man instructed fans to murder gay DJs on the island with "Bad Man, Chi-Chi Man" which predicts that "It should be a showdown/Yuh run off the stage like a clown/Kill dem, DJ!"

In late July, on top of Beenie Man's troubles, a planned Bounty Killer show at a European music festival was abruptly canceled after intense lobbying from OutRage!, a British gay activist network that has been targeting dancehall homophobes with defiance.



During the early '90s, crossover artists like Shabba Ranks saw their careers derailed when similar sentiments made it to mainstream ears across the world. Ranks brought most of the heat on himself when he spouted invective during TV interviews. But many of the recent hits like "A Nuh We Fault" and "We Nuh Like Gay" by Elephant Man, "Log On" by Beenie Man, and Capleton's "Bun Di Chi-Chi" make it onto BBC airwaves in England -- and on Broward pirate radio -- because the patois is indecipherable to authorities. The irony is, the most notorious tunes aren't heard on Jamaican radio. But on Broward County's clandestine network of pirate stations, anything goes. Songs advocating the wholesale slaughter of gays sneak onto the airwaves all the time.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton