Homophobia in the Caribbean

Kadesha Garraway

In the proposed research, the aim is to examine homophobia within the Caribbean culture. To understand homophobia in the Caribbean, there will be discussion of masculinity in the Caribbean and how it perpetuates the nation’s homophobia. Most attention will be focused on Jamaica which is known to be the most homophobic island. In addition, there will be some exploration of the language used in the Caribbean to refer to homosexuals, most specifically homosexual men. Briefly, the stigma attached to being homophobic in the Caribbean will be looked at. Some people assume all or most homosexuals have or will contract HIV/AIDS. Finally, there will be focus on reggae music and how the lyrics in the songs reflect the Caribbean’s homophobia.

In Jamaica, being gay can be fatal. Often, people use the phrase “looks are deceiving” when applied to Jamaica -this phrase holds true. Generally seen as a laidback nation where people love to take vacations and explore the island, they are not aware of the nation’s homophobic attitudes. Beyond the escape to the island for a vacation, many scholars, researchers and advocates believe Jamaica to have a dark truth of being among the most homophobic nation. In this idyllic island, homosexuals often become victimized. These practices are so common, popular artists; in their song often glorify the murder and hatred of homosexuals. But what people do not seem to understand is that Jamaica became a homophobic nation through cultural consensus and their understanding of masculinity.

The discussion of homophobia in the Caribbean has been researched before by many scholars. When other scholars have researched homophobia in the Caribbean, each had their own reasoning or opinion of how the Caribbean became so homophobic. Homosexuals often become victimized and dehumanized by the Caribbean society. Consider the death of Brian Williamson a Jamaican man in 2004. Williamson was a well known gay activist and part of J-FLAG (Jamaica Forum for Lesbinas All-sexuals and Gays). Williamson was stabbed numerous times and left for dead in his home. After finding out he was killed, many anti-gay activists stated “battyman haffi dead” and rejoiced with happiness (Jamaica Observer News). This is just one of many stories of homosexuals in Jamaica being targeted and brutally treated. The majority of arguments of the Caribbean being homophobic are through their cultural consensus of masculinity and the historical roots of the nation.

In what follows, I discuss what scholars, researchers, and advocates have said about masculinity in the Caribbean, the Caribbean culture of homophobia, focusing in particular on the island nation of Jamaica. I consider what have been said about Jamaica’s origins becoming a homophobic country through cultural consensus. I also incorporate the stigma of being infected with HIV/AIDS attached to being homosexual is part of the Caribbean culture. In addition, I include how the reggae and dancehall music openly degrades homosexual individuals.

Research suggests that there is a deeply rooted, systemic cause that is spoken of too little, and on which no empirical research has been done in the Caribbean, which is the construction of Caribbean masculinity. Masculinity in the Caribbean is often surrounded with men socializing among one another in the rum shop drinking and talking about women; objectifying their bodies. In this way men’s masculinity is reaffirmed. Masculinity plays a major role on the nation’s approach towards homosexuals. Masculinity is often relationship between and among men rather than men in opposed to women as it usually are in the United States. Masculinity is often socially accepted and men have to prove in different ways they have what it means to be masculine. Masculinity is one of those privileged identities and ideologies which are rarely consciously articulated because it is so often represented as universally applicable, settled and beyond question in its hegemonic influence. The issue of gendered identity is far from settled and is subject to social, political and intellectual contestation. Contestation of power, hegemony and privilege comes from within the ranks of men (Lewis, 1990, p.244). Masculinity is referred to a set of gendered behaviors and practices of men which is often exemplified by Caribbean men through the music or their talks of women in the rum shop. In Is Just a Movie, Lovelace deliberately identified Caribbean men perpetuating masculinity through social actions.

For two years and a half he went on a drinking spree, drinking rum, gambling and enjoying the favors of women who, drawn to the neatness of his uniform, the uprightness of his stance and his overall power and good looks, were falling all over that place for him. At one time he found himself friending with a woman in nearly every village of his district and had two of them at the same time big-belly for him (Lovelace, 2011, p.13)

Masculinity is defined through various aspects of life, and in order to be fully masculine and not questionable, a man should be able to perform all of these roles. Part of what is understood to be masculine is manifested through performance. By acting in a particular way men exteriorize the gender norms they have been taught, which decides if they are boys or girls (Lewis, 1990, p. 245). So if a man twists his hips when walking, he is likely to be considered a girl and having feminine ways. Masculinity is also constructed through calypso. Calypso is a living tradition of the male discourse about everything that is going on, but most importantly it reinforces masculinity. All the stereotypical notions of gender and gender roles are there, sometimes openly illustrated (Rohler p.326).

Moreover, masculinity can be defined in relation to one’s gait, set of gestures, one’s car or the size and aggression of one’s dog, or to the type of drink consumed in a social setting (Lewis, 1990, p. 245). Male being the breadwinner is also part of a man’s role of being masculine. The concept of a male breadwinner is the core of the construction of masculinity (Lewis, 1990 p. 254). Men being the breadwinner are tied to the masculinity and control. Masculinity is also tied to socializing with other men and often drinking. Liming with the boys is an important psychic and gendered space in which masculinity is constructed (Lewis, 1990, p.258). Being masculine comes with a lot of rules and regulations attached to it. In the Caribbean if a man goes against or does not portray this normality of what is expected to be masculine, they are suspected of being gay and often taunted and tormented by other men. These masculine ideals Caribbean men hold dear to them signifies their rejection of homosexuality which often leads to violence and disgust towards homosexuals.

The world we live in today is judgmental. Individuals often worry about what other people think of them. A topic that is mostly judged is homosexuality; many believe homosexuality to be a sin or just plain “nasty.” In some cultures, such as the Caribbean they do not accept homosexuality due to their culture consensus. Coming from a family who has a Guyanese background I witnessed how their behaviors are oppressive against homosexuals. Even though Guyana is in South America and might be considered Pan-Caribbean, the ideals of this country are similar to the Caribbean culture. With that being said, most believe the Caribbean, Jamaica without a doubt, is the most homophobic place on earth. In 2012, two Jamaican men were caught having sex in a bathroom at the University of Technology. One man managed to escape but the other stayed behind. In reaction to this behavior, the guards brutally attacked the other while an angry mob stood outside watching, shouting anti-gay slurs, and inciting the guards to continue attacking the man (Don Avery). This is the reaction one would expect in Jamaica as homophobia is deeply ingrained in the Jamaican culture, the famous reggae artists are known for their anti-gay rhetoric, Jamaica has a reputation for being one of the most homophobic places on earth. A public opinion poll reported that eighty-five percent of Jamaicans agreed homosexuality should be illegal and eighty-two percent viewed it as morally wrong (Gabrielle Weiss, Glass Closet). Jamaica is no safe place for same-sex couples and individuals who live or visit the Caribbean live in constant fear of being verbally or physically attacked for no other reason other than their sexuality.

Macdougall’s piece examines how homosexuals are gay bashed and much cannot be done to cease this victimization of homosexuals because their sexuality is apparent. The instances of homophobic expression go beyond negative statements about homosexuals. They involve physical acts, instances of exclusion, and insults. They are overt and covert, official and private/ Homophobic expression is as common between or among people who know each other as it is among strangers. It occurs in urban and in rural areas, in gay ghettos and in Bible belts. People of any age, social circumstance, or gender can be the perpetrator or the target. (Macdougall, 2000, p.139).

In the reading, “Representations of Homosexuality in Jamaica,” looks at multiple Caribbean countries and their perception towards homophobia. Christopher Charles writes on the homosexual taboo and how it turned the region into a closet in which homosexuals hide. It is stated that homosexuality is a very strong cultural taboo which makes Caribbean homosexuals feel invisible in their own homeland. It is true that homophobia exist all over, however in the Caribbean countries violence is attached to the nation’s homophobia (Charles, 2011, p.17-18).

Furthermore, “Queer Returns: Human Rights, the Anglo- Caribbean and Diaspora Politics,” proves the Caribbean has been cast as one of the most homophobic nations since the outbreak of the dancehall song by Buju Banton “Boom Bye Bye” (Walcott, 2009, p.4). and the song goes, “World is in trouble Anytime Buju Banton come Batty bwoy get up an run At gunshot me head back Hear I tell him now crew (Its like) Boom bye bye Inna batty bwoy head Rude bwoy no promote no nasty man Dem haffi dead Boom bye bye Inna batty bwoy head Rude bwoy no promote no nasty man Dem haffi dead.” Like Buju Banton’s song, much Caribbean music known as reggae and dancehall is known for degrading homosexuals with its explicit and direct lyrics.

How Caribbean people address homosexuals on the regular basis is very offensive and further reaffirms their homophobia. In some parts of the Caribbean homosexual men are referred to as “auntie man.” “Auntie Man” meaning he appears to be a man but does not act in a masculine manner. In Barbados homosexual men are denoted as “faggots.” Terms, “Auntie Man” and “faggot” in of itself are humiliating to homosexual men and it threatens their masculinity. Walcott states, “The insult in this case is a disciplinary orienting reminder of normative manliness. Importantly, too, the term calls to mind how Caribbean terms travels and how it hybridizes and changes in different spaces, even when specific and recognizable insults continue. The work of the insult is crucial to understanding some of the claims about Caribbean homophobia” (Walcott, 2009, p.5). The insult can destroy a homosexual man’s integrity and make him feel less about himself.

Moreover, in the Caribbean, at a young age boys learn that homosexuality is forbidden. They are conditioned to use their penis as a weapon to show how masculine they are. Young boys often talk about how many girls they already had. Having the most girls is an award as it is intended to show their heterosexuality and they do not have to fear being bullied because they are suspected to be homosexual. Plummer et al. agrees when in their article they explain what manhood means in the Caribbean. It states, “Caribbean manhood is demonstrated by sexual prowess, and especially by the number of female sexual partners a young man has. The importance attached to having multiple sexual relationships for one‘s reputation is tied to one of the Caribbean‘s deepest male social taboos: homophobia” (Plummer et al., 2008, p.8). This goes to show how homophobic Caribbean people condition their boys from a young age to prevent them from becoming a homosexual. This further shows just how homophobic Caribbean people are.

Overall, many scholars, researchers and advocates believe the Caribbean to be “the most homophobic place on Earth.” Joseph Gaskins Jr. in his writing shares his belief about the Caribbean being a region marked by homophobia and for the most part, taken for granted. He references the International Lesbian, Gay, Trans and Intersex Association’s (ILGA) and their report from 2011 proving eleven of the twelve Commonwealth Caribbean countries have laws that make same-sex intimacy illegal. The report single out Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago’s laws that prescribe the harshest punishment, which is life and 25 years in prison respectively for buggery committed between two consenting adults (Gaskin Jr.p.436-437).

Even though the Caribbean in and of itself is the most homophobic place on Earth; where Caribbean people often use verbal and physical violence toward homosexuals, some scholars focus specifically on Jamaica as being the utmost homophobic island in the Caribbean. Below I discuss homophobia in Jamaica, why it is deemed the most homophobic nation and how the nation became known for its homophobia.

In Montego Bay, a Jamaican 17-year-old boy Dwayne Long Jones was stabbed, shot to death and thrown into bushes during a public street-dance on July 22, 2013. The attack was put in place because the young man was wearing clothes outside of his gender norm. Again, in Montego Bay a 41-year old man Dean Moriah was stabbed and his house was torched while he was still inside, just because he was openly gay. These two individuals have been exposed to violence in Jamaica because of their sexuality; this shows the nations homophobic attitudes. In the homophobic country, it is not surprising that these incidents occurred. Homophobia has been around for a long time and in most cases is a valid argument for the hate and fear people have towards homosexuals. This is a very important and relevant topic in today’s time (Williams, 2013, p.1). This happens increasingly and it is not only limited to the Jamaican island.

In “Homophobia in the Caribbean: Jamaica,” Charlene Smith and Ryan Kosobucki share stories of violent interactions involving homosexuals in Jamaica. One story included a gay man who was attacked because his attacker was homophobic. They sliced his throat, torso, and back, hissed anti-gay epithets, and left him for dead on a Kingston corner. After being attacked, the police roughly carried him to the police car and stuffed him in the trunk (Smith & Kosobucki, 2011, p.5). In Jamaica, even police officers do not treat homosexual individuals with care. In large part, they treat them as though they deserve the violence directed against them because of their sexuality. Considering this case we see instances of how homosexual males are treated worse than animals even by authority figures. There are also laws prohibiting intimacy that perpetuates the inhumanity displayed against them, such as anti-buggery laws.

To understand why the country is homophobic, it is essential to understand the historical origins of Jamaica. Jamaica has many roots and origins, in order to understand the stems; the logical place to start is by looking at the British influence. It was a norm for England to condemn sex between men and make “buggery” illegal. The Jamaican Offenses against the Persons Act of 1864 outlawed buggery. If one was to bugger, it often resulted with life imprisonment. After Jamaica was liberated, the country became more focused on making sure that same sex relationships were not tolerated especially between men. The reason behind the low tolerance of same-sex relationships was to maintain political control after independence and those in power had to criminalize male homosexuality (Smith, Kosobucki, 2011, p.26). As it is evident, many of the Jamaican attitudes toward homosexuality trace back to the British culture.

The development of the negative representations of homosexuality can be traced through the interactions of institutions such as the church, government, law, law enforcement, and formal culture. Again it is believed that the emphasis of British rule and culture has an effect on the Jamaican discourse on homosexuality. Homophobia in Jamaican society is masked behind religious commitment, shamefully supported by churches and religious organizations. Many people religious and non religious, claim that homosexuality is against their religion, thereby justifying collective homophobia and perpetuating emotional and physical violence against sexual minorities. Such biased discussions in the public sphere support homophobia in popular cultural expressions by policing cultural mores and views about nationalist sexuality (Amy-Rose, Erickson, 200, p.237). The church plays a major role in the cultural understanding of homosexuality. The church took the scripture Leviticus 20:13, which reads “If a man lie with a man, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination, they surely shall be put to death and their bodies shall be up on them” (Charles, 2011, p.9). For many years, this scripture has been the religious belief of why homosexuality should be forbidden thus leading to homophobic attitudes in the Caribbean.

Inclusive behind the history of homophobia in the Caribbean is the stigma of all homosexuals, especially men having HIV/AIDS. According to Lisa Norman, the stigma of homosexuals being infected plays a key role in negative attitudes toward homosexuals with HIV/AIDS who live in Jamaica. Moreover, Norman conducted a qualitative study testing sympathy towards individuals with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. In her finding, she found that sympathy toward homosexual men was less associated with being male. She then continues, to express that this behavior is explained by the high levels of homophobia in Jamaica (Norman, 2006, p.429-30). In spite of the belief that the spread of AIDS/HIV was introduced through beach boys who engaged in sex with Western male tourists, statistics show the disease is transmitted primarily among Caribbean gay men. The fear of contracting AIDS/HIV increased homophobic behaviors in the Caribbean culture (Sharpe and Pinto, 2006, p.257). White & Carr adds that even HIV/AIDS workers have experienced violence from members of the community who accuse them of sponsoring homosexuality, because they are notifying the public about HIV/AIDS (White & Carr, 2005, p.349). Even though the workers may not be homosexual, the thought of them encouraging homosexuality is not accepted in the nation.

“Jamaica has been called the most homophobic place on earth” (Hewstone and West, 2011, p.44). With Jamaica’s laws and policies that degrade homosexuals, no wonder homosexuals the nation is highly homophobic. Hewstone and West explain, the island of Jamaica is intentionally reputed for strong sexual prejudice. Anti-gay sentiment runs so deep that violence, sometimes life-threatening violence, can follow the revelation that a man is gay. Male homosexuality is implicitly made illegal by laws that include imprisonment for having anal sex (2011, p.47). Anal sex is made illegal because it is believed that is the only way a man have sexual intercourse with another man. Hatred is largely based on the sexual aspect of homosexual relationships; however, there is more to relationship than just sex.

Arguably, Jamaica is the most homophobic nation on earth. The author, Charles, in his article states, “Jamaica is the only English-speaking country where homosexuals live under the threat of mob violence. Despite the liberal attitude to homosexuality in other Caribbean countries compared to Jamaica, there is a negative representation of homosexuality in Caribbean society” (Charles, 2011, p.17). Debatably, gay men are often represented in popular media as “arbiters of all forms of corruption and evil who must be eradicated,” (Hewstone and West, 2011, p.47). The homophobic nation is responsible for a series of inspired murders and gay-bashing in the island. As previously mentioned, the killing of a man by the name of Brian Williamson was a noted public and vocal gay figure in the Jamaican community. After his death millions of people rejoiced over his disfigured body (Hewstone and West, 2011, p.48), It is no wonder Jamaica is the most homophobic nation as the island does nothing to protect its citizens who are homosexual. In fact, they encourage the homophobic attitudes and reaffirm it through their laws and policies.

Reggae and dancehall music plays a major role in the country’s rejection of homosexuals. The ungodliness of homosexuality is portrayed in music. Masculinity is often overemphasized through their lyrics by the artists who often refer to as “rude boy” wanting to kill batty man (Ramsaran, PowerPoint, 3/22/16).  In the Caribbean, individuals who are homosexual live in fear everyday of being attacked and degraded by other individuals who do not accept their sexuality. More precisely, Jamaica has a bad reputation for anti-gay prejudice. Jamaica has become dishonorable for its broad societal acceptance of sexual prejudice and openly hostile music. For example, the dancehall star Buju Banton has a song by the name of “Boom Bye Bye”, which simply is degrading to homosexual men. The lyrics are “It’s like boom bye bye Inna batty boy head rude boy nah promote no nasty man Dem haffi dead.” For those who are unfamiliar with the Jamaican lingo, it simply indicates shooting a gay man in the head, and do not “promote no nasty man” (indicating gay men are “nasty”).

As stated before, the most intense opposition of homosexuality within the Jamaican culture arises from dancehall music or reggae. Previously mentioned were the lyrics of the artist Buju Banton “Boom Bye Bye.” “The explicit level of violence directed against homosexuals within Jamaican dancehall music is inexcusable” (Smith & Kosobucki, 2011, p. 38).  Not surprisingly, there are many other Jamaican artists who made songs to express their extreme hate toward homosexuals. Some Jamaican artists are known for devoting concerts that bashes gay men. A dancehall singer in 2004, mentioned to a crowd of people in his lyrics “Kill dem batty bwoys, haffi dead, gun shots pon dem…who want to see dem dead put up his hand”, [meaning if you want see homosexuals shot and killed put up your hands] (Smith, & Kosobucki, 2011, p.39). As it is evident, being a homosexual in the Caribbean is all the way degrading, and humiliating. However, nothing is done to prevent these homophobic attitudes and homosexuals to feel safe in their country. This negative homophobic attitude is reassured through dancehall and reggae that bluntly show homosexuality should be forbidden. Here are some examples of songs by reggae and dancehall artists brusquely expressing their hatred and detrimental treats towards homosexuals 

In Jamaica, being a homosexual can be deadly. The island where people love to travel to and take vacation holds a dark truth of being among the most homophobic nation. In what is perceived to be a peaceful and welcoming island, members often maltreat and dehumanize homosexuals. As we have seen with the multiple stories from homosexuals who have been treated negatively in their communities, the cultural consensus, teaches Jamaicans that violence against homosexuals are acceptable. With the nation’s song lyrics, laws, and attitudes it reinforces the island’s way of not accepting homosexuality. It is important that people are aware of Jamaica’s homophobic culture and look past the beautiful island, as unfair treatment against homosexuals are prone to happen.

See references here : https://wordpress.susqu.edu/soci210/?page_id=209&preview=true