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Jamaica boycott call sparks war of words

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Jamaica boycott call sparks war of words

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Debating how to fight homophobia and on-going attacks on gays and lesbians
A Canadian call for a boycott of Jamaica and ongoing attempts to ban homophobic dancehall music have sparked a war of words in both countries.

Stop Murder Music Canada (SMMC) — a coalition that includes Egale Canada and the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto — is calling for a boycott of Jamaica if the country's government doesn't take action on homophobic violence by Mon, May 12.

Akim Larcher, the founder of SMMC, says the boycott is a reaction to the Jamaican government's refusal to take steps to curb on-going attacks on gays and lesbians.

"When we look at the history of what's been happening in Jamaica there has been a history of non-responsiveness from the government for some years," he says. "Part of our responsibility as Canadians is to call into question where we spend our dollars."

Larcher says SMMC has also been accused of censorship for trying to stop sales and performances by dancehall musicians whose songs contain violently homophobic lyrics.

"We've gotten a lot of backlash from people thinking we've gone above and beyond, into censorship," he says. "But in fact we're looking at hate lyrics and violent homophobia that violate Canada's hate speech laws."

Those in Canada's reggae community are split on the issue. Cezar Brumeanu, who runs the Montreal International Reggae Festival and that city's House of Reggae nightclub, writes in an email that boycotts are the wrong approach.

"I think it's stupid to boycott an entire country over an internal issue that should be dealt with internally by the Jamaican people and their government," he states. "Only Americans do things like that in other countries and look at the extremely bad reputation that they have because of it. Canada should open dialogue on both sides to discuss the issue, if anything, instead of imposing bans and restrictions based on limited knowledge of this particular issue.

"As for the festival and the House of Reggae we are here to promote reggae music to all patrons that enjoy it, period. We are not in support of any kind of religious, social, ethnic or political movements, only the reggae music movement."

But Christian Lacoste, the openly gay Montreal reggae fan who runs the website Murder Inna Dancehall, supports both the boycott and the attacks on the artists.

"A tourist boycott, if it's well orchestrated, could greatly affect the Jamaican economy and the government would have no choice but to revise these laws that attack the freedom of a significant percentage of the Jamaican population," he states in an email. "I personally will join the boycott. It will be difficult for me as my house is filled with reggae. I will simply concentrate on reggae that comes from other countries, and there is tons of it. And frankly speaking, these days, the best reggae is not coming from Jamaica."

Lacoste also supports the call for a ban on homophobic dancehall artists.

"I hope that the Canadian government will not allow a visa to any singers that advocate killing of gays and lesbians in their songs or onstage, unless these artists have clearly stated that they will not perform these songs anymore (including in the Caribbean) and will not use their stage performance to promote discrimination," he writes.

But Michael Griffiths — who sits on the board of Casey House — opposes the boycott. Griffiths is of Jamaican heritage, lived there from ages three to nine and visits regularly.

"This sort of collective punishment, I think it's counterproductive," he says. "You're not going to stop homophobia with a boycott. You need education."

Griffiths says targeting a country as poor as Jamaica is pointless.

"They think they can bring the country to its knees. The country's already on its ankles."

Griffiths also opposes calls to ban dancehall artists from performing or selling their music. He says the best way to oppose homophobia is to not spend money on those artists.

"I think they should be allowed to come," he says. "The best way to vote is with your feet."

Phillip Pike, the coordinator of Toronto Friends of Jamaica AIDS Support and the director of Songs of Freedom, a documentary about Jamaican queers, supports a boycott, but reluctantly.

"I'm of two minds," he says. "If the boycott is successful it has the potential to help exacerbate the situation. Someone is laid off at a hotel in Montego Bay. They're back on the unemployment line and it's easy to scapegoat gays.

"But what will it take for leaders there to realize it's not okay for gays and lesbians to be killed? There's always the question of who it will hurt but I guess at the end of the day I would support it."

Pike is more certain about supporting bans on dancehall music.

"It's illegal and immoral and reprehensible," he says. "The criminal code says it's illegal to promote hatred or violence against a particular group. It's not clear to me why we're even having this discussion."

For Agostinho Pinnock, a graduate student at the University of West Indies in Jamaica, says discussion, rather than boycott, is paramount.

Pinnock is also a public relations officer with the Jamaican government but stresses that he does not speak on the government's behalf. He has written a number of academic articles about dancehall and gender and sexual orientation, and says a boycott — of the country or of artists — will not help.

"How does a boycott aid in such a situation?" he asks in an email. "Indeed how does putting financial pressure on artists, many of who come from deprived conditions, help in this context? How it is played in Jamaica is as more reason to execute the heterosexist hysteria against homosexuals. The more pressure placed on dancehall, economically, the more pressure placed on hapless young men without the appropriate means by which to defend themselves against the often vitriolic attacks of antihomosexual violence reported by groups like Amnesty International and others."

Pinnock states that what Jamaica needs is education.

"The simple truth is that homosexuality as it has been represented in public discourses here offend most peoples' sensibilities," he writes. "We must, therefore, address this sensitive issue through other means and with significantly more compassion than suggested by the actions of developed societies from the north with their ability to enforce economic pressures on struggling artists/societies like Jamaica."

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Comments

Yes to Boycott
I must say I totally disagree with Mr. Pinnock's views and I want to register that many in Jamaica welcome this move. The fact the movement for LGBT rights and recognition in Jamaica needs help, we need initiatives such as this to bring attention to the issues of homophobic violence and the non-responsive nature of the government. Public discourses in Jamaica has not attracted attention to some peoples sensibilities(perhaps Mr. Pinnock's) because of the failure and inaction to support in limited infrastructures supporting gay rights and solidarity from many Jamaicans who have the capacity to respond. As such where there are opportunities to bring attention to issues of the LGBT situation in Jamaica even from our shores, that are seeking to positively impact on our present I welcome it. I don't expect that the situation will change immediately but certainly this is only a small step, it a move in the right driection
Removing Jamaican Buggery Act
Well I don't think you get the point Daina. The boycott is not to change people's mind. The boycott is to force Jamiacan government to remove laws that criminalyse homosexuality (Colonial 1864 Buggery Act) and to start an educational program about what is homosexuality. Those laws goes against people's fundamental rights. They reinforce prejudices and makes violence against gays and lesbians acceptable, that's why they have to be abolish. Wouldn't it be appropriate for someone to make his/her own oppinion getting some tangible facts, not only quotes from the Bible and hatered lyrics from dancehall songs? Jamaicans will still be able to think for themseves when the law will be remove and that education on the matter will be put in place. Gays and lesbians have the right to walk on the street without fear of being verbaly or physically attack. It may not change overnight, but the first step is removing these laws and getting a nationwide educational program... It is sad to witness that some straight people find it not relevent and even stupid to make a boycott to push Jamaican government forward. According to them, gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender should continue to suffer with indignity. Are we disturbing their inner peace when we reach for equal rights? J-FLAG has been addressing Jamaican Parliement to remove these laws since since 2000. Nothing has changed yet. And no change can be perceived at the horizon. I would like to quote Rev. Deborah L. Johnson (from Stanta Cruz, CA) on the topics of gay rights. This is an excerpt of what seems to be a very moving speech. With high intonation in her voice: "There are no special rights. We don't want special rights. What I want is what was mine, before you took it away from me". (found on YouTube: What is like to be Black & Gay?) (National Black Justice Coalition, nbjc.org).

Here is a very interesting article about the Jamaican buggery act:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/jul/03/ga
come on now!!!
You can't change their (Jamacians) way of thinking. Other countries might be homophobic too. Are you going to boycott them too?? People are racist in Canada should people boycott Canada????? Come on now!!
Boycotts effective tools
History teaches that international boycotts are effective tools. A case in point is where Canada joined in efforts to deal with human rights issues in South Africa. See how the collective efforts eventually made a difference in that country.

Similarly, targetted boycotts of Jamaican owned Sandals resorts in St Lucia and other Carribean locations resulted in changes in company policies that banned same-sex couples from staying at their resorts. When they realized their bottom line would be impacted they changed their policies and now open their doors to pink dollars.

There is no single answer to this issue but to say that boycotts should not be one of the tools used to leverage change is short sighted.
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