Back in July 2012 when the President of Ghana John Atta Mills died, and John Mahama took over as his replacement, he nominated Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur as his Vice. But before he could accept the post, Amissah-Arthur had to refute rumours about his sexuality. While being vetted, the former Governor of the Bank of Ghana told members of Parliaments Appointment Committee that the media reports suggesting he was gay were nothing but a fabrication by a person trying to extort money from him.
The former Prime Minster of Jamaica P.J. Paterson was also dogged by rumours of his homosexuality throughout his years in power. But it is not just politicians in the Africa and Caribbean who must be stridently heterosexual in order to maintain their political careers. Even the leader of the free world has taken flack for his support of gay rights.
In May 2012 the Black churches of America threatened to withdraw support for President Obama because of his endorsement of same sex marriage.
“By embracing gay marriage, President Obama is leading the country down an immoral path,” said Rev. William Owens, president of the Coalition of African-American Pastors.
But Gay rights got a shot in the arm from a surprising source when in June 2012 R&B singer Frank Ocean came out of the closet. Ocean has collaborated with Jay-Z and Kanye West, and co-written songs for Beyoncé and John Legend, so he has enough of a profile to qualify as the first ‘out’ gay star in the world of urban music. Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons called the announcement ‘a game-changer’.
Up until now it has been believed that if a Black artist came out as gay it would end their careers. Soul crooner Luther Vandross and female rappers MC Lyte and Queen Latifah have all been dogged by such rumours, which have been neither confirmed or denied. Whitney Houston was long rumoured to be having a relationship with her female assistant until she finally married Bobby Brown. But Frank Ocean is the first male urban music artist who has dared to ‘come out.’
It is a similar story in the field of professional sports. Over the decades, thousands of men have played in America’s professional sports leagues of the NFL, NBA, and NHL, and over the years not a single man has come out as gay before retirement, until that is 13 year veteran of the NBA Jason Collins took that step in April 2013 in a move so momentus that he was applauded by both current President Obama, and former President Clinton.
All these stories lead to the question, ‘why is homosexuality such a big deal in the Black community?’ There are numerous white pop artists (Elton John, George Michael, Boy George, etc) who are openly gay, but apparently the Black music listening public does not afford its artists such freedoms.
But if you think Black America is bad, lets go back to AFRICA.
Three years ago a Ugandan MP proposed the death penalty for gay people, and there have been huge anti-gay rallies in neighbouring Kenya. Police in Malawi have been openly pursuing gay activist and anyone suspected of being homosexual. Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries, particularly those like Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi with a British colonial past.
In 2011 singer Elton John called for tougher international action against African states that repress or harry homosexuals.
But the supposed world capital of homophobia is Jamaica. Between 2004 and 2006 two of the islands most prominent gay rights activists, Brian Williamson and Steve Harvey, were murdered – and a crowd even celebrated over Williamson’s mutilated body. “Jamaica is the worst any of us has ever seen,” says Rebecca Schleifer of the U.S. based Human rights Watch.
Jamaica, Reggae and homophobia have long been bedfellows. It was way back in 1991 that Buju Banton released the track ‘Boom Bye Bye’ which advocated the murder of gays.
Boom bye bye Inna batty bwoy head/ Rude bwoy no promote no nasty man, dem haffi dead. Dis is not an bargain (Me say) dis is not a deal / Guy come near we then his skin must peel
Burn him up bad like an old tire wheel.
Banton first recorded “Boom Bye Bye” in 1988, when he was fifteen years old. Apparently the song is actually sung by mobs when they attack homosexuals. Buju’s manager Donovan Germain insists that attacks on Jamaica’s gays should not be blamed on his lyrics, which he insists are part of a metaphorical tradition, and not a literal call to kill gay men. But in truth it seems that Buju is as good as his word, for in 2005 Banton was charged with the assault and battery of a gay Jamaican man, a case that the judge later dismissed for lack of evidence.
Buju was universally condemned for his song, except in Jamaica where such views are mainstream. I remember vividly when fellow Jamaican reggae star Shabba Ranks appeared on late night entertainment show The Word and was asked to comment on the Banton controversy. Shabba refused to condemn him, and during the interview drew out a small Bible from his back pocket in order to back up his defence.Though Buju, Shabba and their fellow reggae artists were unrepentant back in the 90s, commercial considerations have forced them to have a rethink. In an attempt to clean up their image, the Reggae Compassionate act was drawn up in 2007 and signed by a number of high profile artists including Sizzla and Capleton. In 2012 Beenie Man took to YouTube posting the first ever apology video by any dancehall artist. But this is likely more due to commercial considerations rather than a genuine change of heart. As he explained in an interview with Advocate.com earlier this year, accusations of homophobia are hitting his bottom line.
“When I go to Europe, me have 30 shows – 10 of them cancelled. People come out and protest.” When asked how his Jamaican fans took to his You Tube statement Beenie replied “I did it for Europe and the United States. I never did it for Jamaica.”
So what is it with black people? Are we naturally just more homophobic? Ironically the root of this problem can be traced back to British colonialism.
In 1967 consensual homosexual acts were decriminalised in England and Wales, and whilst the UK government is now very liberal in its attitude, examples still abound of government supported homophobia in the Caribbean and Africa.
In a 2010 UN resolution to condemn arbitrary killings based on identity, nearly all Commonwealth Caribbean states voted to remove ‘sexual orientation’ as a category. With the exception of the Bahamas, former British colonies of the region all retain laws criminalising male homosexuality. These laws date back to, or are literal transplantation of the Victorian 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. Offences of buggery or anal sex and ‘gross indecency’ meaning any sexual intimacy between men, remain on the books. British colonial legislators outlawed “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal. It is that law which Uganda is now proposing to strengthen, from a 14 year prison sentence to life. It is ironic that Commonwealth and Caribbean nations now define themselves as independent states and distinct from Britain by clinging to these Victorian laws.
The other argument used to explain Jamaica’s rampant homophobia is that it is a devoutly religious country, with more churches per head than any other. Homosexuality, they argue is outlawed in the Bible and quote from the book of Leviticus as proof.
22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
And from the book of Romans, chapter 1
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly,
32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death.
Whilst Britain no longer takes these verses literally and advocates greater tolerance, the countries that they exported Christianity to, cling to them ever tighter. This difference in attitude is currently threatening to split the Anglican church in two – the more liberal English interpretation from their more fundamentalists African brethren. In 2012 a report entitled Colonising African Values: How the US Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa argued that “a loose network of right-wing charismatic Christians called the Transformation Movement are fanning the flames of the culture wars over homosexuality and abortion by backing prominent African campaigners and political leaders.”
Dr Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia and author of the report said that right-wing Christian groups encourage perceptions that same sex relations are un-African and imposed by the west, a view that is in fact based on the Bible that arrived with colonialism rather than traditional African culture. The very same Bible that whites previously used to justify slavery, is now being used by Black people to repress and ostracise gays. It is homophobia not homosexuality that is exported from the west.
But why do these so-called Christians focus so much on these few verses, and ignore so much of the rest of the Bible? They seem to have missed the verse in Leviticus that states.
Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour’s wife,
Or the other verses in Romans which condemn….
29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; envy and murder,
Some of these same reggae artists that want ‘all batty man fe dead’ are the same ones who proudly boast of how many men they have killed and how many women they have slept with.
The other argument against homosexuality, apart from the biblical one, is the one that it damages the Black family. “How can we build a strong Black family/community/nation with gay men who cannot reproduce or provide strong role models of Black masculinity for young boys”, ask the homophobes? But surely of more damage to the Black family/community/nation are absentee fathers? What good is it to produce young soldiers for the Black nation if you are not around to raise them?
I have no problem with gays. If black men want to love each other that does no damage to the black community. A lot more damage is done by irresponsible men who father children all over the place and don’t take care of them. If you’re concerned about the future of the Black race – fire bun them!