Caster Semenya or Buju Banton

(This piece is written and contributed by Shum Preston, a trade unionist and human rights activist from San Francisco, California. Mr. Preston married his husband under California state law, and they are the proud fathers of 4.)

CASTER SEMEYA or BUJU BANTON??
The next time Buju Banton sells an online download of “Boom Bye-Bye,” will he spare a thought for Caster Semenya?
Caster Semenya, as the whole world has learned, is the young South African runner whose privacy was recently violated when her medical records were leaked to the media. The nation of South Africa has honorably rushed to her defense, as various international sporting rivals appear ready to attack her for having some male traits, a situation sometimes called intersex.
Ms. Semenya is a beautiful part of the human spectrum, and deserves nothing less than the freedoms of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I hope and believe that she will achieve that. But my heart is heavy because I know that around the world many people just like Caster Semenya will end up assaulted, attacked, battered, bashed, abused, beaten and yes sometimes killed because they’re different.
The batty boys that Buju Banton fantasizes about murdering in his controversial song “Boom Bye-Bye” often look not much different than Caster Semenya. They might be intersex or gay, lesbian, all-sexual, transgender, or whatever other word you might want to use to describe their part of the human rainbow.
That violence takes a terrible toll on my brothers and sisters. Literally thousands of them have been killed in my home country, the United States. I mourn our martyr Brian Williamson, the murdered head of Jamaica’s J-Flag group. My blood runs cold thinking of the two young men who were hanged in Iran.

It is genocide. There is genocide in Darfur, and genocide across the globe as these beautiful people are targeted for death because of who they are.
And what role does Boom Bye-Bye play in the genocide of sexual minorities in our world today? Who knows? But Boom Bye-Bye has emerged as history’s most notorious call to kill queers. It has achieved iconic status. Its message of shooting, burning with acid, and setting on fire batty boys has been sung and heard millions and millions of times.
And Mr. Banton still makes money from that message by selling it online. That’s not a youthful mistake, or something in the past. That’s selling the glorification of genocide so a pop star can get even richer.
I have rarely been as impressed with a country as I have been by the passion and compassion the nation of South Africa has shown in its defense of its daughter Ms. Semenya. They are blessed that Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu overthrew the British colonial “Buggery” laws and made sure that nation’s constitution protected the rights of all sexualities—from Batty boys to Caster Semeya.

Buju Banton has made pretty clear with his media statements that he doesn’t care what I–a gay man just trying to live my life—think. Whatever.
But I hope Mr. Banton can spare a thought for Caster Semenya and all her brothers and sisters around the world.
Because I hope and believe that if he does, Mr. Banton will either stop selling that song—or perhaps begin to undo the damage he’s done by making very clear publicly that no one should be bash and kill the world’s sexual minorities.

mikeandshum@yahoo.com

AIDS, a Caribbean Crisis …. the trouble with msms


Photo taken at a meeting of Jamaica’s underground gay church, known as the Sunshine Cathedral, which holds clandestine meetings several times a month.

How AIDS became a Caribbean Crisis
Widespread homophobia has intensified the epidemic in Jamaica, where the HIV infection rate is an astounding 32 percent among gay men.
by Micah Fink

We may be accustomed to thinking of AIDS as most rampant in distant parts of the world like Africa, India, and South Asia. But these days the epidemic is flaring up a bit closer to home, in the Caribbean. Indeed, AIDS is now the leading cause of death among adults there, and the Caribbean’s rate of new infections is the second highest in the world, following just behind Sub-Saharan Africa.

A major factor in the region’s susceptibility to the epidemic is its pervasive atmosphere of homophobia, which makes education and outreach efforts nearly impossible. Jamaica, which lies near the middle of the Caribbean and, as of last year, was found to have an astounding 32 percent HIV infection rate among gay men, offers a case study in how anti-gay attitudes have helped spread and intensify the epidemic’s impact.

In Jamaica, homophobic attitudes are reflected in everything from laws that criminalize anal sex, to the lyrics of popular dancehall music that celebrates the murder of gay men, to widespread acts of anti-gay violence, and a gay culture of sexual secrecy and high-risk behavior. Each of these factors is intensified by a religious context that defines homosexuality as a mortal sin and points to the Bible for moral justification in violently rejecting the concerns of the gay community.

According to Dr. Robert Carr, widely recognized as one of the world’s leading researchers on cultural forces and the unfolding of the AIDS pandemic, local awareness of the disease was initially shaped by the international media: “AIDS was seen as a disease of gay, White, North American men. And people were really afraid of it.”

“There were no treatments available in the Caribbean at the time,” he says, “so AIDS really was a death sentence. You had people with Kaposi’s sarcoma, people with violent diarrhea, who were just wasting away and then dying in really horrible and traumatic ways.” The terror induced by these deaths, combined with an already intense local culture of homophobia to produce a violent backlash. “To call what was going on here ‘stigma and discrimination’ was really an understatement,” he says. “In the ghettos they were putting tires around people who had AIDS and lighting the tires on fire. They were killing gay people because they thought AIDS was contagious. It was a very extreme environment, and really horrible things were happening.”

Jamaican male sexual identity, and Caribbean male identity more broadly, has long been defined in opposition to homosexuality. “A lot of Jamaican men, if you call them a homosexual, the term is “battyman,” will immediately get violent,” says Dr. Kingsley Ragashanti Stewart, a professor of anthropology at the University of the West Indies. “It’s the worst insult you could give to a Jamaican man.”

Dr. Stewart, who works with young men from the ghettos and himself grew up in a poor inner-city community, says that homophobia influences almost every aspect of life. It has even come to shape the everyday language of ghetto youth. “It’s like if you say, ‘Come back here,’ they will say, ‘No, no, no don’t say ‘come back’.’ You have to say ‘come forward,’ because come back is implying that you’re ‘coming in the back,’ which is how gay men have sex.”

Dr. Stewart says that the word “fish,” the current slang for “gay,” has become so sexually charged that many young people say “sea-creature” to avoid any compromising linguistic associations. And young men from the ghettos will go to great lengths to avoid saying the number “two.” “It’s become associated with going to the toilet (as opposed to ‘number one’),” and hence, by an almost magical association, with homosexuality. The principal of a large public school in Kingston confirmed this phenomenon, noting that teaching mathematics is particularly problematic when the majority of students refuse to use one of the cardinal numbers.

Then there is the criminalization of the “abominable act of buggery,” as anal sex is defined in Jamaican Law, and which is punishable with up to ten years hard labor. “The reality in Jamaica is that men who have sex with men, for fear of being prosecuted and being found guilty under the sodomy law, pretend that they’re not gay,” says Miriam Maluwa, the UNAIDS country representative for Jamaica, explaining how what she calls “legalized discrimination” has driven the HIV epidemic underground. “[Gay men] marry fairly rapidly, they have children fairly rapidly to regularize themselves, and that is really a ticking bomb. So we are really talking about this targeted group, having quite high levels of infections, which is interacting sexually with the general population.”

Experts are increasingly convinced that getting AIDS under control here will require putting out not just general public health messages to the whole population, but targeted ones, directed at those most at risk. “A good starting point,” Maluwa suggests, “would be to openly design programs [for the gay population], just like we have programs to address the general population, to address children.” And these programs, she contends, should come complete with “adequate commodities, such as lubricants and condoms.”

But the social and political environment makes such targeted public health assistance nearly impossible—in part because the gay community is afraid to come forward to receive it, and in part because the (frequently violent) intolerance gays face makes AIDS a relatively less pressing concern.

At AIDS Support For Life, a not-for-profit health and advocacy group based in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city, I spoke with staff and patients, including one handsome young gay Jamaican man in his early twenties who told me how his boyfriend was stabbed to death on the street for being gay – and how another close friend was locked inside his parents house by a crowed of homophobic neighbors and burned alive.

“If it were AIDS that were killing us,” he said, “I would use a condom. But it’s people, not AIDS, that is killing us. AIDS has nothing to do with it.”