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Get Up Stand Up
By: Richard Burnett

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Steffens: "Bob would be terribly upset about all of this"

"I hate it when people call me a hero," Gareth Henry, leader of the Kingston-based gay civil rights group Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), told me over breakfast last October while in Montreal to lecture at Concordia. "I have to do what I do. My rights as a Jamaican citizen have been violated, so we must challenge the Jamaican government to do something [about widespread anti-gay violence in Jamaica]. It's true the chances of my being attacked are inevitable. But that's why I must go back." Then, on his way to the office last November - after 13 of his gay friends were murdered since 2005 - two thugs approached him and threatened his life. "We know who you are and we're going to kill you," they told him.

Says Gareth today, "So I didn't go back home. I called my mother to collect my things."

On Jan. 26, Gareth returned to Canada and claimed refugee status. This time he hopes he won't have to return to Jamaica. "I prefer to live."

Gareth, British activist Peter Tatchell, myself and others have long documented how anti-gay dancehall reggae by the likes of Buju Banton, Sizzla and other dancehall stars fuels the anti-gay hate and violence in Jamaica, a nation Time magazine in 2006 called "the Most Homophobic Place on Earth."

Despite cancelled concerts worldwide, however, these dancehall dons remain unrepentant. So Stop Murder Music Canada (SMMC), along with Canada's national gay lobby group Égale and the international Metropolitan Community Church, are launching an

international tourism boycott of Jamaica, as well as a boycott of all Jamaican goods and services, beginning on May 17, International Day Against Homophobia, if Jamaica doesn't repeal its buggery laws and introduce a national pro-gay education campaign. In Toronto, the coalition has twice met with Jamaica's Consul General, Anne-Marie Bonner.

"We've asked the Jamaican government to respond by May 12," says SMMC founder Akim Ade Larcher. "This boycott will [also] include [all] reggae performers." "We didn't go into this lightly," says Égale executive director Helen Kennedy. "It took a long time to get to this point. I'm cautiously optimistic they will do the right thing and denounce the escalating violence against gay people in Jamaica."

Others, like Montreal dub DJ Moss Man - who flew to Jamaica this week to film the new feature film Get Rock to Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae, which will culminate with an April 19 concert with old-school superstars Ken Boothe, Judy Mowatt, Derrick Morgan, Leroy Sibbles, Marcia Griffiths, The Tamlins, Dawn Penn, U-Roy and others - have reservations about the boycott.

"I sympathize with the movement but I say a boycott might just backfire and make people more angry [against gay people]," Moss Man told me. "Boycotting Jamaicans won't make a difference anyway - they're already dirt f*cking poor. Maybe they should target foreign nationals and rich Jamaicans."

"I think it's stupid to boycott an entire country over a specific issue that should be solved internally in Jamaica," says Cezar Brumeanu, manager of Montreal's House of Reggae nightclub and executive director of the Montreal International Reggae Festival. "Only Americans seem to get involved in other countries'
internal affairs, and look where it got them: They're hated by everyone. I say let the Jamaicans solve their own problems internally, not by outside forces. As for the festival, we are not in the boycott business, we are in the reggae music business for everyone who likes to enjoy it."

Even the Fort Lauderdale-based International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association doesn't support the tourism boycott. In a statement, the IGLTA claims it "is in complete solidarity with Jamaica's own LGBT leadership, J-FLAG. Therefore, like J-FLAG, it is not our intention to provoke reprisals or political condemnation in Jamaica by supporting a global tourism boycott. We understand [a boycott] could be counterproductive to making true progress in that Caribbean nation, and instead we will focus on education, publicity and market competition to highlight and help curb these terrible abuses."

But Akim Ade Larcher is having none of that. "I have not seen the IGLTA take part in any education or awareness of homophobia in the Caribbean. For them to come in at this late date saying they don't support a tourism boycott is not in the best interest of effecting change in Jamaica. As for J-FLAG, strategically they can't [publicly] call for an international boycott - it puts their members' lives on the line."

Even J-FLAG's former co-chair, Gareth Henry, told me last October before he escaped to Canada that he would support a tourism boycott of Jamaica. "The violence against gay people is still increasing," Gareth told me this week.

As for my L.A.-based friend Roger Steffens, chair of the Grammy Awards reggae committee, personally dubbed "Ras Rojah" by Bob Marley and whose massive reggae archives were recently acquired by Jamaica to become the National Museum of Jamaican Popular Music, he says, "I think Bob [Marley] would be terribly upset about all of this and say that reggae music is positive and constructive. You can't go around killing people just because they live a life different than yours."

The Jamaican boycott goes into effect on May 17 on International Day Against Homophobia.

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