Are They Going About It All Wrong?

Gays Protest Reggae Festival

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Dozens of New York gay activists spent their Saturday protesting on Randall Island, where internationally-renowned reggae artists came together for the Carifest festival.

The gays, however, weren’t feeling so gay as they derided some of the singers’ anti-gay stances. GLAAD’s Rashad Robinson showed up at Randall Island hoping to spread the love and told NY 1:

The lyrics of Buju Banton and Bounty Killer are both lyrics that have supported shooting gay men, hanging lesbians. These are horrible lyrics under any context.

Buju Banton only fanned the flamer’s flames.

Banton once allegedly signed the Reggae Compassion Act, an agreement penned by the Stop Murder Music campaign, but later denied supporting the musical movement. The pledge reads:

Artists of the Reggae Community respect and uphold the rights of all individuals to live without fear of reprisals due to religion, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or gender.

While we recognize that our artistic community comprises many different individuals who express themselves in different ways and hold a myriad of beliefs, we believe firmly that the way forward lies in tolerance.

Banton, meanwhile, thinks it’s the gays who need to get their facts straight:

I would say to them they are ignorant, they are stupid, even though they proclaim to be intelligent.

While Robinson, Banton, Stop Murder Music campaigner Peter Tatchell and others battle it out, New Jersey based activist Pedro Angel Serrano says his more tempered voice has been silenced.

Serrano’s been fighting reggae’s homophobia for years, but takes a more nuanced approach than the Reggae Compassion Actors:

My strategy is different. They want to shut people up and they want to ban them, which is what they’ve been doing for years, they’ve been banning these artists and then they come back. That’s another thing that came up on this show – they’ve been doing this for years and [the artists] keep being invited back to perform. If something doesn’t work, do something else. Try something different.

Serrano suggests gay and straight artists work together to produce a peace-loving album, one that will make more of a difference than simply shouting and yelling. Activists need to realize, he says, that protests often exasperate problems. Relationships need to be formed. Bridges need to be built.

The radio host uses his own life as an example. After hearing Jeff Stormwatcher’s “Stay in the Closet,” Serrano pursued a friendship with Stormwatcher. Over the years, he says, Stormwatcher came to understand the error of his ways and stopped singing his single which, as you can imagine, urged queers to stay hidden. The Stop Murder Campaign doesn’t get to the heart of the matter – poverty.

I’m less concerned with people signing [the Act] and more thinking about that issues dealing with poverty in Jamaica aren’t addressed. It’s one of the reasons why these artists write this violently homophobic stuff is because they want to make it big and this is what sells.

Peter Tatchell and his queer colleagues, Serrano alleges, aren’t interested in opening a dialogue and making real change.

Serrano tells us he’s broached the matter in the past, but activists – who, in an email, he described as primarily white – push him and Jamaicans to the fringe:

Instead of my experience being something to learn from, a new tactic, I am a problem. My experience becomes a problem. This issue is really complicated. I propose gays and straights partners getting together to deal with this soul crushing poverty.

The reason why [Jamaicans] are producing this music isn’t even necessarily because they believe it, but because people are trying to make money and make living and get out of poverty. Also, activists who are fighting this create problems by labeling “Murder Music” and with little sound bytes like that – no discussion – it generates this circling the wagon mentality among black Caribbeans, their culture is being attacked. A lot of these activists with the language they use and the way they go about their protests generates this negative reaction and that’s another thing – the activist community needs to step back and take a look at itself and see how it’s being perceived.

This wouldn’t be the first time gay activists have been told to butt out.

Nigerian activists were outraged when UK-based gay group, Outrage!, blew up the African nation’s legislative spot. Serrano would like to see the Stop Murder Campaign stop its verbal assaults and attempt a civilized discussion. Leftists activists, however, are just as limited by language as reggae’s homophobes:

I would just like to make an appeal for activists to start thinking outside of the box of the usual protests, banning people and learning how to communicate with each other. Leftists are really good at communicating with each other, but once they get out of their leftist ghetto, they get really bad at it. There’s a leftist language and there’s a leftist way of thinking. I think that a lot of people on the left are just plopped into that and need to start expanding their point of view.

Serrano’s definitely got a point: rather than simply blasting Banton and other anti-gay crooners, activists need to get to the bottom of a complicated situation. Real change sure does feel better than a self-congratulatory slap on the black. Oh, we mean ‘back’.

Check out more of Serrano’s perspective over at MySpace.