Friday, September 25, 2009

Open Letter to Buju Banton’s Manager Tracii McGregor

In your open letter dated September 3, you state that you’re “setting the record straight” on “grossly inaccurate portrayals” of Buju Banton, following the recent cancellation of many of his performances.

You claim, as you have in several media reports, that Banton was only 15-years-old when he wrote the song that glorifies the murder of gay men, “Boom, Bye Bye.”

What you don’t mention is that he and your record label not only continue to profit from the sale of this song, still available for purchase on compilation albums, but that Banton has continued to perform it—in 2006 in Miami, and as recently as 2007 at the Guyana Music Festival. If the song’s “not a call to violence,” as you claim, then what exactly does Banton mean when he sings: “faggots… have to die” and that he will shoot them in the head and “burn them up bad?”

Though it’s disturbing someone so young could have enough rage to write those lyrics, Banton continues to perform and justify it nearly two decades later when he is clearly an adult man. This song is sadly reflective of the anti-gay culture in Jamaica… a culture that Banton helps to sustain through his music; a culture that resulted in the brutal murder of prominent gay Jamaicans in the last five years, including the gay rights campaigner Brian Williamson and the HIV educator Steve Harvey. Indeed, when Williamson’s body was discovered crowds gathered outside his house and started cheering and singing "Boom Bye Bye" in celebration of his killing. This and similar gay-bashing violence led Time magazine to recently ask if Jamaica is “the most homophobic place on Earth.” And it was just a few days ago that a gay British diplomat was murdered in Jamaica, in what many believe was a hate-motivated homophobic killing.

As you know, Banton himself was charged with a gay bashing attack just five years ago, though—under suspicious circumstances—he was acquitted.

While “setting the record straight,” you didn’t mention that in 2007, when some of Banton’s European concerts were threatened with cancellation, he signed the “Reggae Compassionate Act” (under his real name: Mark Myrie) agreeing (among other things) to never perform anti-gay songs. Perhaps you neglected to mention this, because just weeks later, Banton denied he ever signed it and continued to perform “Boom, Bye Bye.”

You cite, as an example of Banton’s “love for humanity,” his support for disadvantaged youth and his creation of a foundation to help HIV-positive babies. “He has spent an entire career making amends,” you say. But curiously, you never mention what he has said or done to atone for more than 18 years of performing a song that glorifies the murder of gay people. The only quote I can find from Baton on the issue is in a news story from three years ago, in which he says of gay rights groups: “Fuck them. I have never bashed any gays before, and if I bashed gays, I bashed them 16 years ago.”

I believe everyone has the potential to let go of whatever rage and hate they may have in their heart. If Banton is truly remorseful for performing “Boom, Bye Bye” and contributing to the anti-gay climate in Jamaica, and publicly vows to never perform the song again, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center would be happy to support an end to the boycott of his concerts.

In fact, while Banton is in the U.S., we’d like to invite him to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center to meet with us and to sign the Reggae Compassionate Act again. While here, we’d love to talk to him about the impact of hate speech and to meet with some of the homeless LGBT youth who live in our transitional-living program… youth who are victims of a homophobic culture, fostered by songs like “Boom, Bye Bye.”

You say that “our war against one artist” has prevented “a more fruitful discussion that could perhaps effect real change.” The unfortunate truth is that Banton is just one Reggae singer who has glorified the murder of LGBT people and we’ve protested against the others (Capleton, Sizzla, and Beenie Man) as well. The goal, however, has never been to silence artists—it has been to put an end to music that promotes violence against LGBT people. We’d like nothing more than to have a fruitful discussion that will result in the end of such music. Will you and Buju Banton take us up on this offer, Ms. McGregor?

Lorri L. Jean, CEO
L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

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