Thu | Oct 22, 2020

Letter of the Day | Dancehall and diva embrace gay Pride Week

Published:Thursday | August 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM


On Independence Day this year, history was made at the PrideJA Breakfast Party. For the first time in Jamaica's history, a well-known dancehall artiste performed at an LGBT Pride event in Jamaica. D'Angel headlined the premium event, which closed out the week of celebrations.

This moment is a critical step forward for Jamaica that cannot be understated. For years, dancehall music was publicly understood to be one of the main driving forces behind virulent homophobia and transphobia in Jamaica. The Stop Murder Music Campaign was launched in the early 2000s to address some of these concerns. This was happening while LGBT Jamaicans were enjoying dancehall in their own spaces and making it their own.

As the Stop Murder Music Campaign and the Reggae Compassionate Act achieved some wins on the international stage, locally, greater regulation by the Broadcasting Commission saw a steady and sustained shift away from violently homophobic lyrics being dominant in dancehall.


Some way to go


This, however, does not mean that homophobia and transphobia have been eliminated from dancehall altogether. Dancehall continues to have sexist, patriarchal, homophobic and transphobic elements to it. There is much more work to do to make Jamaican culture - and, particularly, dancehall - more accommodating of LGBT Jamaicans who enjoy it and contribute to it.

We acknowledge that dancehall has become significantly less intolerant of members of the LGBT community, and more and more LGBT Jamaicans are proudly claiming dancehall and enjoying in the ways they know how.

D'Angel's headlining of the Pride Breakfast Party demonstrates that dancehall is just as much for the LGBT community as it is for the rest of Jamaicans. Her songs looked at themes of self-love, pride, confidence, freedom and the avoidance of negative and hateful people. These are popular themes in dancehall that resonate not only with dancehall lovers generally, but with members of the LGBT community who face negativity and hate often within their lived experience.

By extension, the wider society can evolve in such a way that we can all enjoy, regardless of who we are. We just have to be willing to have open and respectful conversation with each other about our differences and see the humanity in each other. PrideJA 2018 showed us we can pray, play sports, sell goods, read books and 'dash out' together, so let's begin to make every week Pride Week.