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Dancehall avoids flag furore

Published:Wednesday | June 22, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Diana King
Marlene Malahoo Forte
The rainbow flag is flown alongside the American flag at the United States Embassy in Liguanea, St Andrew.

It is with a sense of immense satisfaction that I have watched the spat over the rainbow flag being unfurled at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston unfold, without the accustomed anti-homosexual dancehall suspects being involved.

As a recap, for those who could possibly have missed it, there was a massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016. The gunman, who was killed by the police, murdered 49 people, with 53 injured. Shortly after, at the U.S., Embassy in Kingston, the rainbow flag (representative of the LGBT community) was hoisted under the Stars and Stripes, which came half-way down the flagpole to meet it.

Then Attorney-General, Marlene Malahoo Forte, tweeted dissent at the colourful cloth, though sympathetic over the shooting. The U.S., Embassy responded, church groupings helped hold the Forte, opinions flew back and forth and the lines of Jamaicans going into the citadel at Liguanea to seek entrance into Uncle Sam's land did not get shorter or disorderly.

In all of this, there was nary a peep from the dancehall community and I was extremely happy. Of course, there may yet be some grand public statement on a stage or in social media that is picked up by the mainstream media, but it will be an afterthought to the main event. And any reaction will be compared to that given to Malahoo Forte.

Of course, that silence (so far) may have everything to do with the U.S., Embassy. In April, singer Diana King posted on social media that "Jamaica is tolerant of rape and sexual abuse of children, even incest, but not of sex between consenting adults." When The STAR sought response from "several leading dancehall artistes" almost all refused to comment, some saying that they feared losing their U.S., visas. (Of course, that rules out the many who already don't have one currently, although they may still be hopeful)


Hate and homophobia


Whatever the reason, in this instance dancehall has done what it should have some time ago - stay out of the gay fray. With the generally low socioeconomic origins of its outstanding voices, despite amassing wealth the dancehall practitioners come in for a level of treatment that Malahoo Forte, as Attorney-General, simply will not. By keeping quiet (to this point) on the rainbow flag, dancehall has allowed the debate to continue at a level where the customary automatic accusations of hate and homophobia do not come into play, at least, not on the level when a deejay expresses anti-homosexual sentiment to the slightest degree.

Of course, Malahoo Forte did not advocate the slaughter of homosexuals, literally or figuratively. However, with this dim view of the rainbow flag being hoisted in Liguanea expressed by the country's Attorney-General, the dialogue over the matter is initiated in a different space than the one between stacks of speaker boxes.

The anti-homosexuality which has been expressed in dancehall, which has earned international notoriety, did not originated in dancehall but the church - the Christian church. In a future 'Music and More', I will look at the Biblical basis of many anti-homosexual songs, including the line, "woman a de greates' ting God ever put pon de lan'" in Buju Banton's Boom Bye Bye to the statement "dem fi apologise to Jah" in the introduction to Sizzla's Nah Apologise.

Of course, silence may not mean acquiescence. In some instances, it indicates a hardening of resolve in a country once (in)famously labelled the most homophobic place on earth, but which does not have a record of anything approaching Orlando (not that anywhere else does, thankfully). Actually, in a 2012 interview with another newspaper, former Assistant Police Commissioner Les Green, said that in the cases of gay killings he investigated, all save one, were by other gay people and the exception was a robbery, which ruled out hate crime.

So is the nebulous, far-flung, officially landless Islamic State now the bearer of that 'most homophobic title, though it is not a country?

And there is another way to look at that briefly mounted half-way down rainbow flag at the U.S., Embassy in Kingston. Is it a concession that efforts at the local level have faltered since the church stepped out for the CAUSE about two years ago? Did the U.S., Embassy seize the moment to make a statement because the local gay lobby has lost significant momentum since incidents like the sex instruction in children's homes and the exposure of some cross-dressers who used to plague New Kingston as criminals?

And is a flag that cannot go past a little under half-way up a mast an indication of dominance or desperation - or even defeat?