Batty Man explores the influence of ethnic, religious and cultural background on attitudes. The young people featured in the UK appear to be strongly influenced by Jamaican culture and music, which would seem to account for their negative views on homosexuality.
Gay rights in Jamaica
Sexual acts between men are prohibited in Jamaica, as they are in most of the English-speaking Caribbean. There is no reference in law to sexual activity between women, which is therefore legal by omission. The punishment for homosexual acts is ten years in prison with hard labour. Lesser offences around homosexual behaviour – even holding hands – can be deemed 'gross indecency' under Jamaica's criminal code, whether in public or private.
According to Amnesty International, Jamaica is the most dangerous place in the Caribbean for sexual minorities, who face extreme prejudice, ill-treatment, harassment and even torture. There are frequent attacks against gay men, often fatal, and reports of them being driven from their homes by threats of murder. In addition, the police actively support homophobic violence, which has prompted many gay men to seek asylum in the UK and other countries.
The Gay Freedom Movement was founded in 1974. Its general secretary, Larry Chang, fled to the US and was granted political asylum in 2004, but not before he had helped found J-FLAG (Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays), which now operates underground and anonymously. According to Human Rights Watch, the high levels of public intolerance harm any efforts to combat violence and the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Jamaica. For many Jamaicans, their anti-gay stance is based on religious grounds – many are devoutly Christian and, in a recent poll, 96% were opposed to any move that would seek to legalise homosexuality.
Many popular Jamaican musicians record and perform songs that advocate the attack or murder of gays. Reggae and dancehall singers like Elephant Man, TOK and Shabba Ranks, influential in the black communities of South London, write lyrics about shooting and executing gay men. On top of this, male promiscuity and heterosexual activity are lauded as signs of male virility and superiority. An international campaign against homophobia in music has been launched by UK-based human rights groups, including Outrage and SMM (Stop Murder Music Coalition). In some countries, like Canada, performers wishing to perform there are required to sign a declaration stating that they will not engage in or advocate hatred against persons because of their sexual orientation.
In the UK, Section 28 (Section 2a in Scotland) of the Local Government Act 1998 left many in education feeling that they were unable to discuss homosexuality or homophobic incidents. There is now, in contrast, a legal obligation on schools to prevent all kinds of bullying – verbal, physical, or psychological.
The Terence Higgins Trust Homophobia fact sheet (1999) states:
Homophobia has a severe impact on mental and emotional health. It can cause feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness, depression and anxiety, isolation and loneliness.
Research shows that homophobic bullying lowers educational attainment, and increases truancy rates, self-harm and suicide among young people.