Oct 14, 2009

Buju Banton Meets with LGBT Activists at The Courtyard Hotel in Larskpur

In what may be a groundbreaking and possibly historical event, controversial reggae star Buju Banton met with representatives from the LGBT community this afternoon. Banton has been a frequent target of gay rights protesters for his 1992 song “Boom Bye Bye,” which activists say glorifies murder and violence directed at gays.

Before the dialogue, Banton’s show at the Rock It Room scheduled for tonight (October 12) appeared in jeopardy of cancellation due to protest. Yet after the face-to-face exchange, the LGBT activists not only agreed to let the show continue as planned, but expressed optimism about the possibility of further dialogue and action, toward a human rights agenda inclusive of both LBGT concerns and the reggae community.

The meeting, which took place at the Courtyard Hotel in Larskpur, included Banton and his manager Tracii McGregor, San Francisco supervisors Bevan Dufty and Eric Mar, LGBT Center executive director Rebecca Rolfe, queer blogger Michael Petrelis and lesbian activist Andrea Shorter. The LGBT acvists, led by Petrelis and Shorter, voiced their concerns over homophobic lyrics and anti-gay violence in Jamaica directly to Banton, and suggested various things he could do to promote human rights, such as a town hall meeting in Jamaica. Banton, in turn, pointed to additional context, such as colonialism and the Jamaican government’s homophobic laws. He denied he is a hate speech or murder music artist, as his critics have insisted. “Let’s face the reality,” Banton said. “Whatever is said in a positive light can’t get out.” On the topic of the controversial tune, he added, “I don’t perform the song anymore. The reality is, I’ve gone past that.”

“You have a bad PR problem,” Shorter told the three-time Grammy nominee, adding, “I’m not gonna get a medal for talking to you.” She added, however, she was willing to try to forge ahead to figure out “what we can do together to fight against hate and violence in a way that is meaningful.” After some testy questions by Shorter about Banton’s commitment to gay-rights issues, Mar said he knows of many within the African American and reggae community who “see you as one of the most positive artists out there” – in stark contrast to the way Banton has been presented in the LBGT activist scene and queer blogosphere. “I’ve been actively doing some of the stuff you mention,” the singer said, referring to operation willy, a pro-safe sex anti-AIDS organization Banton founded in 1994. “I don’t advocate violence, Rastafari is not about that,” he added.

The tete-a-tete appeared to soothe tensions on both sides. At the end of the meeting, all assembled posed for snapshots, as Dufty remarked, “No city is gayer than S.F. You have met with some of the toughest queer activists around.” Banton said nothing, while Shorter said, “I’m more hopeful walking out of here than walking in here.”



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