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May 27, 2015

Jamaican Singer Etana Takes a Stand for the Human Rights of LGBT People

Popular Jamaican reggae singer Etana, whose name means “strength,” is a voice for change in her industry. Jamaican dancehall music often contains violent and homophobic lyrics. When prominent LGBT activist Brian Williamson was murdered in 2004, the mob that gathered outside his home sang lines from “Boom Bye Bye,” a song that celebrates shooting a gay man.

But Etana says that hatred of LGBT people goes against Rastafarian principles. “People have a right to live their life how they feel,” she said in an interview last year. “You don’t get to dictate how a man or woman should live and if you’re a rasta, it is said that every man has a right to his own destiny and if you believe in the Father then you have to allow the Father to direct each life. Let them do their thing. A gay person is just a person like everybody else... Let them be.”

Jamaican Activist Angeline Jackson and Etana share what human rights mean to them.Jamaican activist Angeline Jackson (left) and Etana (right) share what human rights mean to them at Human Rights First's celebration of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Last week at an event with Human Rights First commemorating International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Etana described how having LGBT friends has shaped her perspective and made her realize how difficult life can be for Jamaica’s LGBT community. She believes that music can have a powerful influence for safety, equality, and positivity and she uses her platform to create constructive dialogue around the movement for LGBT human rights.

Etana is part of the changing tide for the recognition of the human rights of LGBT people in Jamaica. The country has a robust civil society that challenges the forces of discrimination and violence against its LGBT population. While there are still many challenges for the Jamaican LGBT community, momentum is growing for the full realization of the human rights of LGBT people.

For more information about the situation in Jamaica and how the United States can support grassroots action and civil society, check out our report, “The World as it Should Be: Advancing the Human Rights of LGBT People in Jamaica.”