Between the lines

Straight through the Heart

Richard Burnett
If you thought Julie Cypher was nuts for dumping Melissa Etheridge, and that Sinead O’Conner had lost her mind (again) when she decided, “No, I actually prefer cock” and got married to a man last month - well, then, you didn’t see Anne Heche tell ABC’s 20/20 host Baba Wawa that she was “crazy” for the three years she was with actor/comedian Ellen DeGeneres in what ranks as one of the most bizarre television interviews I have ever seen. Heche claimed she was sexually abused by her late father from the time she was a toddler until age 12, then subsequently battled mental illness, believing she was two people. Her alter ego — named Celestia — was from another planet, she says.

The kicker was, of course, when Barbara Walters asked Heche whether sex with DeGeneres was better than straight sex — as if straight sex were better than homo sex. Proof, once again, that straight folks just don’t fucking get it. Heche, to her credit, said she couldn’t answer the question, but I still say if you buy her memoir Call Me Crazy, then you’re the one who’s crazy.

Meanwhile, in more serious news, The New York Times — covering the second wave of HIV infection sweeping across America — reported on Aug 20, “One survey by the Stop AIDS Project, a non-profit organization in San Francisco, found that the number of men who reported using a condom 'every time' during anal sex dropped to 49.7 percent in 2000 from 69.6 percent in 1994. In that same time, the survey found, the number of men having such unprotected sex with more than one partner increased to 48.8 percent from 23.4 percent. One-third of those men said that they either did not know their partners' H.I.V. status or that they knew it was different from their own.”

Even scarier, in an Aug 23 U.S. Center for Disease Control HIV/STD/TB Prevention News Update, the world’s foremost authority on contagious diseases stated, “Zambians' average life expectancy has drastically fallen from 43 years in 1996 to 37 years today due to the high incidence of disease, particularly HIV/AIDS, according to a UN report.”

This especially hit home since my family is from Africa, and I was last in Zambia in 1993. Were I living in Zambia, given the life expectancy of Zambians, I’d be dead. Add the dismal fact the World Health Organization has stated HIV cannot be controlled until we wipe out tuberculosis worldwide, and the CDC report becomes even more ominous.

“The incidence of TB [in Zambia] has jumped from 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants 15 years ago to more than 500 per 100,000 now, said the 1999-2000 human development report recently released by the UN Development Program (UNDP). According to medical experts, the country’s high prevalence of HIV/AIDS (estimated at 19.6 percent) is to blame for the falling life expectancy and rising TB caseload.”

Which is why it was even more depressing to read a recent comprehensive survey which claims more than one in four Australian gay men have unsafe sex and almost as many have not been tested for HIV.

“Of the more than 1,800 gay men surveyed for the 2000 Male Out Survey, 26 percent said they had some unprotected sex with casual partners - more than double the 12 percent who said they engaged in such activities in 1992,” journalist Barabara Dozetos reported for the Network. “The survey, conducted by the National Centre in HIV Social Research (NCHSR) at the University of New South Wales, also found a 24 percent increase in unprotected sex between regular partners - men who are more likely to know each other's HIV status and discuss condom use.

“Dr. Paul Van de Ven, NCHSR's deputy director, said safe-sex practices were more common among men in capital cities than in regional or rural areas… Van de Ven said the survey also identified challenges in encouraging HIV testing. Of the respondents, 22 percent — who ranged in age from 16 to 82 — said they had not been tested, 73 percent of the respondents identified as HIV negative and 5 percent said they were HIV positive.”

Meanwhile, in a more uplifting story in the current summer issue of The Beat magazine (Vol 20 #4), headlined “Is Slackness Done? Cleaning Up the Dancehall”, reporter Tasha Joseph writes how reggae record companies - and in particular the venerable U.S-based RAS Records - are making the effort to cleanse dancehall (the reggae/rap genre that influenced American hip hop a quarter century ago) of homophobia.

“The prevalence of homophobia in dancehall music is believed by many to be caused by the staunch in the tenets of Christianity, a religion which quietly frowns upon blatant homosexual activity,” writes Joseph who then quotes former Inner Circle lead singer Chris Bentley: “Jamaicans are a deeply religious people. Being gay or lesbian is behaviour that goes against the scripture.”

So RAS records is “trying to put a stop to [homophobic lyrics in dancehall] with a campaign called “Slackness Done.” The company, a 20-year-old icon in the industry with a roster of [widely-respected] artists such as Tony Rebel, Chaka Demus and Pliers, Culture, Israel Vibration, Gondwana and many others, hopes to “sweep away the bad vibes that homophobic, misogynistic and materialistic music has perpetrated on us,” said Brice Rose, a partner in RAS Records.”

“Homophobia is a sign of a deeply insecure and ignorant male mind,” Rose says. “I’ve always believed that the more vociferously homophobic a guy is, the more he secretly likes men. So maybe all the homophobic rappers, DJs and club hipsters are really flaming closet cases!”

Tell that to reggae superstar Buju Banton, who told me himself a few years ago when I asked him about his 1991 hit Boom Bye Bye, a song that advocates killing “Batty boys”, or homosexuals, “Boom Bye Bye means judgement, do you understand? If I am 20, or when I'm older [reporters will still] ask me this question and the sentiments of this song [will] still remain the same. Nothing don't change because my feelings about family don't change. And the song has a [good] message.”

To curb such homophobia, RAS Records is distributing 1,200 brooms to other record companies, the media, artists and dancehall DJs “with a message that it is time for the industry to clean up dancehall music and stop bashing gays.”

The activist in me believes if RAS Records and other labels really want to make a difference, though, they should forget the damn brooms and instead publicly announce they will no longer sign artists who continue to foster homophobia and propagate violence against gays.
It’s the least one would expect from the sons of slaves.

Richard Burnett’s syndicated queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill can be read locally in Hour magazine and The Ottawa X Press, as well as on the web at or at (click on the “Scene” link and scroll down to TDB) and (click on the “Opinion” link).