BY David Michael Conner
March 24 2010 5:20 PM ET
Do you think North American perceptions of attitudes toward LGBT people in other parts of the world, such as the Caribbean, are accurate?
There is a lot of homophobia. That story is very accurate. But I think there’s another story that doesn’t get publicized as much. And that is, you know, there are gay communities in the Caribbean. And they’re working very hard — and some of them are having success — in raising awareness and changing the climate and the atmosphere in their countries. Guyana is the only one that I know about, but I imagine that other Caribbean countries are kind of forging pathways, but I don’t know exactly what is happening. I do know for sure that in Guyana they’re making strides.
When you came to the U.S. to pursue your economics degree at NYU, did you anticipate working on Wall Street, or did you always know you were going to be a professional musician?
It was ... um ... yeah, that’s an interesting story. [Laughs] I was working full-time while I was at NYU. I actually worked as an X-ray tech. I knew I wanted a bachelor’s degree — that was kind of pounded into me growing up, “You have to get your education," so I was like, OK, since I was already working, it was like, what area, what concentration do I want to study? What am I interested in? I had no idea of how the financial world worked, so I thought, OK, let’s study economics. So I just went into it because it was interesting. But there wasn’t a plan for afterward. I guess my plan was, when I graduate, then I’ll decide what I want to do after that. And that’s what I did. After I graduated, kind of halfway through the program, I knew that I wasn’t interested in working in the financial world. That became pretty clear. And at the end, it was, OK, so what do I want to do now? Growing up, music was always a constant in my life. And I always wanted to do it professionally, but you know, all your friends and family get into your head: “You can’t be a musician; you won’t make any money.” But at that point I felt like, this is what I’ve always wanted to do, and this is what I always felt would make me happy. So just jump in and do it, and see what happens.
Your songs have been classified as soul, R&B, jazz, and even as “gay music.” How do you classify your music?
If you think of it just musically, what it sounds like, I think of it as a fusion of a few genres. It has elements of R&B, it has elements of soul, jazz, reggae, that are all fused together.
In terms of what I want to bring to the table, I do want to raise awareness about homosexuality and about our lives. Because I think that everyone who steps out and adds ... whatever my story is, it’s one more story that can reach five people or a hundred people, 500 people, a thousand people. I think each story makes our stories stronger. So I just want to play my part in making sure that we as gay people are seen as who we are. We’re beautiful humans, and our lives are just as good and right as any other type of love that exists in the world.
You were raised in a religious household. What do you tell religious people who insist that LGBT people are living sinful lives?
Oh, yeah, I do experience that. And, you know, my dad’s a minister and we’re having this conversation right now, about what hell and heaven [are] ... and what I tell my family is that the only definition of God is that God is love. In the Bible — and I’m not a Christian right now, but I grew up hearing the words from the Bible, so that’s what I use when I’m talking to Christians. It’s like, this is the book you believe in, and your religious, sacred book says that God is love. So what that says, if you just look at the English of it, is that God is love and love is God, and wherever love is, there is God. And that’s what your book says. And so that’s what I communicate to people, to my family, when those issues come up. And I also try to make a point of giving them love as well. I think that a lot of homophobia comes from fear, and my belief is that just communicating that I am of love and you are of love ...
I’ll tell you an incident. We were having a family discussion, kind of sending e-mails back and forth about this topic. And my mom was really upset with the whole idea; she just couldn’t connect her son and being gay. It just ... just a complete shutdown. She couldn’t take it. You could feel her frustration and her tension. And what I sent back, essentially, was “We don’t have to believe in the same things, but I believe we ought to respect each other’s ability to believe in different things. And I want to let you know that I love you.” And her message right after that was the complete opposite. You could just feel her release ... it was like a big sigh of relief for her. You know, love is a really powerful word. I have to respect your belief, but you have to respect my belief. And at the core of that has to be love.