African-American gay and lesbian leaders are calling on LIFEBeat, the music industry AIDS group, to make amends for promoting a reggae concert featuring “murder music” artists Beenie Man and TOK by doing a benefit for the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG).
LIFEBeat canceled the July 18 concert at Webster Hall in the East Village citing “the possibility of violence at the concert from the firestorm of protest incited by a select group of activists,” but has not responded to the call for support for the besieged Jamaican gay movement, which suffered the brutal murder of its leader Brian Williamson in a 2004 gay bashing in the island nation.
At a press conference on July 13, the gay leaders, almost all African-American men joined by Jamaican poet and performance artist Staceyann Chin, also pledged to monitor the U.S. appearances of those dancehall singers who have not made reparations for their hit songs celebrating such things as the burning of gay men and the hanging of lesbians. While many concerts by these artists have been canceled in Europe, less attention has been paid to them in America.
Clarence Patton, executive director of New York’s Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, was particularly alarmed that LIFEBeat did not understand that “AIDS has long been used to justify violent attacks on LGBT people.” He also noted that just last week, two lesbians were found murdered in a pit in Jamaica.
“Can people who urge the taking of some lives really be advocates for the saving of others?” asked Colin Robinson, a longtime and gay activist affiliated with the Caribbean Rainbow Coalition. “We are asking LIFEBeat to undo the harm by going to work against homophobia in Jamaica where Beenie Man and TOK do the most damage.” He also said, “We don’t want to start a censorship movement. We want to raise awareness. We want people to know it may be legal [to sing about killing gay people], but it is morally wrong.”
Bishop Zachary Jones of Brooklyn’s Unity Fellowship Church said, “We stand together against anyone who threatens our lives through ‘entertainment’ or in any other way.”
Chin talked about how “it is unsafe to be an out lesbian in Jamaica,” her homeland, but took pains to emphasize that “we are not here to attack Jamaican culture.”
“We won’t let our supposed allies use us,” said Tokes Osubu of Gay Men of African Descent. “When you use people who oppose us and dehumanize us in furtherance of your agenda, we won’t stand for it.”
Joe Pressley of the New York AIDS Coalition said, “To really attack the epidemic, we have to fight the homophobia that keeps people from accessing services.”
Keith Boykin, a gay blogger and author who is on the board of the National Black Justice Coalition and who first sounded the alarm on the concert, said, “England has been leading this fight,” referring to the work of Peter Tatchell of Outrage! in opposing murder music. “Not only will we fight against anti-gay artists, but we want to highlight reggae artists who support human rights.”
LIFEBeat officials did not make themselves available after the press conference and executive director John Cannelli did not return calls for comment. The group did issue a press release, with Cannelli finally extending “a heartfelt apology to those we offended” and to “thank the individuals who raised their voices and helped us to see a more effective way to realize our mission.” He said that the concerns about violence mentioned when they first canceled the concert “didn’t stem from any threats from activists or members of the Caribbean American community,” but from anonymous calls.
LIFEBeat’s response to the press conference was a far cry from the defensive and unapologetic tone struck last week in canceling the concert—action that had not been sought by the protesters who only wanted the offending artists removed from the show.
No word on whether LIFEBeat will do anything to help J-FLAG, whose co-chair Karlene said in a statement, “This would be the first time a protest of these artists raised money for us.”