Wednesday, July 12, 2006

LIFEbeat cancels reggae concert, insults black gay bloggers in the process

Back in 1998, back when e-mail messages were still read and not immediately sent to the trash can, I remember the elation following the massive show for the 5th Avenue vigil in the wake of the murder of Matthew Sheppard in Wyoming. Some credited the phenomenon to "massive forwarding" by grassroots activists and, even if I did say that e-mail was "the greatest invention since water" back then (see previous link), I'm not sure it could be replicated nowadays.

Enter bloggers.

In the course of 48 hours a grassroots campaign began by Keith Boykin through his blog to call attention to the mind-boggling decision by non-profit music industry foundation LIFEbeat - The Music Industry Fights AIDS to include virulent homophobic performers Beenie Man and T.O.K. in a concert to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, has resulted in the cancellation of said concert earlier this afternoon.

In their statement, LIFEbeat does not acknowledge just how wrong-headed they were in hiring these two particular performers for the show and instead imply that not canceling the show might have led to violence in the streets: "The possibility of violence at the concert from the firestorm incited by a select group of activists makes canceling the event the only responsible action."

Disingenuously they do not mention the letters and calls they have been getting not only from bloggers but from people from all sorts of walks who are just as mystified as those of us who might have called attention to their unfortunate choice, including a group of Caribbean community leaders who sent the following letter to LIFEbeat Executive Director John Canelli:

John Canelli
Executive Director

Mr. Canelli

LIFEbeat’s deliberate decision to have Jamaican artists Beenie Man and TOK headline your July 18 “Hearts & Voices” benefit concert has already provoked the outrage of many. As you are well aware, these are two of the most protested
Caribbean artists as a result of virulently homophobic lyrics in their recent music that calls for the mutilation, murder or genocide of Gay and Lesbian people. Homophobia causes AIDS, and LIFEbeat’s decision to showcase these artists undermines Caribbean HIV prevention efforts. The offensiveness and disregard of this action towards a Caribbean community whose vulnerability and stigmatization are at the core of its risk for HIV, and the bad faith it creates for LIFEbeat and its work, undermine any possible benefit inclusion of those artists might have.

Your response to the harm your action does Caribbean GLBT communities, who are disproportionately affected by HIV, needs to go significantly beyond current calls for cancellation of these two acts. As Caribbean community leaders and activists diverse in race, gender and sexual orientation, we have come together to insist that LIFEbeat organize a new concert targeting our communities, this one with a distinctly GLBT-affirming message and artists. This would be consistent with your mission to use the power of music in the healing work of fighting HIV. We are also demanding that you apply the proceeds of such an event towards the fight against homophobia in Jamaica, by contributing them to the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, AllSexuals & Gays (J-FLAG).

We strongly believe these are minimal measures and first steps LIFEbeat must take to undo the damage you have done to HIV prevention for one of the most vulnerable Caribbean populations. We will continue to mobilize Caribbean stakeholders around this effort and to collaborate with you in accomplishing these goals.

Other bloggers already have written about LIFEbeat's decision to cancel the concert and make some additional points. Check these entries from Keith Boykin and Bernard Tarver.

We are left wondering how this could have happened in the first place. How big is the disconnect between some of these AIDS foundations and the LGBT community, particularly those of us who are queer people of color and decide to speak up (instead of playing to the stereotype that we are all in the closet and can't speak for ourselves to challenge their actions when they are an affront to our dignity).

We are left wondering if LIFEbeat will eventually take a look at itself instead of throwing stones at others and do right by the Caribbean communities afflicted by HIV/AIDS, INCLUDING Caribbean-based LGBT individuals.

We are left wondering if radio stations, fans of Beenie Man and T.O.K., record houses and the artists themselves will ever get it: The atmosphere of homophobia that they help to create and promote is killing their own countrymen.

In the meantime, there will be a press conference tomorrow as well (click here for details).

As for those pesky bloggers? Maybe blogging IS "the greatest invention since water?"


Media Contact:
Jasmyne Cannick,
Colin Robinson, 917-482-9014
Keith Boykin,

Black Gay Bloggers Win Victory; LIFEbeat Cancels Anti-Gay AIDS Concert

Los Angeles/New York (July 12, 2006) –Black lesbian and gay bloggers are declaring a small victory in the fight against homophobia today.

After a 48 hour protest against LIFEbeat, the music industry’s AIDS organization, and its decision to use homophobic reggae artists Beenie Man and TOK, LIFEbeat today released a statement that it is canceling its concert. LIFEbeat cited “the possibility of violence” as the reason for canceling the concert and not the use of anti-gay reggae artists.

“While we are extremely pleased that our efforts paid off, we want to make it perfectly clear to LIFEbeat and others, that no threats of violence were ever made against LIFEbeat’s staff and board of directors, nor the concert,” commented Jasmyne Cannick, activist and blogger. “Our campaign was simply to educate LIFEbeat about the history of the performers that they choose and to make them aware of the recent murders of gay people in the Caribbean. We did this through emails, blogging, phone calls, and faxes from all over the world.”

Author Keith Boykin added, “LIFEbeat still fails to address the issue of homophobia and its connection to the spread of HIV/AIDS.” He continues, “While we support the mission of LIFEbeat to educate our youth about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, we cannot support the use of blatantly homophobic recording artists to achieve that mission.”

“LIFEbeat has basically chosen to cop-out and blame us for their ill-considered decision to use these artists in the first place,” commented D.C. blogger Terrence Heath.

The concert was scheduled to take place at New York’s Webster Hall on July 18. Activists are now calling on LIFEbeat to move on with a new concert using gay-friendly artists and to donate the proceeds to J-FLAG, The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays founded by the late Brian Williamson who was murdered for being gay in 2004.

"This would be the first time a protest of these artists raised money for us," said Karlene, co-chair of J-FLAG. “The international protests have helped build awareness and accountability back here. Artists who perform homophobic or hate songs must be sent a strong message that their acts are inhumane and will not be tolerated. But it’s even better when this can result in support for our difficult and under-financed work to counter this hatred where these musicians live.”

A complete list of the Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender bloggers who participated in the campaign against LIFEbeat appears below.

Bejata link
Keith Boykin link
Republic of T link
Pandagon link
Clay Cane link
Jasmyne Cannick link
Journey Into Light link
Frank Leon Roberts link
A Burst of Light link
Blabbeando link
J's Theater link
FemmeNoir link
AnziDesign link
PlanetOut's Politics and News link
GreasyGuide link
Troy Notorious link link
Woubi-Yossi Collective link
Just My Thoughts link
Obsidianbear link
The 7 Magazine link
The Larry Lyons Experience link
Simply Fred Smith link
Every Shut Eye Ain't Sleep link
Novaslim link
Front Porch Storytellin link
Taylor Siluwé link
Bialogue link

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