There are some things that defy imagining. For example, why would an AIDS organization that calls itself LIFEbeat promote a benefit concert where half the headliners are artists who’ve advocated anti-gay violence in their music?
Can’t think of a reason? Neither can I, but LIFEbeat is doing just that with a concert featuring reggae artists Beanie Man and TOK. Beanie man is infamous for lyrics like those from “Han up Deh,” which advocate hanging lesbians. Not to be outdone, TOK’s “Chi Chi Man” advocates the killing and burning of gay men. And these are the artists LIFEbeat choses to headline their HIV/AIDS benefit?
It would be easy to write the whole thing off to someone at LIFEbeat just now knowing what’s up with these performers. It would be nice to be able to do that. Nice, but not even remotely possible. For starters, just this month a Beanie Man concert in the UK was shut down over protests about his lyrics.
It would be nice to think that, even if the folks at LIFEbeat somehow didn’t know about the violence these artists advocate in their lyrics, they would take appropriate action once they were informed. Wrong again. Keith did just that, and the response he got was just as mystifying as the line-up chosen for the concert.
When I first heard about the concert, I decided to give LIFEBeat the benefit of the doubt. I figured they just didn’t realize what a mistake they made. So I sent a letter (shown below) and placed a phone call to LIFEBeat’s executive director John Canelli. Mr. Canelli returned my call today and the response was shocking, insulting and extremely disappointing.
Canelli admitted that his organization knew that Beenie Man and TOK were homophobic artists but decided to do the concert anyway. “We didn’t make the decision blindly,” he told me. “We knew there would be controversy.” So why did they do it, I asked. Canelli told me his organization wanted to reach out to that segment of the community by using artists who could connect with them. Perhaps that makes sense, but why not use LIFEBeat’s leverage to encourage the artists to repudiate their homophobia. “It’s not my job to do that,” Canelli said flatly. I strongly disagree.
When asked why he couldn’t use his influence to get the musicians to renounce their homophobia, Canelli said that all the performers at the concert are performing for free, and because of the nature of the event, “I’m not in a position to make a demand like that.” He tried to assure me that there would be no “offensive lyrics in that venue.”
I’m sorry, Mr. Canelli, that’s not enough. Beenie Man and TOK are two of the worst homophobes in the music industry. For LIFEBeat to give a platform to them is unacceptable and intolerable. Their mere presence is offensive enough unless and until they renounce their homophobia.
“It’s a tough decision,” Canelli told me. “Look at the numbers of people getting infected,” he said. “My job is to save lives.” I doubt it. If your job were really to save lives, you would never give a platform to two artists who encourage their fans to take the lives of innocent gays and lesbians.
Whose lives, Mr. Cannelli? I’m guessing lives more important of those gay men who are and would be victims of the kind of violence your artists advocate in their lyrics. Lives more important than those of the men who are driven so far underground and into the closet by the threat of such violence that they’re unlikely to access information that might prevent them from becoming infected.
Whose lives, Mr. Cannelli? Your concert will take place in a city where black gay men have been victims of anti-gay violence like that advocated by your headliners.
Whose lives, Mr. Cannelli? Lives more important than that of Kevin Aviance who just last month endured an attack by four young black men who called him “faggot” as they kicked and beat him while bystanders just watched, leaving him hospitalized with a broken jaw? Your headliners would probably have joined in the attack. Since they can’t, maybe they can at least perform their anti-gay lyrics and dedicate the performance to Aviance’s attackers.
Whose lives, Mr. Cannelli? Lives more important than that of Rashawn Brazell, a young gay man murdered in New York last year, and whose dismembered remains were found in New York’s subway tunnels? The murder hasn’t been caught, but when he is, I’m sure your performers would probably like to shake his hand. Why not have them autograph CD to give to him if/when he is caught?
Whose lives, Mr. Cannelli? Lives more important than that of Marvin Page, who was found in his burning apartment in the Bronx, stabbed to death and with his throat slashed? Your performers are probably just sorry they didn’t get the light the match. Make that two autographed CDs, so Page’s killer can get also get one when caught.
Whose lives, Mr. Cannelli? Lives more important than that of Dwan Prince, who was left near death by a gay bashing like those depicted in your artists’ lyrics? They’re probably only sorry that Prince survived. How about a shout out to his attackers, telling them to finish the job next time? Maybe even a jailhouse visit to raise their spirits? If their schedules permit, of course.
Whose lives, Mr. Cannelli? Lives more important than that of Sakia Gunn, a teenager stabbed to death in Newark, because she was a lesbian? Would your artists mind autographing pictures for her attackers?
Mr. Cannelli, the artists you’re featuring would almost certainly cheer the next event these to happen in and around New York. As you’re bringing them to the city, and giving them a platform to spread the kind of poison that perpetuates attacks like these, will you also proudly share credit with them when the next black LGBT person is inevitably victimized by the violence these artists support? You might as well.
Whose lives are you trying to save, Mr. Cannelli, and at the cost of what other lives? If you thought it would reach the “right demographic” would you put Prussian Blue in the line-up as well?
I’m sending the above to Mr. Cannelli, and I’m joining Keith, Jasmyne and others in asking readers here to contact LIFEbeat and Cannelli. If you’re outraged, let them hear from you.
REGGAE GOLD LIVE 2006 SUMMER JUMPOFF
125 East 11th Street between 3rd & 4th Avenues
Doors open at 9pm
Promotional support provided by BET, Vibe magazine, Music Choice and Power 105.1
Emil Wilbekin, the openly gay former editor-in-chief of VIBE magazine, is on their board of directors. Hilary Rosen, the openly gay former head of the Recording Industry Association of America, is on their board of advisors.
630 Ninth Avenue (between 44th and 45th Streets)
New York, NY 10036
John Cannelli, Executive Director, x101, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Peters Manager, Operations, x119, email@example.com