This morning I went to the 10AM press conference in New York City that members of the Black LsGlBT online and offline activist communities had scheduled concerning LIFEbeat's July 18 Hearts and Minds Reggae Gold Summer 2006 concert at Webster Hall, which the organization abruptly canceled after criticism over its decisions to invite and not disinvite or dialogue with Beenie Man and T.O.K., two leading dancehall musicians who've released songs advocating violence against and murder of lesbians and gay men.
Today's speakers, introduced by Kenyon Farrow of the New York State Black Gay Network, included author, activist and board member of the National Black Justice Coalition Keith Boykin; Gay Men Of African Descent president Tokes Osobu; Bishop Zachary Jones of the Unity Fellowship Church; poet, performer and Jamaican native Staceyann Chin; Caribbean-American author and activist Colin Robinson; Clarence Patterson of the New York Anti-Violence Project; and former candidate and New York AIDS Coalition Executive Director Joe Pressley. A number of the bloggers who participated in the mass action by posting information and commentary and the Blood on Their Hands banner designed by Donald Agarrat were also present. As far as I know, even though the press conference took place right in front of the offices of LIFEbeat, no members of that organization, whose representatives were invited to attend, showed up.
Although the press conference speakers touched upon a spectrum of points, some of the common threads were
- their appreciation at the effectiveness of the focused collective action the blogging community displayed; their disappointment that LIFEbeat had chosen to cancel the concert and smeared the bloggers through its claims about "violence" rather than disinviting the homophobic musicians, asking them to denounce their homophobic lyrics and take responsibility for the actions they provoked, or at the very least engage them in a dialogue about the repercussions of their work;
- their insistence the larger goals of raising awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and ending violence against LGBT people, both in Caribbean and elsewhere, were paramount and a major part of the objections raised;
- their belief that this was only one aspect of a broader, ongoing battle for what are human rights;
- their understanding of the power of popular culture (music, art, TV, movies, videos, video games, etc.) in shaping the life experiences--the social and political imaginary--of all of us, and thus the importance of not acceding to, but criticizing and dialoguing if possible with those whose powerful and widely enjoyed words and cultural products are ultimately harmful and dangerous;
- their reiteration of the fact that homophobia and heterosexism, racism and ethnocentrism, misogyny, and other forms of ontological and symbolic hatred and violence are interrelated, and that any dialogue has to take into account this often forgotten notion.
Kenyon, Staceyanne Chin (at right), and Joe Pressley
Andre Lancaster of A Journey into Light and Donald Agarrat of Anzidesign
Reporter Andy Humm, Colin Robinson and Keith Boykin
Photos by Andrés Duque
Kenyon Farrow, Colin Robinson, Staceyann Chin, and Keith Boykin
Kenyon Farrow and Keith Boykin
Staceyann Chin and Colin Robinson
Kenyon Farrow, a young man (I didn't get his name), and Tokes Osubu
Kenyon Farrow, Rev. Bishop Zachary Jones, Colin Robinson, Tokes Osubu, Bernie Tarver, Andre Lancaster, and yours truly (in the back, on the right)
This afternoon, LIFEbeat posted the following press release, which definitely takes several steps in the right direction:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Jody L. Miller
JLM PR, Inc.
LIFEbeat - The Music Industry Fights AIDS, wants the Caribbean American, AIDS activist and gay communities to know that we remain deeply committed to utilizing the power of music and the music industry to fight AIDS and we have learned many lessons while organizing the Reggae Gold Live concert. "In our desire to do something positive within the Caribbean American community, we didn't realize the depth of the hurt in the GLBT community around the lyrics of these artists," commented John Cannelli, Executive Director of LIFEbeat. "Once we saw how deep and real it is, it became very clear that canceling the concert was the right thing to do. We want to extend a heartfelt apology to those we offended and thank the individuals who raised their voices and helped us to see a more effective way to realize our mission. We also want to clarify the concerns of violence we felt. Those concerns didn't stem from any threats from activists or members of the Caribbean American community. They stemmed from threatening phone calls our office received from random individuals that led to concerns for the safety of our staff and others."
Moving forward, the concert is cancelled but the issue still exists. * " We're not giving up and are continuing our commitment to this community," Cannelli adds. "The issues of homophobia, sexism, racism and poverty, key factors in the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS, need to be addressed openly. In looking at the bigger picture with the lessons we've learned, this concert wasn't the right forum for this important topic. Over the next few weeks, we will be reaching out to key members of the Caribbean American community and to AIDS organizations to join together in creating an appropriate forum, where our individual strengths as activists and the power of coming together under one important cause can make a real difference in this community."
* LIFEbeat will have no involvement in nor benefit from any attempted resurrection of the Reggae Gold Live concert by any parties.