Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Blog Community Activism Ends in Dancehall Concert Cancelation

48 or so hours after the online protests, launched by activist Keith Boykin, Jasmyne Cannick and others began against LIFEbeat's ill-advised decision to invite dancehall musicians Beenie Man and T.O.K., whose songs have featured violently anti-LGBT lyrics, to headline their July 18 Webster Hall Hearts & Minds Reggae Gold Summer 2006 concert to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among the Caribbean-American community, the nonprofit has decided neither to drop the problematic performers nor engage in a dialogue with them on the relationship between their songs and violence against LGBT people and HIV/AIDS transmission, but to cancel the concert altogether.

This is a total cop-out, and proof that they still haven't figured out that their original plan was seriously flawed. But what's even worse is that LIFEbeat is publicly claiming that threats of "violence," spurred on by the protest of a "select group," are the reason behind the cancelation! (Please see below.) Talk about irony of ironies.

They invite musicians who've repeatedly recorded songs that advocate homophobia, most specifically in the form of violence against and outright murder of LGBT people, among them Caribbean LGBTs, to a benefit that supposedly is to promote better awareness of HIV/AIDS among Caribbean people, many of them LGBTs. LIFEbeat already is saying almost zero about the actual aims of the benefit on the flyer, they admit they haven't engaged in any kind of serious dialogue or discussion with the controversial artists, and they slough off any responsibility for doing so, instead taking the easy route by simply canceling the whole thing completely, like petulant children. Pitiable hardly does their actions justice.

Tracking backwards, here is the original press release from the New York State Black Gay Network on behalf of the Black LGBT blogging community that initiated the protests:

Black Gay Community Demands Homophobic Reggae Artists Pulled From AIDS Benefit; Hold Press Conference in Front of LIFEBeat Offices


July 11, 2006

CONTACT: Kenyon Farrow, New York State Black Gay Network, 212.828.9393 ext 138, or cell 917.627.0853

What: Press Conference
When: Thursday, July 13, 2006 10:00am
Where: LIFEBeat Offices, 630 9th Avenue (bet 44th & 45th Sts), Manhattan, NY 10036
Who: Invited Speakers include: Keith Boykin, Black Gay Author & Board member, National Black Justice Coalition; Christine Quinn, NYC Council Speaker; Marjorie Hill, GMHC; Kenyon Farrow, New York State Black Gay Network; Tokes Osubu, Gay Men Of African Descent; Bishop Zachary Jones, Unity Fellowship Church; Soraya Elcock, Harlem United; Violet Tabor, Minority Task Force on AIDS/FACES and others.

Why: To demand that LIFEBeat cancel performances of homophobic artists Beenie Man and TOK at the upcoming Hearts and Voices Benefit Concert.

New York, NY Responding with shock and outrage, Black gay and lesbian community leaders and allies will convene a press conference in front of the offices of AIDS awareness organization LIFEBeat on Thursday, July 13, for hiring homophobic dancehall artists Beenie Man and Tok for their July 18 benefit concert at Webster Hall.

The Black gay community began to mobilize when Black gay writer and activist Keith Boykin blogged about the concert on his site Boykin wrote he had phoned LIFEBeat Executive Director John Cannelli, and was told that LIFEBeat knew about the artists and their lyrics but booked them anyway. Boykin writes in his letter to Cannelli "to use Beenie Man and TOK at an AIDS benefit is a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of Black gay men, bisexuals and lesbians who have died of AIDS."

Black LGBT community leaders and bloggers across the country are demanding that LIFEBeat either dis-invite the two artists, or demand the artists make public statements disavowing their homophobic remarks. LIFEBeat issued a public statement acknowledging the many phone calls, letters, and emails they have received about this issue, but still refuse to comply with the community’s demand for accountability.

"It saddens me to have to confront an organization I once considered a real ally in the fight against AIDS," says Mark McLaurin, Executive Director of NYSBGN. "But hiring artists who sing about setting fire to gays and lesbians for an AIDS benefit is reckless and irresponsible."

The New York State Black Gay Network will be launching The Campaign For Black Gay Men's Lives later this summer, targeting NYC Black Communities to help curb violence against Black gay men in NYC. To learn more, visit

To read the Human Rights Watch Report, Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence, and Jamaica's HIV/AIDS Epidemic, visit

Some of the many articles on the protest are here.
AP's story on the blog protest is here.
Even CBS News covered it.

LIFEbeat's weak original response (they weren't engaging in any dialogue with the problematic artists) to the important questions the blogging collective asked was as follows:


LIFEbeat's mission is to utilize the power of music to raise awareness and educate in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The Caribbean American community has been tremendously affected by the HIV/AIDS virus and has long kept silent about the epidemic's effect on their
community for fear of being stigmatized.

When planning the upcoming Hearts & Voices Reggae Gold concert, LIFEbeat's staff and board knew this event might raise concerns by some in the gay community and required careful consideration before proceeding. LIFEbeat's staff and board do not condone anti-gay lyrics or violence against anyone; they are an organization dedicated to promoting life. The staff and board also strongly believe that dialogue opens doors, creating the opportunity for enlightenment, growth and change amongst all involved. We all have an opportunity to look to the future, not the past, and join together in solidarity to educate, enlighten, be a part of positive change and save lives.

Jody L. Miller
JLM PR, Inc.
580 Broadway, Ste. 1208
New York, N.Y. 10012
p: 212.431.5227
f: 212.431.6818

Representing: Russell Simmons and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network;
Absolut Vodka; Level Vodka; Cassandra Wilson; The Songwriters Hall of
Fame; Cooking Vinyl label; Echo and the Bunnymen; Elisabeth Withers;
LIFEbeat, the Music Industry Fights AIDS; The Church; Killing Joke;
Janis Ian; American Women in Radio & Television's Gracie Allen
Awards; "Hip-Hop Won't Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life "-
Smithsonian Exhibit; Manhattan Center Studios.

Caribbean and Caribbean-American activists wrote the following excellent letter to John Canelli of LIFEbeat:

John Canelli
Executive Director
630 Ninth Avenue: Suite 1010
New York, NY 10036

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.

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.

Then, they decided to wuss out and just not deal with the mess they'd created in the first place. Their preposterous statement was as follows:

212 431 5227 (Work)
917 770 3970 (Cell)


LIFEbeat – The Music Industry Fights AIDS, has collectively decided to cancel its Reggae Gold Live concert, scheduled for Tuesday, July 18 at New York’s Webster Hall. While the organization’s staff and board believe very strongly in the positive purpose and intention of this event, 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. Dialogue is important and LIFEbeat’s staff and board respect the opinions of those who came forward to make their feelings known. We have always and will continue to support the GLBT community. It is very unfortunate, however, that the intended good that could result from bringing this community together around this potentially ground breaking [sic] event will not be realized. The Caribbean American [sic] community needs our help in bringing attention to this unspoken and often stigmatized illness. We hope in the wake of this decision that those who came forward and spoke out will now come forward again to do something positive for the Caribbean American [sic] community and help bring attention to the devastation this disease has wreaked in that community so awareness, prevention and healing can follow.

"Possibility of violence"? On whose part? Why don't they say? Are they implying perhaps that some of the very fans who'd come out to this event my wreak violence against protesters or anyone they deemed to be LGBT, thereby realizing the terrible scenarios that continue to be fueled by the anti-gay music, and that the protesters were calling attention to? "Select group"? You mean, the people who'd called attention, on blogs and off, to this screwed up event? "Dialogue"? Involving whom? They couldn't and wouldn't even engage in a discussion with the problematic artists they'd invited. "Good that could result from bringing this community together"? What community or communities? With no dialogue or discussion, the very issues they claim to want to address won't be addressed. Was Beenie Man planning to talk about the real-time, real-world effects of his homophobic lyrics, in terms of their reinforcement of dangerous norms, their incitement to violence, and their psychological damage to Caribbean and Caribbean-American people? Was this dialogue going to happen?

Because if this were the case, if Beenie Man and T.O.K. were to engage in a dialogue with LIFEbeat and with people with HIV/AIDS, with LGBT people, Caribbean, Caribbean-American, and otherwise, Hearts & Voices Reggae Gold Summer 2006 might really have been the "ground-breaking" event they envisioned.

The Black LGBT blogging community issued the following press release:

For Immediate Release

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.”

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

Andy Humm's NY Blade article, "'Murder Music' Concert Canceled" provides a good overview.

Donald has pointed out that LIFEbeat will be sponsoring a tribute to the life of the late Larry Levan, the primary DJ at the former Paradise Garage, this upcoming Sunday, July 16. He asks might it not be a good idea to support one of the events that "they do right"?

From Bernie's blog, I just gleaned the newest press release from the New York AIDS Coalition, a state-wide association of HIV/AIDS service providers:

CONTACT: Joey Pressley, Executive Director
(212) 629-3075


New York, NY – The New York AIDS Coalition (NYAC) expresses relief that LIFEbeat has chosen to cancel “Reggae Gold”, a music event that would have included two musicians who have a track record of dangerously homophobic music lyrics. The artists, BeenieMan and TOK, have songs that contain lyrics calling for the mutilation, murder and genocide of gays and lesbians. The event was scheduled for July 18, 2006 at Webster Hall.

While LIFEbeat “did the right thing” and canceled an event that would have given a platform and audience for musicians who promote violence and discrimination towards gays and lesbians, LIFEbeat did not cancel the event graciously. Instead, LIFEbeat chose to blame AIDS advocates for the cancellation, issuing a statement that the “possibility of violence” was the reason for cancellation. NYAC is not aware of any threats of violence and is deeply saddened by LIFEbeat’s decision to blame the AIDS community. In reality, public outrage at LIFEbeat’s decision to invite homophobic musicians to perform placed pressure on LIFEbeat take action.

NYAC Executive Director Joey Pressley stated, “LIFEbeat has a reputation as an organization that is helping to reduce HIV stigma and raise awareness, particularly among young adults, about the risks of HIV. I am thankful that they chose to cancel an event, targeted to young adults, which would have given a platform for musicians whose music promotes violence against LGBT people.” Mr. Pressley went on to state, “Homophobia and stigma continue to be major factors contributing to the transmission of HIV/AIDS and have no place in an event dedicated to raising awareness of HIV. We welcome the opportunity to work with LIFEbeat and to have an honest conversation about the role of homophobia in contributing to HIV infection.”

According to the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS,) homophobia is a significant cause of HIV infection. As stated in their 2006 annual report on the global AIDS epidemic: “Vulnerability to HIV infection is dramatically increased where sex between men is criminalized. In Jamaica, men having sex with men can be convicted of a crime and sentenced to jail.” The report goes on to state, “Criminalization and homophobia severely limit the ability of many men who have sex with men to access HIV prevention information, commodities and treatment and care. Faced with legal or social sanctions, men having sex with men are either excluded from, or exclude themselves from, sexual health and welfare agencies because they fear being identified as homosexual.” In addition, other groups such as Human Rights Watch have documented the direct relationship between homophobia and HIV transmission, such as a report they issued on homophobia in Jamaica and its ties to HIV infection.

”LIFEbeat would have sent the wrong message to gays and lesbians everywhere had they chosen to organize an event where musicians who advocate violence towards homosexuals were given a forum to promote their music. While I am glad that they chose to cancel the event, I am also somewhat troubled that they chose to place blame on AIDS advocates for their decision to cancel the event. The AIDS community was merely challenging their selection of two notorious gay bashers for their HIV awareness concert," stated Joey Pressley.

As noted above, the press conference is tomorrow at 10 am!


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  2. Are you cutting off your nose . . . A concert to assist with AIDS relief (and I have friends with AIDS) has been cancelled. I think it is a great pity! We need the money. I have to ask: Why were you so strident in your demands? What concerns me is that the calling off of the concert was called a victory and not a 'pity'. I believe that with less hardline positions on you part, the organizers would have been persuaded to drop Bennie Man And TOK. But i think that you prefer no concert at all. It seems that 'fighting against these guys is more important to you than helping those who suffer (like my dear friend).
    I am not gay. I work with gays. I think that homosexuality is wrong. But, so are many other things, some of which I am 'guilty' of! So rest that! I also know that 'fire bun' does not mean necklacing and it is disingenuous ofJamaican gays to suggest this. My grave concern, as is yours, is the attitude that gays should be beaten on sight (even 'suspected' gays) But I have to put this in the context that these people also urge violence against men who perform oral sex, petty thieves and anyone who 'informs' on wrondoers to those in authority. Include in that those who are activists for the 'other' political party and you realize that our problem in Jamaica is our penchant for violence. I fear that we have the potential to be another Rwanda. I understand that gays have their own perspective but I think it is making you bilnkered and blinded to an even graver problem