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This week, producers of an AIDS benefit canceled their July 18 show after LGBT activists protested the performances of two Jamaican stars viewed as homophobic. For anyone keeping score in the Beenie Man reggae shutdown, the two sides have now released competing statements. We’ll run them in full, but let’s start with excerpts (and a photo of Beenie “Hang Chi-Chi Gal Wid a Long Piece of Rope” Man himself).
First, from the organizers, LIFEbeat:
“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.”
Next, from the activists, still smarting over organizers’ claims that they canned the concert because they feared violence from protesters:
“Even before they cancelled their event, we said stopping a free appearance by BeenieMan or TOK wasn’t enough to compensate for the damage scheduling the artists had done. Now, in announcing their decision to cancel the entire concert they’re doing even more harm, cynically blaming the folks who said the artists appearances would hurt HIV prevention efforts, saying our protests were likely to incite violence and that we’ve undermined their efforts to bring attention to AIDS stigma in Caribbean American communities.”
Full statements below:
From LIFEbeat, as posted in the comments section of yesterday’s item:
Here’s the latest statement LIFebeat issued today-
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.
Posted by: Ben at July 13, 2006 03:54 PM
Next, from the activists:
Caribbean-American Activists Charge AIDS Charity That Booked Jamaican Hate-Music Singers Hurt Caribbean Gays Twice
Continue to demand a pro-Gay NYC Caribbean concert benefiting Gays in Jamaica
Caribbean activists have slammed AIDS charity Lifebeat for hurting HIV prevention in Caribbean American communities twice. A coalition of Caribbean LGBT and heterosexual leaders and activists had joined a wave of internet activists and AIDS groups in condemning the decision by the music industry AIDS awareness group to organize a July 18 concert fundraiser headlined by Jamaican artists BeenieMan and TOK. Lifebeat has since cancelled the event, blaming protestors. Dancehall artist BeenieMan has faced government bans in the United Kingdom for lyrics advocating graphic violence, murder or extermination of Gays and Lesbians. Protests against both him and the group TOK have forced cancellation or the withdrawal of sponsorship of several of their appearances in American and European venues. During TOK signature anthem, ChiChiMan, which calls for burning Gay men, fans hold flaming cigarette lighters aloft.
The Caribbean group had criticized Lifebeat decision to use the controversial artists, despite being aware of their homophobia, as hurting HIV prevention, noting that the primary victims of dancehall homophobia are the same groups most hurt by AIDS stigma in Caribbean communities. Now, they say, the manner of Lifebeat decision to withdraw punishes them even further.
In a letter to Lifebeat sent prior to the event cancellation, the Caribbean coalition called on the organization to cancel the homophobic artists appearances at Reggae Gold Live. But they stressed that Lifebeat needed to do more, notably make GLBT people of Caribbean heritage an affirmative focus of Lifebeat programming. They had urged Lifebeat to organize another New York concert similarly targeting Caribbean communities, but with a distinctly Gay-affirming message and artists, and asked that the proceeds of the new concert be dedicated to fighting Jamaican homophobia by being donated to the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, AllSexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), the leading GLBT organization on the island. Other protestors of the artistsâ€™ appearances have since joined in those demands.
That way everyone, except for BeenieMan and TOK, would have won, said Joe Armoogan, one of thousands of IndoCaribbean New Yorkers, and a leader in Caribbean Pride, an eight-year-old social and cultural organization.
LifeBeat instead decided we should all lose, said activist Colin Robinson, who founded Caribbean Pride and Fluid Bodies, New York City leading Caribbean GLBT initiatives. Even before they cancelled their event, we said stopping a free appearance by BeenieMan or TOK wasn’t enough to compensate for the damage scheduling the artists had done. Now, in announcing their decision to cancel the entire concert they’re doing even more harm, cynically blaming the folks who said the artists appearances would hurt HIV prevention efforts, saying our protests were likely to incite violence and that we’ve undermined their efforts to bring attention to AIDS stigma in Caribbean American communities.
Real commitment to ending HIV stigma includes changing the conditions GLBT Caribbean people live under, not just at home but right here in New York, where virtually no AIDS organizations, Caribbean or Gay, target us, added Rien Murray, who supervised Fluid Bodies, a transnational GLBT Caribbean initiative seeded by funds from the New York City Council. Lifebeat statement in cancelling is to try to stigmatize legitimate organizing against homophobia as anti-Caribbean, and does almost as much damage as their original decision to book the artists. All the same, Lifebeat has done some really smart HIV prevention work with young people. They’ve challenged us to come forward and help them help Caribbean communities. And here we are, ready to work with them to focus their efforts on the huge, unmet need for attention to GLBT Caribbean folk in New York, and raise money for the folks BeenieMan and TOK music hurts most.
JFLAG was thrilled to learn of the group demands.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 its even better when this can result in support for our difficult and underfinanced work to counter this hatred where these musicians live.
Our work just cannot stop at protests and bans. We are building community, urged Jean Ambroise, a heterosexual Barbadian who chairs Brooklyn Pride Inc., which organizes the annual Pride celebration in Brooklyn; most Caribbean borough.We need folks in Caribbean communities, and young people in general, to understand why these lyrics do harm. I see too many young people in Gay and Lesbian clubs partying away to music calling for their death and destruction. Education is what we need to fight hatred with.