On Friday, as New Yorkers reacted to the news of the city’s first confirmed Ebola case, two members of a queer Facebook group announced plans to throw a dance party fundraiser to benefit organizations battling the epidemic.
Instead, they got a big gay backlash.
Michelle Burnaby, a nurse at a New York City “Ebola-designated hospital,” posted a photo of Oprah on a Facebook group called Queer Exchange and said, “I’m channeling Oprah right now…what I’m proposing is bound to make us all into our best-selves.”
She proposed a “pay-as-you-can dance party” to the group’s more than 14,000 members, with all proceeds going to a “direct-impact NGO.” She suggested either Doctors Without Borders or the International Rescue Committee but added that she was open to other ideas.
Burnaby asked the group to post some of their favorite dance songs, which would be turned into a Spotify playlist for the “giant dance party.”
“My proposition is as simple as spotting a dyke on the L train,” she wrote. “We are committed to healing all the beautiful people affected by this disease in West Africa and the [Democratic Republic of the Congo].
“Queer Exchange: Lets do what we do. And fucking dance. And even more importantly, be the difference that we already are.”
The proposal got some initial support, as song ideas started rolling in.
But the response changed quickly as several commenters began criticizing what they perceived as insensitivity in Burnaby’s post, as well as the lack of specifics in the proposal itself.
“Queer neoliberal exchange strikes again!” wrote Emma Caterine, a prominent New York-based writer on queer issues. “Dance party saviors of the world unite, the only thing you have to lose is your money which will probably be sucked into the salary of some NGO administrator.”
“This is a bunch of fucking bullshit.” another posted. “From the way everything is worded in the original post to the Oprah picture. I don’t know WTF is wrong with some of you people.”
“Ugh please don’t be a white savior,” wrote another.
The response shocked Burnaby and her friend, Katrina, who was planning the event with her. “I spent a little time crying in the bathroom of my office today,” says Katrina, who would only give her first name when contacted by the Voice.
“My hope behind the Oprah picture was this playful engagement…this will call us to be our ‘best self,’ ” Burnaby tells the Voice, referencing Winfrey’s famous catchphrase. “I would be open to having an actual conversation about why that picture is insensitive. Maybe that is my white privilege.”
The post — and corresponding comments — have since been removed from the group’s page, but Katrina and Burnaby say they didn’t take it down and that they’ll still be going forward with the event.
“We’re still looking for a venue,” says Burnaby. “We’re going to have at least one, if not more, fundraising events.” She says she even plans to post more information about the events on Queer Exchange.
Administers of the Queer Exchange’s Facebook page did not respond to requests for comment.