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July 11, 2006
Sean Strub: Face the Music
LIFEbeat, sadly, has displayed incredible ignorance in providing such a prestigious concert platform to Beenie Man and TOK, two Jamaican musicians whose hate speech lyrics incite violence against people with HIV and GLBT people. LIFEbeat should be in the business of condemning these men rather than honoring them by association with LIFEbeat's good name. I urge LIFEbeat's board of directors to take responsibility immediately and either cancel their performance or work out a solution satisfactory to the activists who have been working to combat homophobia in the music industry, particularly the African American activists who have focused on the horrific situation in Jamaica.
Beenie Man and TOK, more so than any other pop culture icons, are the leading architects of an astonishing campaign of hatred and violence against gay people in Jamaica, a situation so grave it has attracted the attention of human rights organizations and media around the world. Earlier this year, I devoted my column in POZ to this topic.
Early on the morning of December 1 last year (World AIDS Day), Jamaica's leading AIDS activist, Lenford "Steve" Harvey was brutally murdered, simply because he was gay. Human Rights Watch published a report, "Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence and Jamaica's HIV/AIDS Epidemic," which reported that "Because HIV/AIDS and homosexuality often are conflated, people living with HIV/AIDS and organizations providing HIV/AIDS education and services have also been targeted."
Two years ago, Jamaica's leading gay rights activist, Brian Williamson, was also murdered. He was stabbed more than 70 times and mutilated in his home. Within an hour after his body was discovered, according to Human Rights Watch, a crowd had gathered to "celebrate,” including some who were chanting lyrics from TOK's song "Chi Chi Man" which encourages the killing and torture of gay men. Will TOK be singing that song at the LIFEBeat concert next week?
Sadly, LIFEBeat's Board of Directors—mostly music industry executives, it seems—has shown itself to be far removed from the horrific realities that people with HIV face everyday. They need to get out of their corporate boardrooms and show more respect for those whose lives are snuffed out by the bigotry of the artists they have chosen to showcase. LIFEbeat's insensitivity is incomprehensible and would cause shame and embarrassment to Bob Caviano, LIFEbeat's founder, if he were living today.
In 2004, the last year for which financial statements for LIFEbeat are available (as posted on their website), they raised $1,073,078 in unrestricted revenue. In that same year, they gave support and made grants in the amount of $53,234; the balance went to their own administrative, fundraising and program costs, including "outreach and education." I am sure LIFEbeat pursues an important agenda with their "outreach and education,"but there isn't anything they are doing that is worth giving two of the most dangerous and unrepentant homophobic musicians in the industry this platform.
The truth is, LIFEbeat is contributing to making these musicians socially acceptable, which gives their bigoted and violent message a broader audience. We want our old LIFEbeat back, the one that fights for people with AIDS not today's LIFEbeat, which, by their obstinate refusal to reconsider their presentation of TOK and Beenie Man, is unfortunately fighting for those who hate us.
Finally, a special note to LIFEbeat staffers, to whom I've copied this message. Anyone who has worked in a non-profit understands the pressure to raise funds. But you are the people who can tell your board that raising money this way is simply not acceptable. Don't be an accessory to hate in order to get blood money to pay your salaries, or to cleanse the tarnished reputation of artists whose art is so hateful. It isn't worth it.
Read the Human Rights Watch report in order to understand what it is like for gay people and people with HIV in Jamaica, in large measure because of the music of these two men. I know at least some of you must be upset about this. Speak to your colleagues, speak to your board. If they won't listen, quit and I promise you there are many of us who will work to find your suitable employment elsewhere, in a position where you can help people with HIV instead of hurt them. Supporting this endeavor means you are supporting the campaign of hatred against people with HIV in Jamaica and elsewhere. Don't buy this "we believe in dialogue" crap. Does the NAACP sponsor events featuring the KKK because they "believe in dialogue"?