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AIDS charity LIFEBeat sponsoring concert featuring homophobes

I couldn’t believe what I was reading when Keith Boykin emailed me about this. There is desperate need to educate minorities about HIV/AIDS, but why on earth would the music industry’s non-profit arm LIFEBeat — which is supposed to combat ignorance and homophobia surrounding HIV/AIDS with education — sponsor an event featuring two artists who sing about killing gays and lesbians?

LIFEbeat’s sixth Hearts & Voices Concert Series benefit concert is a landmark event because it is bringing reggae artists together for the first time to face the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS next week, on July 18. This is a wonderful opportunity to reach an audience that needs a positive message, yet LIFEbeat is KNOWINGLY participating in the promotion of homophobic performers.

Beenie Man calls for hanging lesbians with a long piece of rope in his lyrics, and TOK encourages the burning and killing of gay men. From TOK’s “Chi Chi Man”:

From dem a par inna chi chi man car
Blaze di fire mek we bun dem!!!! (Bun dem!!!!)
From dem a drink inna chi chi man bar
Blaze di fire mek we dun dem!!!! (Dun dem!!!!)

The folks at LIFEBeat have lost their minds.

This is how bad it is. Keith emailed LIFEBeat’s executive director John Canelli to see whether some how, some way the organization just missed the boat and was unaware of what it was promoting. You won’t believe the answer

Canelli admitted that his organization knew that Beenie Man and TOK were homophobic artists but decided to do the concert anyway. “We didn’t make the decision blindly,” he told me. “We knew there would be controversy.” So why did they do it, I asked. Canelli told me his organization wanted to reach out to that segment of the community by using artists who could connect with them. Perhaps that makes sense, but why not use LIFEBeat’s leverage to encourage the artists to repudiate their homophobia. “It’s not my job to do that,” Canelli said flatly. I strongly disagree.

When asked why he couldn’t use his influence to get the musicians to renounce their homophobia, Canelli said that all the performers at the concert are performing for free, and because of the nature of the event, “I’m not in a position to make a demand like that.”

Let’s see, using homobigots of color who sing about killing gays and lesbians to connect with the masses on HIV/AIDS is a damn fine goal, isn’t it? And I beg to differ — Canelli does have a role to play. The religious zealots aren’t our friends, but if an organization that is purportedly on our side is tolerating — and sponsoring — hateful, bigoted messages, that’s not acceptable.

But wait, there’s more.

“It’s a tough decision,” Canelli told me. “Look at the numbers of people getting infected,” he said. “My job is to save lives.” I doubt it. If your job were really to save lives, you would never give a platform to two artists who encourage their fans to take the lives of innocent gays and lesbians.

Can it get any worse? Try this — on the board of LIFEBeat sits the former ed-in-chief of VIBE mag, Emil Wilbekin (who’s openly gay), and one of its advisors is out lesbian Hilary Rosen, former head of the Recording Industry Association of America (and HRC). These people should know better. The gay community doesn’t need “friends” who can’t see the big picture of the impact of tolerating performers like Beenie Man and TOK at an event LIFEBeat is putting on.

Clearly the folks in need of education are the folks at LIFEBeat, and these artists should not perform at the concert.

After all, The Brits didn’t put up with this madness. Beanie Man and equally homophobic Buju Banton were given the boot when the artists tried to bring their filth to a concert there. We can do the same on our turf.

Information you can use to politely contact LIFEBeat…

Tell them that these two performers must be off the concert card or make a public statement disavowing their anti-gay messages. We’ve had enough of this.

Concert Details

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street between 3rd & 4th Avenues
Doors open at 9pm

Promotional support provided by BET, Vibe magazine, Music Choice and Power 105.1

LIFEbeat, Inc.
630 Ninth Avenue (between 44th and 45th Streets)
Suite 1010
New York, NY 10036

Telephone: 212.459.2590
Toll-free: 800.AIDS.411
Fax: 212.459.2892

John Cannelli, Executive Director, x101,

Sarah Peters Manager, Operations, x119,

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding