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LIFEbeat issues reality-based press release

[UPDATE: Frank Le?n Roberts has a post up with a timeline of the events in this saga.]

Black gay bloggers and activists, as promised, held a press conference this AM in front of the offices of LIFEbeat, the music industry’s non-profit AIDS education arm, to discuss the issues at hand surrounding the cancellation of its concert. The event was to feature Beenie Man and TOK, two performers who called for the killing of gays and lesbians in their lyrics.

Today’s conference featured some of the bloggers in the campaign, and, it should be noted, members of the Caribbean American community. LIFEbeat, in its unfortunate press release yesterday, tried to drive a wedge between the gay black and Caribbean communities by suggesting that the bloggers campaigning to stop the homophobic performers from appearing were somehow inciting potential violence at the concert. Keith:

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Jamaican-American poet and activist StaceyAnn Chinn (shown above) rejected LIFEbeat’s attempts to use the issue as a ploy to divide black gays and lesbians from the Caribbean community. Chinn said that the protest was not a demonstration against Jamaican culture or Caribbean culture but a reaction to extremely anti-violent messages by a select group of homophobic artists.

Clarence Patton, executive director of the New York Anti Violence Project, invoked the names of Candice Williams, 20, and Phoebe Myrie, 22, a black lesbian couple murdered in Jamaica only weeks ago. Colin Robinson, former executive director of the New York State Black Gay Network, highlighted the Caribbean American involvement in the protest against LIFEbeat, Beenie Man and TOK.

Later in the day, LIFEbeat backed off the “bloggers/activists fomenting concert violence” tip with a much more humble, concilatory, and factual statement that held out an olive branch to effect change.

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.

If only the organization had put in half the thought and resources into this when organizing the benefit concert that it has put into its damage control, imagine what could have been accomplished.

Maybe the organization can put this behind it and truly reach out to understand how it is indeed possible to tackle HIV/AIDS education and outreach — with positive messages that affirm life, tolerance and hope without endorsing bigotry and calls for violence.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding