Once again, we, along with many other LGBT students on campus, felt unwelcome at Toad’s.
On Wednesday night Buju Banton, a reggae artist with a complicated anti-gay history, performed at the club. After intense discussion and research, the LGBT Cooperative decided to take a “positive protest” position on Banton’s performance.
Banton’s views — and even his statements — regarding gay people have been disputed since 1992, when he released his song “Boom Bye Bye,” which condones extreme violence against gay people. One lyric encourages individuals to burn gay people alive. The song is disgusting and hurtful.
In 2007 Banton (under his given name, Mark Myrie) signed the Reggae Compassionate Act, which reads, in part: “Artists of the Reggae Community respect and uphold the rights of all individuals to live without fear of hatred and violence due to their religion, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or gender. … [W]e agree to not make statements or perform songs that incite hatred or violence against anyone from any community.” Despite the wide availability of this public document with his signature on it, Banton has since denied signing it. And he continues to perform “Boom Bye Bye” and make anti-gay comments at his concerts.
At Toad’s on Wednesday, Banton seemed to shy away from making political statements, and he didn’t perform his vile song. Did he act this way because he is a reformed homophobe, or because of the recent heavy press coverage and national attention he has garnered — a wave of protest that has assisted in shutting down seven concerts so far on his current U.S. tour?
We don’t know. We were committed to withholding immediate judgment or condemnation of Banton until after his performance. With that concern in mind, our flyer campaign wasn’t meant to attack Banton, but firmly remind him: “Banton, we are giving you the benefit of the doubt, but we are listening.”
When we wrote to Toad’s to register our discontent at the venue’s decision to invite Banton to perform, we received in return a form letter bashing the “gay lobby” and painting his 1992 song as a single youthful mistake. The letter ignores the fact that Banton performed the song for a decade before he was forced to stop performing it regularly, that he still performs it on occasion and that he still profits from it.
More important, the letter signified Toad’s refusal to seriously engage people concerned with Banton’s homophobic history, and reflected its reluctance to reshape Toad’s into a safe space for people of all sexual orientations.
While Banton’s explicit homophobia is an issue, our bigger concern is Toad’s. Many of us in Yale’s LGBT community have had experiences of being physically or emotionally attacked at Toad’s due to our gender presentation or sexual orientation. Friends of ours have been verbally harassed in the street; others have been physically intimidated inside.
Yet the club’s management continues to ignore our pleas for assistance in making its space LGBT-friendly. It is not enough that Toad’s occasionally invites bands with strong LGBT followings — especially not when they are followed up by acts like Banton’s.
The LGBT Cooperative planned a flyer protest Wednesday night to remind Banton of his commitment to reggae as a vehicle for peace, and as a reminder to Toad’s that the LGBT population of Yale and New Haven will continue to make itself heard.
Although Toad’s is not a Yale institution, it is still one over which we have some control. We know that Toad’s is a staple of the Wednesday and Saturday night experiences for many Yalies (and even for many at other schools, and from the area). But not everyone feels comfortable in that space. Because of incidents ranging from use of the word “faggot” to physical punches and shoves thrown at women and men who are read as gay, LGBT people feel unsafe and uncomfortable at Toad’s. By inviting a known homophobic artist, Toad’s reinforced the idea that it is an anti-LGBT space.
Through a petition, individual messages and a boycott of Toad’s, at least for one night, those in the Yale community and the area who wish to stand up for LGBT peers can force the management to make Toad’s a safer space for our entire community.
Our focus on Toad’s is part of a larger effort to increase the number of spaces available and accessible to LGBT people around the world. Our efforts, along with yours, will help ensure a truly vital and safe community for all students at Yale.
Rachel Schiff, a senior in Silliman College, and Sophia Shapiro, a junior in Calhoun College, are the co-coordinators of the LGBT Cooperative.