About 35 students lined York Street Tuesday night carrying half-melted candles in a vigil protesting the Toad’s Place performance of Jamaican reggae artist Beenie Man, whose lyrics they said incite violence against homosexuals.
Despite the protest by Yale’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative — their second Toad’s protest this year — and a petition threatening a boycott of the nightclub if the reggae artist performed, Toad’s did not cancel the show, and Beenie Man performed to a sold-out crowd. The LGBT Co-op protest doubled as a commemoration of the death of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual University of Wyoming student beaten to death in 1998.
Beenie Man had agreed to excise any anti-gay lyrics from his set, but the Yale students who carried signs demanding that the nightclub refuse to “hand a homophobe a microphone” objected to Toad’s provision of fiscal support to an artist they considered homophobic rather than to any specific lyrics, vigil organizer Loren Krywanczyk ’06 said.
“I don’t want to tell Beenie Man what should be bleeped out of his songs,” Krywanczyk said. “If you can go online and find out that this artist spread messages of hatred, Toad’s is still spreading that hatred by giving this man a place to speak.”
But Toad’s owner and president Brian Phelps said he stands behind the nightclub’s decision to go on with Beenie Man’s performance.
“We have sponsored lots of gay-friendly artists here in the past,” Phelps said. “We aren’t anti-anything; we can’t afford to take sides. We love everybody, and we want to do business with everybody.”
Since protests at both the Sept. 20 performance of reggae artist Capleton and Tuesday night’s Beenie Man show failed to sway Toad’s management, the LGBT Co-op will ask their petition’s 270 signatories — which include individual students as well as organizations such as the Afro-American Cultural Center and the Women’s Center — to boycott Toad’s until the nightclub’s management agrees to negotiate with the Co-op, Krywanczyk said.
Calling Toad’s a “demilitarized zone,” Phelps said his club has a policy of “pulling the plug” during a show if an artist uses hateful lyrics.
In defending Beenie Man’s performance, Phelps cited the artist’s 10-year history at Toad’s and his multiple Grammy Award nominations, adding that in August, Beenie Man’s record label Virgin Records apologized for lyrics that could have been construed as discriminatory.
Beenie Man’s lyrics on tracks like “That’s Right” and “Han Up Deh” reference the burning and hanging of homosexuals and prompted an international campaign after a prominent Jamaican gay activist was murdered in June.
But Beenie Man’s road manager, Kevin McKenzie, said the tour is committed to a “clean show across the board.”
“It’s a free country, and everyone is free to express their opinions,” McKenzie said.
In light of the controversy surrounding the show, Toad’s sold twice as many advance tickets as usual for Beenie Man’s performance, said Mikey Bojangles, the nightclub’s reggae co-promoter. But he added that Beenie Man had been unable to tour recently due to a punctured lung, so his New Haven stop may have attracted out-of-town fans.
Kofi Keteku ’08, a long-time Beenie Man fan, said he did not see “the big deal” about the reggae artist’s lyrics.
“Dancehall is supposed to be danced to, not listened to,” Keteku said.
But Reuben Grinberg ’05 said the protest and vigil were intended to combat apathetic attitudes.
“It upsets me that Yale is supposed to be a place where we can all have different views and discuss them,” Grinberg said. “History has shown that when violence like that advocated by Beenie Man enters the picture, that becomes impossible.”
Adam Torres ’06 said he thinks the date of Tuesday night’s show, which coincided with the sixth anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s killing, added “insult to injury.”
“Shepard’s killing was an example of how quickly hateful rhetoric leads to violence,” Torres said. “For Toad’s to not acknowledge that fact is insensitive at best.”
Beenie Man is scheduled to perform tonight at the Downtown nightclub in Farmingdale, N.Y., but the club’s manager, Rick Eberle, said he does not expect any protests or controversy.
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