One year ago, Yale’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative organized a protest against the musician Beenie Man’s performance at Toad’s Place. As fans entered the reggae artist’s sold-out concert, protestors assailed the artist’s lyrics, some of which openly call for the execution of homosexuals. The students held candles to commemorate the death of Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student who was killed six years earlier for being gay.
But Toad’s, apparently unfazed, invited Beenie Man to return and perform last week — once again, on Oct. 12, the anniversary of Shepard’s death. This time, instead of expressing indignation at Beenie Man’s return, the Yale community was silent.
In the past year, outrage regarding Beenie Man’s violently homophobic lyrics has diminished throughout the music world, and the artist no longer faces the extensive cancellations that hampered his tour in 2004. This is due in part to a statement Beenie Man issued two months before his appearance at Toad’s last year, in which he said that his lyrics were not intended to offend anyone and that he did not advocate violence of any kind.
But given the lack of ambiguity in songs like “Damn” — which features the lyrics, “I’m dreaming of a new Jamaica/ Come to execute all the gays” — this statement was unconvincing, and Toad’s decision to invite a return performance ought to provoke serious concern. We would hope that moral objections to the artist’s sentiments would stop the club from hosting him; it is hard to believe the club would host a performer who advocates hate crimes based on race, for example. Inviting Beenie Man to again perform on the anniversary of Shepard’s death reflects a lack of sensitivity to those who are concerned about the reggae artist’s message.
By the same token, Beenie Man draws sell-out crowds to Toad’s, and we cannot expect the club to forego such an opportunity out of moral indignation. Those of us who are troubled by the content of such performances have a responsibility to make those concerns clear. The community’s silence suggests that last year’s protest was a failure and makes it easy for Toad’s to invite Beenie Man back again, which the club already has plans to do.
The organizer of last year’s protest said a lack of interest from the LGBT community stifled a similar event this year. This lack of interest is a problem; we rightfully look to the LGBT Co-op and its subsidiary organizations to take the lead on such issues, and publicizing information about Beenie Man’s lyrics would have been a relatively easy place to start.
Still, members of the LGBT community should not be the only ones concerned about this issue. We find it difficult to blame the group’s members for being hesitant to protest outside Toad’s and risk being confronted with verbal abuse, as some protesters were last year.
The problem this year was not just a lack of direct protest, but the absence of discussion. In fostering a dialogue on the issues raised by homophobic lyrics, the goal should not be merely to prevent Beenie Man from performing at Toad’s, but rather to establish a consensus that there is no room for hate speech in our neighborhood.