From the Saturday night dance party to Senior Night’s mechanical bull — tragically absent this year — Toad’s Place is home to a great many traditions on the cusp of a campus built around a great many more. But in recent years, a more troubling tradition has repeated itself at New Haven’s preeminent concert venue and nightclub: performances by musicians whose lyrics advocate violence against homosexuals. Some of these musicians, notably the reggae artist Beenie Man, have become perennial additions to the Toad’s concert lineup.
Last week, Yale’s Queer Political Action Committee renewed its boycott of Toad’s with an impromptu press conference during the club’s “One Love” reggae festival, having picked up where protesters affiliated with the LGBT Co-op left off a year ago. The committee’s effort to refocus attention on this issue is laudable, but given the popularity of the artists whose violently homophobic lyrics have drawn criticism, a truly productive dialogue will require more than slogans that read well on signs.
For years, protests against artists whose lyrics call for the murder of homosexuals — Beenie Man’s “Damn,” for example, includes the lyrics, “I’m dreaming of a new Jamaica/ Come to execute all the gays” — have been the sum of the discussion. And last fall, when Beenie Man returned to Toad’s on the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard — a college student who was murdered seven years earlier for being gay — a stated lack of interest from the LGBT community yielded no protest, either.
But the effectiveness of simple complaints against such artists and their messages is limited by one major factor: They sell out the place. Toad’s is inextricably connected to Yale’s campus, but it remains a business, and these artists are consistently profitable — so profitable, in fact, that their representation in the club’s lineup is growing.
Last year, a lack of substantial protest made it easy for Toad’s to keep making money off acts like Beenie Man. Last week — protest notwithstanding — it was Capleton, whose song “Bun Da Chi Chi” advocates incinerating gays, and Buju Banton, whose early work “Boom Boom Bye” features a chorus about shooting gay men in the head. Obviously, those of us who are troubled by such lyrics have an obligation to make those concerns clear. But while QPAC’s refusal to stay silent on the subject is heartening, their goal will remain difficult to accomplish as long as they are shouting at a wall.
The essential step that remains missing is the fostering of discussion. Repeatedly, protesters have asserted that Toad’s owner Brian Phelps refuses to discuss the matter with them. Our reporters don’t seem to have too much trouble, but Phelps has little to gain from coldly ignoring complaints. Both parties should work to actively yet civilly communicate with each other, rather than sniping from the safety of our pages.
Attempting to impose a moral code on Toad’s, of all places, seems a slippery slope at best. That said, the issues raised by homophobic lyrics demand a conversation rooted in neither name-calling nor protest chants, but in some deeper exchange. Such a dialogue would be more valuable than a mechanical bull, but we believe we can have both.