Last night, dozens of protesters gathered at the Blind Pig. Members of the LGBT community and their supporters turned out to protest the scheduled appearance of controversial reggae artist Buju Banton. While Banton’s lyrics advocating violence toward gay men certainly merit protest, the protesters shouldn’t have tried to force the Blind Pig to cancel the show. All viewpoints, even those that are entirely detestable, deserve to be heard, and criticism of Banton — and other fringe perspectives like his — should never shift into criticisms of his right to speak. Instead, they should be drowned out by reasonable views.
The outcry from the LGBT community came in response to some of Banton’s lyrics, which use derogatory slang terms for gay men and advocate violence against them. His controversial reputation led several venues to cancel his concerts, including the Mejestic Theatre in Detroit, which was supposed to host him Wednesday. His show was moved to the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, which prompted the LGBT community to attempt to secure his show’s cancellation, arguing that his blatantly violent lyrics should not be hosted in the venue. Among the protesters at the Blind Pig on Wednesday were LGBT activist groups, University students and Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje.
It is disgusting for someone to advocate the things Banton advocates in his song “Boom Bye-Bye,” including shooting gay men with Uzis and, arguably, pouring acid on them. People were correct to take issue with Banton’s backward and offensive message. But by making the protest about the Blind Pig’s decision to host this artist, the protesters crossed a line. While it’s true that the protesters have a right to oppose the Blind Pig’s decision, they shouldn’t have focused on silencing Banton. Freedom of speech isn’t just a legal protection — it’s a moral position as well. Freedom of speech rests on the precept that everyone can speak as they wish, and those with fringe, disgusting views like Banton’s are brought to light as such by everyone else.
But even more troubling about the efforts to censor this view is Hieftje’s role in it. As a governmental official, Hieftje can’t be reasonably considered separate from the office he holds, and his attempts to convince the Blind Pig to cancel the show were especially detestable considering his status. Hieftje, as a figurehead for the city, shouldn’t be positioning himself against free speech.
It’s true that the despicable nature of Banton’s message makes the LGBT community’s reaction somewhat understandable, especially when one considers all the obstacles to social acceptance that LGBT individuals continue to face. Hate crimes, social stigma and marriage laws are only a few of the discriminatory adversities these people live with. But progress toward LGBT acceptance won’t come by censoring views of intolerance and hate — it will come by hearing and repudiating these views.
Ann Arbor’s LGBT community rightly protested Banton last night, but partly for the wrong reasons. Next time, students and city officials should wage their battles more carefully.