Despite community pressure to cancel the scheduled performance of controversial reggae artist Buju Banton, the show went on last night at the Blind Pig.
But while Banton was inside the club setting up for a sound check, dozens of protesters gathered outside in the early evening to wave signs reading “WWMD: What Would Marley Do?” and “Say NO To Blind Pigotry.”
Chris Armstrong, Michigan Student Assembly LGBT Commission Chair and an attendee at the rally, said the fact the Blind Pig allowed the show to go on is especially hurtful because of how much the LGBT community has supported the establishment in the past.
“We were hoping that the Blind Pig would cancel the show and they didn’t,” Armstrong said. “A lot of people come to U of M because it’s so accepting, and it has an amazing LGBT community. The Blind Pig has been a part of that.”
Banton has been criticized for lyrics in his song “Boom Bye-Bye,” in which Banton raps about shooting gay men with guns and, as some argue, burning their skin with acid. His shows have been cancelled at many venues across the country, most recently in Detroit at the Majestic Theatre.
Many of last night’s protestors contacted the Blind Pig in hopes that officials at the venue would cancel the show. But when the club decided not to cancel the show, Social Work student Lindsey McKinney decided to organize a protest.
“My panties are in a bundle, as should everyone else’s,” McKinney said, referencing a quote in yesterday’s edition of the Daily in which Faith Wood, general manager of the Blind Pig, said she wished people better understood the issue they were getting “their panties in a bundle” about.
Last night, The Blind Pig issued a statement staffers printed off and taped to the doors and windows of the building defending the venues decision to allow Banton to play.
“We have come to the conclusion that this artist does not support the point of view that he put forward in his controversial song,” which he made when he was 15 years old, the flier read. “And that, to the contrary, his current performances are celebrated by many because of the powerfully positive messages he puts forward at his concert.”
Jason Berry, the Blind Pig’s talent buyer who booked Banton, said that in the three times he has worked Banton’s shows, he has never seen him play the song.
“He’s very sensitive to this topic,” he said. “Not only does he not ever perform any of his work from when he was kid, he doesn’t even allow the DJs who spin before or after his sets to play anything that would resemble homophobic material.”
Berry said that he came outside himself during the protest and had a very “civil dialogue” with the protesters. He added that he planned on opening the doors to the club when Banton discussed the controversial song.
“I went out there and talked to them myself,” Berry said. “The mayor came down and he brought the leaders of the group in and we sat there and chatted, and I was just kind of filling the mayor in on what Buju was all about and why the Pig is doing this.”
Armstrong, however, said that he does not believe that Banton’s prejudices are in the past and said he has been recorded singing his controversial song “Boom Bye-Bye” in the past couple of years.
“He was recorded saying ‘the war between me and faggots will never end,’” Armstrong said. “It’s hard to believe he’s turned a new leaf.”
Phil Volk, Michigan Democratic Party LGBT Caucus member an attendee at the rally, said the protesters are serving an important purpose.
“Any place where they allow degrading LGBT people have to know it’s wrong and they have to see (this protest) to know it’s wrong,” Volk said. “People are feeding hate by attending this concert.”
But not all LGBT activists supported the protest.
Bill Dobbs, who is a well-respected and nationally renowned gay activist and University alum, said the LGBT community should not be protesting Banton’s right to free expression by calling for the show’s cancellation. But, rather, they should be protesting the message of his songs, Dobbs said.
“The dangerous part of this protest is when it’s not just to confront his lyrics but to shut him down,” Dobbs said. “It’s fine to protest, but it’s not fine to work to pull the plug.”
Dobbs added that the timing of the protest is a bit ironic as this week is Banned Books Week, which aims to bring awareness to the dangers of censorship.
Dobbs likened the push to prevent Banton from performing at the Blind Pig to the censorship attempted against certain video games and erotica because they are believed to cause violence.
He said he believes free speech, hateful or not, should never be compromised.
“I’m not defending Banton’s lyrics,” Dobbs said. “What I’m alarmed at is a tactic … the gay and lesbian folks who are out there on the street are doing to somebody else exactly what’s been done to them and that always comes back to haunt.”
Lawrence Steirhoff, a second-year University Law student and political action chair of the OutLaws group, an LGBT organization in the Law School, said the claim that the protest is an attempt to stifle Banton’s First Amendment rights is “idiotic.”
He said he believes that the community should be able cancel the show because, though Banton has the right to say what he wants, the protestors are within their rights to attempt to prevent him from performing in their community.
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, who was at last night’s protest, said he was in communication with representatives from the Blind Pig to try and urge them to cancel the show, but ultimately his requests were denied.
“I’ll certainly respect their right to put the show on,” Hieftje said. “But we’re out here to protest.”
— Daily News Editor Jillian Berman contributed to this report