Fans and sponsors abandon reggae festival over anti-gay song lyrics

Pressure continues to mount on the Edmonton Reggae Festival, as sponsors and fans react to the controversy swirling around the homophobic lyrics in songs by three headlining acts.

'I felt like that was something I could no longer attend,' says member of Edmonton's black queer community

The Edmonton Reggae Festival has come under fire for anti-gay song lyrics and comments made by its three headliners. (Facebook)

Pressure continues to mount on the Edmonton Reggae Festival, as sponsors and fans react to the controversy swirling around the homophobic lyrics in songs by three headlining acts.

Some who planned to attend the late-summer festival say they won't feel safe if the lineup isn't changed.

"Upon hearing that three of their headlining acts had made such really anti-gay, really harmful, statements, I felt really disappointed," said Sierra Jamerson, a member of Edmonton's black queer community.

 "Because I felt like that was something I could no longer attend and be a part of. And I wasn't safe to celebrate black music and black culture because of that."

Sponsors Global TV and radio station Hot 107 have withdrawn their support from the festival.

"If they are having these artists Hot 107 and 95.7 Cruz FM respectfully cannot be a part of their festival," said program director Troy Scott.

"We have a very strong relationship with the LBGTQ community; we have our very own gay-straight alliance club; we have a great history with PRIDE.

"The one rule we have here at both of our stations is we have zero tolerance for intolerance."

Scott said he would resume support if the festival removed the three Jamaican singers booked to headline the festival in September.

Queen Ifrica, Capleton and I-Wayne, have all been accused of making anti-gay statements or having anti-gay lyrics in their dancehall songs.

There have been calls for festival organizers to drop the three acts, and for the various levels of government to get involved.

Critics say Capleton and I-Wayne have song lyrics that condemn same-sex relationships and encourage violence against the LGBTQ community.

But the president of the Edmonton Reggae Festival Society said all artists contracted for the festival have been briefed on the expectations.

In a press release Wednesday, John Fortuna said organizers have a moral and a legal obligation to their patrons and sponsors.

The festival is a family, community-oriented, musical event that does not condone any type of hate or discrimination, he said.

'Homophobia is wrong'

"It's extremely disappointing that in 2015 this still has to be dealt with," said local human rights activist Murray Billett, a former member of the Edmonton police commission. "Homophobia is wrong, no matter who is delivering the message."

Billet and others have called on fans to boycott the festival unless organizers make changes to the lineup.

"We should not be rewarding them with our money," said Maurice Tomlinson, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS legal network. "When you give them your money, they then are able to maintain their lifestyle and their approach to anti-gay campaigning in Jamaica, that they wouldn't be able to do had they not the resources to do so.

"So, basically, you're sustaining, you're supporting, that kind of approach in Jamaica."

Tomlinson, who is gay, said he fled Jamaica in 2012 after receiving death threats in his homeland.

"If you're walking the streets (in Jamaica) as a gay man, you are very vulnerable," he said. "We've had some horrendous attacks. Including murder."

'I don't hear hate in that'

Queen Ifrica got into hot water in 2013. At a national independence gala in Kingston that year, she told her audience: "Put up your hands all the straight people. Man and woman, we say, without apology."

Soon after, she defended herself on a talk show on Jamaica's Onstage TV channel.

"I don't hear hate in that, I don't hear murder in that, I don't hear violence in that," she said. "I hear somebody stating who they are and what they believe in."

Asked if her words could be considered discrimination, she said: "It could be discrimination if they're asking for the right to be homosexuals. Because that in itself could be classified as discriminating against the heterosexual community also."

Toronto's Rastafest pulled Queen Ifrica from its 2013 lineup after activists spoke out.

The Calgary International Reggae Festival said none of the three performers would be part of their line up because of their anti-LGBTQ comments.

Reggae Festival is scheduled for Sept. 5.


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