SECOND UPDATE – The show will not be cancelled. Read more.
Just four days after a huge civil rights victory for the LGBTQ community, I learn that a Pittsburgh promoter is bringing a white supremacist, fascist act to the South Side next week. The group is called “Death in June” (that’s ominous for queer folks, right) and they are playing at the Rex Theater on May 29. The leader of the band is known as Douglas P and ironically he’s openly gay.
Death in June has been included on various white supremacist music compilations, has backed out of festivals that were raising money to combat neo-Nazism, and has repeatedly expressed support for white nationalist and supremacist movements.
Death in June shows have been protested, sabotaged, and even banned in certain regions for decades. Especially in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, where they have particularly strong neo-Nazi followings.
Local anti-racist activists are calling for the community to contact The Rex Theater and Grey Area Productions asking them to reconsider and pledging to be present at the event to counterprotest.
In 2004, I was on the Board of Directors of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ Community Center – the GLCC. I was active on local queer email lists and participated in efforts to get a concert cancelled. The performer was Beenie Man, a Jamaican reggae artist whose lyrics included anti-gay sentiments. The decision to ask the sponsors to cancel his appearance was based on an earlier show in Philadelphia where he agreed not to perform those songs but did tell the audience “we just don’t want anyone to molest our kids.” That’s so much better, right?
Putting pressure on the sponsor and the venue worked, Beenie Man did not perform in Pittsburgh that year. Apparently, he didn’t absorb the message and continues to believe the queer community must tolerate him. Sort of.
In 2012, Beenie Man apologized to the gay community for his earlier homophobic lyrics: “Let me make this clear and straight. I have nothing against no one. I respect each and every human being, regardless of which race or creed, regardless of which religious belief you believe in, and regardless of which sexual preference you are, including gays and lesbian people. I respect all human…Please I am begging you do not have me up for some songs I wrote a long time ago. I love each and every one and am just begging each and everyone to do the same,” but in another interviews he was quoted making statements such as “I never apologized” and “I told them to leave us alone, to try to understand where we are coming from.” 
But not in Pittsburgh! Ah, memories.
So this morning, I sent an email to the Rex Theater and shared the information on my Facebook timeline. Ben from The Rex Theater posted a response:
Hi. Thanks for getting in touch about this. Neither the Rex Theater nor Grey Area Productions have any hand in bringing this show to Pittsburgh. We rent the venue to a number of established promoters. Our policy , though, is that we do not dictate any morality to the other promoters who do shows in this venue, nor do we impose censorship when outside promoters bring through artists whose views or philosophies are not agreeable to us.
Grey Area Productions is a small, independent company that promotes
concerts & festivals, and manages venues. This is the first time in our 5+ year history that we have had any complaints about an event that has occurred in any of our facilities. To date, we’ve never had anyone take issue with artists we (as promoters) have brought to the region. I believe that our moral track record should speak for itself
– we try to breed positivism here.
Hopefully you won’t hold these policies against us. We don’t like
having to be at the gateway that is the protection of free speech, and we’re thankful that this is the first time that we’ve really had to be. But we feel that protecting free speech is done for the sake of protecting that right for everyone. The speech we help save today may tomorrow be yours…
We respect people’s right to peacefully express their views, and
peacefully protest and object to views with which they do not agree.
Websites such as
http://deathinjunepgh.weebly.com/…/white-supremacist… are examples of free speech that we honor as well. We are not asking anyone to remove that website, but we are hoping that they encourage people who would like to voice objection and spread awareness to do so peacefully and lawfully.
We appreciate your communication, for sure, and hope that you can
understand our position even if you don’t agree with it. If you have any other questions or comments about the policies, or even the business philosophies of Grey Area Productions, please feel free to
I suspected they would backtrack into a free speech defense. I am not the government. I am a neighbor in Pittsburgh asking them to reconsider a decision. This is a business decision – they rented their space to another promoter. They say their moral track record speaks for itself.
Let’s be clear – Pittsburgh is home to a sizeable Jewish community, including many survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants. We have a significant number of neighbors who people of color, both multi-generation Pittsburgh natives and increasing numbers of immigrants making Pittsburgh their home. We certainly have a lot of queer folks. All of these people live here and are part of the fabric of our community.
If the Rex Theater and Grey Area Productions wants to provide a space for artistic expression that fosters hatred and violence against these neighbors, that is their decision. The government cannot stop them and thus there really is no free speech issue. The morality issue is placing artistic freedom ahead of the safety and security of the neighbors in their community. You can read for yourself that Ben is both defending and distancing himself from the decision.
Had Ben offered to donate the proceeds from renting the space to a local anti-defamation organization, I might believe he’s acting out of the principles he espouses. I’m not sure that’s an acceptable compromise, but it would indicate good faith. But I don’t believe him – I think he’s being a businessman. Cancelling this show at this late date will cost him money. He’s going to avoid that at all costs as most business folks would.
Ben, as a queer person who also happens to be a blogger, I see the distortion of free speech nearly every day. If you believe these types of groups deserve a space to express their views, fine. But you have to accept the consequences of that position – people are going to hold it against you, not applaud your lofty idealism. If your business brings a swathe of neo-Nazi’s and white supremacists to the South Side next week, the neighbors won’t be happy. It is overly simplistic to say they have a right to perform without acknowledging the impact their music has on the hundreds of people who pay to hear it. And that’s part of your moral culpability.
I also object to the subtle implication that people pushing back against this message might not be peaceful or lawful. Ben, did you pay attention to the community response to the Trayvon Martin decision? The Jordan Miles verdict? What about the rally on the South Side in Jan 2013 when two people of color were assaulted in a bar not too far from your venue? There was no violence, just civil disobedience. The peaceful exercise of our First Amendment rights. Have you read how faith leaders – including the Jewish community – are responding to social justice protests?
We don’t need admonishment in how to respond peacefully. We are reaching out peacefully now asking you to reconsider your decision. We don’t think you should make a profit from hate rhetoric that is grounded in one of the worst atrocities known to the modern world.
Ben, I’d strongly urge you to have a conversation with The Holocaust Center in Pittsburgh before you rest with your decision that this is not a hate-laced performance.
Now, let me add – it is a good thing that Ben and others with Grey Area Productions and the Rex are communicating with people. They aren’t ignoring the issue. I think the best tact is to continue reaching back to them with evidence why this is not about an artistic statement – that it presents real harm to our community, to our neighbors. But don’t be a jerk to them – they aren’t setting out to intentionally launch a white supremacist effort in Western PA. They are running a business that books all sorts of acts. So give them the information they need to make the right decision.
Here’s the contact information
WHAT YOU CAN DO:The Rex Theater is managed by Grey Area Productions. Grey Area Productions puts on shows at the Rex in the South Side and at the Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville. We are unsure if Grey Area is aware of the white supremacist politics of Death in June, and we are encouraging people to call, email, post to their Facebook page and reach out to them on Twitter with this information and to convince them to do the right thing by canceling this show.
The Rex Theater and Grey Area Productions can both be reached by phone at:
Email contacts for Grey Area:
Ben Penigar (founder): firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Forsyth (booking): email@example.com
Xander Hendrickson (promotion): firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE: I spoke directly with Grey Area Productions – they are engaging people and listening to our perspective. The key IMHO is that they need to hear from South Side residents and people with a direct connection to the intolerance and hate – their neighbors. The people who patronize their business for other concerts. The people who have to deal with an influx of several hundred “fans” of white supremacy themed music.
There are allegations that the protestors are a group of young anarchists willing to turn violent if the show goes on. I am a 43-year-old white middle aged disabled lesbian Democrat. I’ve heard from artists who vigorously support the First Amendment, but oppose this show. I’ve heard from South Side residents of all ages. I’ve heard from people associated with Pittsburgh’s Holocaust Center. I’ve spoken with activists in other cities who have responded to this tour with peaceful counterprotests.
I also recall that Pittsburgh responds peacefully. Recall the protest after the Trayvon Martin decision – peaceful civil disobedience. Recall the actions of the faith community challenging the supremacy of UPMC – peace civil disobedience. Recall the response of the LGBTQ community when 2 queer people of color were assaulted in a bar not far from The Rex – a peaceful rally, cooperation with law enforcement. The same thing with a gay bashing in Lawrenceville – a peaceful rally, cooperation, education and just this past week, a conviction of the assailant.
These whispers are untrue and based solely on the perception that the only people who care about these issues are super politicized young people. That’s not true. People who live near The Rex Theater care. People whose families survived the Holocaust care. People whose loved ones died in WWII and are commemorated this weekend care.
Please keep up the email and phone calls. It is being recognized. Don’t be deterred by claims that this is about free speech – that’s not true. This is about neighbors asking a local business to make a business decision that reflects their investment and commitment to the community.