So, yes, Coachella has Radiohead and Queen Bey headlining in April. The fest will also welcome hundreds of culturally confused headdresses and many a selfie shoots happening every second. But they also have a LGBTQ problem. Or do they?
Philip Anschutz, who owns AEG, the company behind Coachella, has supported anti-gay groups in the past. According to the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, he at some point, either personally or through his Anschutz Foundation, donated to groups like Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council and the Christian Foundation. All three groups actively oppose gay rights. Yes, you should take issue with that. The media certainly has; for the past 24 hours, reports condemning Anschutz’s choice of spending and encouraging Coachella evangelists to reconsider their yearly trip have spread like wildfire.
But on Thursday afternoon, via RollingStone.com, Anschutz and his crisis management team attempted to make nice by calling such reports “garbage” and “fake news” and throwing their support behind all things LGBTQ. Anschutz’s official statement read, “I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation.”
And you know what? That is really great. Thank you. We salute such support for good reason, and the media shouldn’t be blamed, as it is the media’s job to call out controversial contributions. The real crux of this story is how an executive from the Anschutz camp then told RollingStone.com, “We have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups.” It seems that perhaps Anschutz himself didn’t know that he or his foundation were contributing to anti-LGBT groups, and he only found out by being caught in the act. Now, his team is rectifying some potentially financially damaging behavior. But what if nobody noticed these contributions in the first place?
Gone are the days of a musical festival simply celebrating all things hippie and love.
Rectifying past bigoted or discriminatory behavior is more valid today than ever before (thanks, President-elect Donald Trump!) and we have to accept that homophobic behavior is, uncomfortably, completely forgivable. Think Jonah Hill’s and Isaiah Washington’s short-lived ostracization. Heck, consider that Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama were once against gay marriage, opting for civil unions instead. We the people (and the media, to some extent) are responsible for letting people know they need to be willing to adjust their behavior and work on their old, old beliefs. Still, what if the anti-gay claims proved to be more legitimate than they are? What if not enough proof exists to show that Anschutz has ceased funding anti-gay groups? What are the repercussions, and who is going to hold people and organizations responsible? Because let’s be honest: LGBTQ rights under Trump is looking grim as it is.
This leads us to some bigger questions. Would Beyoncé have cancelled her act if reports of Anschutz’s anti-gay dollars weren’t rebutted? Would Radiohead compose a track about it and give it away free outside the gates of Coachella without performing? Should every organization in this country—in particular ones like AEG and, for argument’s sake, Starbucks, Apple and Sony—provide proof they’re contributing to the charities and groups they claim they are? Who, if anyone, should hold them accountable for it?
Everyone, and every organization, is responsible in its own way, small or large. Kudos to Ellen DeGeneres, who this week cancelled a performance by gospel singer Kim Burrell after a tape of her spewing anti-gay rhetoric was leaked. Burrell blew her chances of having some Ellen love and enjoying a bump in sales by choosing to express bigoted remarks from the pulpit.
DeGeneres, not flinching for a second, made a decision to act and to be vocal about it. Afterward, Pharell, who collaborated with Burrell on the Hidden Figures soundtrack, stepped in. On Ellen he said, “Whenever you hear some sort of hate speech and you feel like it doesn’t pertain to you because you may not have anything to do with that, all you got to do is put the word black in that sentence, or put gay in that sentence, or put transgender in that sentence, or put white in that sentence and all of the sudden it starts to make sense to you.”
Meanwhile, out singer Boy George is competing on the new iteration of Celebrity Apprentice with Arnold Schwarzenegger, a show that still bills Trump as an executive producer. Should he be rethinking his participation—albeit established well before Trump was elected—since it’s now a political statement?
When you ponder about visiting the Trump Soho spa because it’s the only hammam in New York City, are you making a political statement? Should you boycott a hotel owned by the anti-gay Sultan of Brunei—or is that just harming the staff who work there? Tricky questions, but worth contemplating before taking your stand.
In the meantime, gone are the days of a musical festival simply celebrating all things hippie and love. Such feelings are now corporatized, and thus politicized. In the end, whether you go to Coachella or stay home this year will forever say something much bigger about you.