Booking of blackface drag performer sparks concerns about racism
By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
The Portland Eagle cancelled a performance by controversial blackface drag queen Shirley Q. Liquor scheduled for March following a public outcry calling the performance racist. Within a day of the first protests (which largely took place online), booking manager Michael Talley apologized and said that the 100 people who purchased pre-sale tickets would receive a refund.
“I am deeply sorry if anyone took any offense to this,” Talley told PQ just before announcing the cancellation. “That was absolutely not the intent of the Eagle.”
Many community members complained that regardless of intent, blackface is always racist and that to bring such a performer, particularly to a venue in a traditionally African-American neighborhood, was a serious insult.
“This is a hurt unique to my roots and experience as a severely marginalized person in American culture,” Leila Hofstein wrote in a comment on the now-deleted Facebook event page. “It’s a violent slap in the face, a Tour de Force of every micro aggression I experience every single day, rolled up in a nice shiny package for the world to see.”
Others argued that the performer’s act is comedy and should not be taken so seriously. Chuck Knipp, the white man who performs as Shirley Q Liquor (a “welfare queen” with 19 children) says his act celebrates African American women.
“My comedy isn’t racist, nor am I,” Knipp said in promotional materials for New Orleans’ annual Southern Decadence event. “More than anything, my comedy makes fun of whites’ views of blacks. My comedy pokes fun at everything, including myself. That’s what comedy is about, making us escape form everyday life and seeing the funny side.”
Following the event’s cancellation, Q Center announced it would be hosting a community dialogue organized by facilitators from Process Sense: Human Development called “Face-2-Face Community Dialogues: Race, Racism, and the LGBTQ Community.” But the planned dialogue met with strong criticism shortly after the details were announced, including calls to boycott both the event and Q Center.
Among the primary complaints: that the Q Center and facilitators from Process Sense failed to do appropriate outreach to people of color (specifically African American women), that the event’s description minimized the inherent racism of blackface, and that organizers failed to respond directly or appropriately to these and other concerns expressed by both people of color and white allies.
Q Center Board Chair Ryan Wayman called for the postponement of the event, which had — as of press time — yet to be rescheduled.
“It is not our intention to cause hurt. Sometimes, however, the very nature of a subject brings us to unexpected places and invokes feelings long pushed away, or creates an awareness of the harshness that surrounds us daily, or challenges our notions of power and privilege,” Q Center Executive Director Barbara McCullough Jones said in a release. “We will take this opportunity to learn, to listen, and to understand how we can effectively engage in meaningful dialogue around important issues like race.”
Q Center invites anyone interested in participating in this process to send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. More on this story is available on our blog.
A 24-year-old Clackamas man was robbed and assaulted in Vance Park (1400 SE 182 Ave.) just after midnight on Feb. 14 in what Gresham police are calling an anti-gay hate crime. Police say the victim, who did not suffer serious injuries, was lured to the park via a Craigslist post seeking a consenting adult male for a sexual encounter and then beaten and robbed. Justin Simms, 19, and four juveniles have been arrested and charged with robbery in the second degree, intimidation in the first degree, and assault in the third degree (all felony charges). Police say there may be other victims and urge anyone with information to call the Police Tip Line at 888-989-3505.
Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian has filed formal discrimination charges against the owner of North Portland’s Twilight Room Annex (previously known as the P Club and the Portsmouth Pizza Pub). The charges stem from an incident in which owner Chris Penner told members of local trans group the Rose City T-Girls not to return to establishment for fear other guests would think it was a “gay bar” or a “tranny bar.” The case will be heard on March 19 by an administrative law judge who will determine how many members of the RCTG are eligible to receive damages of up to $50,000 per person. The outcome of the BOLI has no bearing on any civil action the group could take against Penner.
A lesbian couple denied service by Gresham bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa has filed a complaint with Department of Justice alleging they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. But they will still have cake — two, in fact. LGBTQ-owned Montavilla bakery Pastry Girl will be making the main wedding cake for the couple, while celebrity baker Duff Goldman, star of Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes,” will be creating a second “bride’s cake.”
A Eugene veteran has received government approval to have her wife buried in the Willamette National Cemetery, a first for a same-sex couple but standard procedure for heterosexual spouses, the Associated Press reports. The VA has previously ruled that allowing veterans’ same-sex partners to be buried beside them in a national cemetery violates the Defense of Marriage Act. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki granted the policy waiver based on the long-term relationship between Lt. Col. Linda Campbell and her spouse, Nancy Lynchild Campbell, who passed away Jan. 2. He said it was a case-by-case decision and has no implications for other couples. Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian advocated on behalf of the couple, noting that Oregon law prohibits discrimination in goods and services.
Carmen Gutiérrez and Jennifer “Jensi” Albright, a binational same-sex couple, held a wedding ceremony during CAUSA Oregon’s 15th Annual Immigrant Day of Action on Feb. 9 at Chemeketa Community College in Salem to raise awareness about the lack of protections for such couples and celebrate CAUSA’s commitment to the gay and lesbian community.
The Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Oregon (PACCO) has named Jason R. Lim its new president. Lim, director of public relations and marketing of the Asian Reporter, is the first openly gay man to hold the position.
The Pentagon will offer new benefits to same-sex partners of military personnel beginning as soon as Aug. 31. The benefits include access to military commissaries, gyms, movie theaters, limited support services, and limited access to flights on Department of Defense aircraft. The Pentagon expects about 19,000 personnel and veterans to apply for the benefits.
A first of its kind poll from Gallup asked “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?” About 9 in 10 said no. Gallup also found that the 3.4 percent who said yes (the rest didn’t know or didn’t say), where more likely to be people of color, women, and lower income. The study authors acknowledged the limitations of the poll, and that they could be low-balling the number of LGBTQ individuals, saying that stigma likely prevents some from answering affirmatively and others may not identify as LGBTQ regardless of who they sleep with or their gender.
Pope Benedict shocked the world when he announced Feb. 11 that he would resign effective Feb. 28, saying he didn’t have the physical and mental strength to do the job. He is the first pope to resign in 700 years. A new pope could be elected as soon a March 24 and in place by Easter, officials say.