At the end of August, the GLN was vindicated after members heard Buju Banton, a controversial Jamaican music performer who sings violent, anti-gay songs, had his shows canceled at House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., and other major cities, said Andy Thayer, co-founder of the GLN.
The shows were canceled after a campaign began this summer to raise public awareness about “murder music” and to ask people to complain about Banton’s violent music to Live Nation, Inc., the company that owns House of Blues. The GLN also wrote a letter to the president of Live Nation, Michael Rapino, stating if Live Nation didn’t cancel the Buju Banton tour, there would be protests in as many cities as possible.
Jim Keys, the chief public affairs officer at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, also sent a letter to Banton’s promoters that said, “I think this sends a strong message to other promoters that it doesn’t pay to book acts such as this and people like Buju Banton, who promote and glorify violence against LGBT people, don’t deserve a stage in which to perform their music.”
Keys said getting Banton’s shows canceled was a good example of how people taking action against something can make a difference.
“Each time we have a victory, just to see people’s eyes light up and they realize that they can do things that they didn’t think they could do and they could accomplish things they didn’t think they could accomplish, it’s really great to see,” Thayer said.
The GLN is different and more successful than most other LGBT groups in Chicago because they believe in active solidarity by campaigning for other non-gay issues and because they aren’t affiliated with any political party, Thayer said.
“We are not strictly a gay rights-only organization,” Thayer said. “It’s what we focus on, but we think it’s important to be in solidarity with other people fighting for their rights. We just marched in [a Sept. 7] immigrants rights march.”
During the march, Thayer spoke to the crowd and compared the injustices of undocumented immigrants them to LGBT issues.
“It wasn’t too many years ago that gay and lesbian people were considered illegal in this country,” Thayer said. “It was only with the Lawrence vs. Texas Supreme Court decision five years ago that we really were determined to be not illegal. And that illegality only covered the issue of the so-called sodomy laws. It was used as a hook to justify us not having any number of any other rights.”
Thayer said because the groups of people being discriminated against are usually the minority, especially LGBT people, a joint effort is needed to create change.
“We know what it is like to be illegal and if we are going to win our rights, we have to be in solidarity with others who are fighting for theirs,” Thayer said. “We can’t win our struggle without the solidarity of other people that are not gay.”
The GLN is the only LGBT group in Chicago to consistently campaign with non-gay groups about issues like immigrants’ and womens’ rights and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Thayer said.
“If we have been not only reaching out, but [also] acting with other groups fighting against discrimination, how can we ask for their help when we need it,” Thayer said.
The only way change will come is if regular people begin to do things on their own behalf, Thayer said, and also convincing politicians to do what they would not voluntarily do otherwise.
“Our approach really is to try and get as many people as possible to put their feet to the fire and force [politicians], and say, ‘We know what you’re up to and we’re not going to let you off the hook, regardless of your party affiliation,’” Thayer said. “And that’s how I think history shows, you get change.”
Bob Schwartz, a 10-year GLN member and longtime activist, said most of the Chicago-based LGBT groups are tied to the Democratic Party, but GLN is not. He said Democrats are just as much a part of the problem as Republicans are.
Schwartz said they have never endorsed a political official, including President Barack Obama when he was running for political office.
On Oct. 3, the GLN is having a march in Hyde Park near Obama’s house to protest his broken promises to the LGBT community, Thayer said.
“We heard Obama make all kinds of promises to the gay community and he got the overwhelming support of the gay community,” Schwartz said. “We never supported him because he didn’t support our basic right to civil marriage equality. We aren’t going to support somebody that doesn’t support us.”
Thayer said he realizes that certain protests and stances on political issues can be risky and can make GLN unpopular among certain crowds of people.
“We certainly know that we are unpopular in some quarters, but you’ve got to be prepared to risk that popularity if you are actually going to move the goal posts,” Thayer said. “If you are popular with everyone, it means you are saying nothing, you’re just saying platitudes. You may as well just be a politician.”