Elephant Man to perform in Toronto: Outcry over anti-gay lyrics

| October 7, 2009
Elephant Man was dropped from a concert earlier this year in Toronto.

After hearing complaints from the LGBT community about the controversial performer’s violently anti-gay lyrics (sample: “Queers must be killed!” “Give me the Tec-9/Shoot dem like bird”), Parc Downsview Park CEO Tony Genco has refused to pull dancehall act Elephant Man from an upcoming show scheduled for this Sunday Oct 10 at the federal park.

This is Elephant Man’s (real name O’Neil Bryan) second scheduled performance in the Toronto area this year. Back in August, he was scheduled to perform at Circa nightclub in downtown Toronto but the club decided to drop him from the concert after club officials received complaints and were informed of his homophobic lyrics. Word of the show had spread to the LGBT community via Twitter and Facebook and only hours after announcing the show, Circa sent this tweet:  “Circa stands for peace, love and equality. Elephant Man has been removed from the Celebrity Ball.”

Now, over a week after receiving complaints and being fully briefed about some of his lyrics (eg. “Log on and step pon chi chi man/Log on and step on a queer man”), PDP CEO Tony Genco refuses to pull Elephant Man from the show at the federal venue even after a privately-owned club decided weeks ago -- in the spirit of “peace, love and equality” -- he should not perform on their stage.

In a publicly released statement (pdf) Parc Downsview Park justified their decision citing a “morality clause” in Elephant Man’s contract, which, they say, will restrict him from using lyrics that “promote the hatred or derision of any group.” That the federal park would welcome performers that need to be reminded of this clause is in itself a red flag.

In a conversation with Mr. Genco he told me that Elephant Man hadn’t used these lyrics in “25 years” and that if I could find evidence that he had used them more recently he would reconsider the show. Elephant Man’s first release was in 2000 so this wasn’t too difficult  to do. I again contacted Mr. Genco and gave him the correct information and he said he would follow up with the promoter, Eric Morgan. Though, after their meeting, Genco still refuses to pull the show, since he believes Elephant Man has put these hateful lyrics behind him, though there is no public record of Elephant Man apologizing or explaining his lyrics.

One wonders what has prompted Genco to defend Elephant Man like this and why he implies that EM regrets these lyrics as he’s made no public statements to that effect. In fact, when given a chance to do just that -- he has refused. Back in 2007, in response to protests against hateful lyrics a number of artists signed “ The Reggae Compassionate Act” which states that they “respect and uphold the rights of all individuals to live without violence due to their religion, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or gender.” Though a number of his peers signed, Elephant Man did not.

So even numerous complaints from taxpayers and a precedent set by a nightclub in the Entertainment District can’t convince CEO Tony Genco. After all, he has a signed “morality clause” and assurances from a concert promoter.

Parc Downsview Park can be reached at (416) 952-2222. CEO Tony Genco can be reached at (416) 952-2223.

UPDATE: The federal minister responsible for Parc Downsview Park is John Baird. He can be reached at bairdj@parl.gc.ca or Tel: 613-990-7720.

UPDATE 2: An official release is expected from Parc Downsview Park but a spokesperson has confirmed that Elephant Man has been pulled from the show, saying "we have been directed by Ottawa to pull Elephant Man." Earlier today after this article was posted to twitter and spread by dozens of users, MP Olivia Chow also shared it with her followers - adding: "Protest now & copy to Minister Baird #cdnpoli" (#cdnpoli is a popular Twitter hashtag amongst political tweeters). Her tweet with the link to this page found its way to Minister Baird and soon after the announcement was made by the Park that Elephant Man had been pulled. Later, Chow tweet: "From Downsview Park: directed by Ottawa to pull Elephant Man. Min Baird listened."

UPDATE 3: Parc Downsview Park have made the Elephant Man decision official in a press release that belittles those who feel a federal park is no place for a performer that calls for the murder of queer people. Elephant Man’s lyrics are not merely “controversial” and by suggesting that lyrics like “Queers must be killed!” are open to debate diminishes not only LGBT concerns but also PDP’s own “morality clause” (if the lyrics are only “controversial” why have him sign a clause that prevents him from using them and why the need to state that “Parc Downsview Park Inc. does not condone in any way, shape or form, the use of any speech/lyrics or actions that promote violence or hatred of any kind”). Apparently they’re merely “controversial in nature” when they result in orders from Ottawa to pull a performer that even a private downtown club had the tact to remove. Saying that these lyrics come from “much earlier works” makes it seem the PDP has launched their own PR campaign for a performer that hasn’t himself addressed the “controversy” of calling for queers to be shot in the head with a Tec-9. Based exclusively on the reassurances of the promoter, Tony Genco seems all too ready to absolve Elephant Man and make some coin – “full value” – for the Park.

Finally, the release blames “public pressure” – code for “gay rights groups” , though, in fact, it was Minister John Baird (tipped off by a  tweet from Olivia Chow) that recognized that the severity of Elephant Man’s lyrics deemed him unsuitable for a federal park —  he too could have made excuses. The original “morality clause” release was dated September 24, meaning, if Genco had ordered the promoter to pull Elephant Man at that point, he would have had over 2 weeks to find a replacement. The cancellation of the entire concert isn’t a result of the order from Ottawa to pull Elephant Man, and was never the intended goal of the protest, it is a direct consequence of wasting 2 weeks  excusing hate instead of addressing the concerns of the LGBT community.


Justin Stayshyn is an ex-member/co-founder of the Toronto band The Hidden Cameras, he's also the former Art Director of Fab and Famous Magazines and most recently held the position of Publications + Design Manager at the Toronto International Film Festival. This year he developed and successfully lead online engagement strategies for the Ontario NDP, Dignitas International and Pride Toronto. He hopes that all the Facebooking and Twittering we're all doing will (eventually) empower Canadians and result in a new era of citizen engagement with each other and with our governments. He can be found at http://www.twitter.com/unionst




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