Beenie Man, the Grammy Award winning reggae artist, infamous for his anti-gay lyrics, recently posted a YouTube video in which he declared his respect for all people. Interestingly, he explicitly included gay people in this statement of respect. He implored the community to no longer hold the anti-gay songs he wrote and performed earlier in his career against him saying "There's no one in this world that is the same person that they were twenty years ago."
Whether Beenie Man's evolution, to use a term that's come into vogue, is the product of honest soul searching or results from colder, financially driven calculus, he isn't the first and won't be the last of our enemies to make a public about-face.
When these about-faces happen, how are we as a community to respond?
Are we meant to forgive? This is arguably the high road in these situations, and there is an argument to be made that it is the healthy way to move forward. Our rights as a community are still far from certain across the vast majority of the United States, and we need allies if we are to secure freedom for all our people. For better or worse, this sometimes means taking steps not to be seen as irascible or inflexible.
If we are asking people to change deeply held beliefs about the nature of love, family, and gender, we can't rightly then reject them when they do change those beliefs. Certainly in a case like Beenie Man, it might not look good for our community to continue to protest and boycott his concerts and music, a fact to which the cynical among us will likely attribute his change in views.
But what does forgiveness look like after decades or more of prejudice and hatred directed towards our community? To what degree does the repentance of the now, atone for the sins of the past?
This question may be most easily answered when it's a politician who's views have changed. In those cases, it's simple and expected for us to demand that they put their newly espoused respect into action, and a politician has a straightforward way to do so through their voting record and public statements. Likewise, a corporation can demonstrate a change in views through instituting workplace protections and partner benefits for its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans* employees.
The path isn't really so clear with a performer such as Beenie Man, or with one's Aunt Edna for that matter.
At the same time, what do we gain by continuing to hold on to our old bitterness at people and institutions that now profess to, if not support, at least respect our lives and families?
For one thing, by not allowing a simple "I've changed my mind" to make everything all better, we make a statement that mistreatment of our community matters. After all, what message would it send to our allies, our enemies, and our children, if we allow a simple "I'm sorry" to wipe out a bitter history of emotional, and sometimes physical violence?
I want to believe that people can change, that love and basic human decency can overcome prejudice and indoctrinated hate. The simple fact of the rapid gains in societal acceptance LGBT people have made in recent years would seem to indicate that people can. But as that acceptance become more pervasive, there are going to be people whose "evolutions" are more calculated than others, or whose change of heart carries with it no attempt to correct past wrongs.
Where then does that leave us? If you'll permit an impolitic quote, "trust, but verify" would seem to be a watchword for our community moving forward.
I can't be anything but gratified at Beenie Man's statement. But forgiveness is a journey, and I'll hold my hope, but not my breath, that his, and other formerly anti-LGBT figures both public and personal, will demonstrate a commitment to fairness and equality for the LGBT community as time goes on. If they don't, I don't think "sorry" should cut it.
If you haven't seen it yet, here's the Beenie Man statement: