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Kyle “El Guante” Myhre and Jessica Rosenberg Interview

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Hip Hop Against Homophobia

On January 23, the Nomad World Pub in Minneapolis will host Hip Hop Against Homophobia, a concert sponsored by Culture Bully, Twin Cities arts collective/record label Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records, and activist organizations Join the Impact Twin Cities, OutFront MN and the Twin Cities Avengers. Artists include Toki Wright, Maria Isa, Kredentials, Alicia Leafgreen, See More Perspective, DeeJay Blowtorch, Tish Jones and El Guante, also known as emcee/poet/activist Kyle Myhre.

Myhre sat down with Jessica Rosenberg, an activist with the TC Avengers and Join the Impact, and they discussed their thoughts on the show:

Jessica Rosenberg: What gave you the idea for Hip Hop Against Homophobia?

Kyle “El Guante” Myhre: There wasn’t any single moment or anything that sparked this show. I’m a rapper, and I’m a social justice activist. I used to work in diversity education at UW-Madison—teaching classes, facilitating workshops and other stuff. Identity issues, from racism to sexism to homophobia and more, are things I think and write about a lot.

Then there was the November 15 anti-Prop 8 rally. One important function of rallies is that they energize people and get them excited to do more. That event definitely did that for me. I’m a big believer in the importance of activist flexibility; we need to know when “moments” are happening and be prepared to act. At this point in history, there is a lot of energy in the LGBTQ equality movement due to the passing of Prop 8 in California, the election of Obama and a number of other factors. Similarly, the hip hop community is energized from the 2008 elections. It’s the right time for something like this to happen. There’s already more overlap in these two communities than a lot of people realize; this show is about affirming that and opening up new partnerships as well.

Maybe you could talk a little about how you got involved in planning both this show and November and January prop 8 protests?

Jessica Rosenberg: I got involved with the November 15 Prop 8 protest in Minneapolis mostly out of concern for what I didn’t want it to be like. After the election, there was all this discussion, blaming black and Latino voters, blaming religious folks, and the rallies sounded like they were starting to take on this tone. Now, while this was legitimately what was happening, that evil mainstream media focused on it in a hyped up in a way that ignored other issues. Gays vs. Mormons and gays vs. blacks is way more exciting than gays vs. Human Rights Campaign, though that discussion was happening too. There were really high profile cases and articles and images of racism in the gay community, and that sends me into angry, angry fits. It happened before, during and after the Prop 8 campaign, it happens in all sorts of queer activism. It is wrong on a moral level, and completely counterproductive on an activist level.

Meanwhile, as a progressive queer, it was weird to suddenly see all these people all riled up about gay marriage, and to hear that discussed as if it is the only LGBTQQI issue there is. There are lots of queer folks who don’t care about the right to marry, who are actively against it, or who believe that the fight for same sex marriage has been part of the Bacardi-sponsored-pride-weekend-let’s-look-straight-in-order-to-gain-acceptance, corporatizing, mainstreaming of the movement. The post-Prop 8 rallies and discussion appeared to be single-mindedly focused on same-sex marriage as if it were the only issue. There are many queer folks involved in activism that has nothing to do with marriage, and I wanted that voice to be represented in the rally.

I wasn’t sure if I was even going to go the November 15th rally at first, and very last minute I decided that I could either bitch about everything wrong with the movement, or I could show up to the meeting and try to make it into a rally I would want to go to. While it may not have been the greatest rally of ever and ever, I’m proud to say that everyone involved in the Minneapolis rally was committed to fighting racism. While the four days of planning didn’t allow for as much of this as we’d have liked, we tried to get a diversity of voices represented.

I have often stayed away from activism because I get paralyzed by absolutes. The messages that can come across at rallies have to be so simple, and issues aren’t simple. How do you, as an activist, work with that?

Kyle “El Guante” Myhre: Rallies are just that: rallying points. They’re points of entry, community-builders and networking opportunities. Events don’t have to do all the work; they can simply open up a lane of communication, spark some thoughts and/or give people a place to plug in and hopefully spearhand further action. Of course it’s bad when we just want to act act act and don’t put any thought into the events, but it’s just as bad to overthink every little thing and never actually get moving.

I really believe that there’s no magic key when it comes to balancing a direct message with a nuanced understanding of the issues. Every situation calls for different tactics. I don’t want to go off into abstract activist land, so I’ll focus on our concert. Hip hop, homophobia and the LGBTQ community are all very big, complex things, and books could be written on all kinds of cultural undercurrents and relationships between these entities. With this show, however, our message is simply “Hip Hop Against Homophobia.”

Whether you think all hip hop is inherently homophobic (which is wrong) or that all hip hop is progressive and radical (which is also wrong), this is a message that is easy to understand. We, as hip hop artists, fans, promoters, writers and community members in general, are recognizing that hip hop is often associated with homophobia, and whether that’s fair/accurate or not, we are standing up to break down that perception… and that reality, where applicable. It’s simple, but it’s also pretty profound, as this sort of event definitely isn’t the norm.

It’s really hard, but I think an important element of effective activism is utilizing absolutes, even when you understand that they’re flawed. You can’t be afraid to make big statements. I have no problem saying that if you’re homophobic, casually or actively, you’re not really progressive, much less radical/revolutionary. It’s the same with white liberals who don’t engage with issues of privilege and racism, or college activists who can’t work with working class people, or male activists who refuse to follow female leadership; we need to be calling people out. Not out of altruism, but for the simple fact that we’re never going to get anywhere as a movement if these things are tearing us apart.

Switching gears a little, what do you hope this show will accomplish? Is it asking too much to ask a show to “accomplish” something? What do you hope we, as a community, as a coalition of communities, and as people in general, will get out of HHAH?

Jessica Rosenberg: It isn’t too much to ask a show to accomplish something. Besides, shows accomplish things whether they mean to or not, and I like intentionality. Articulating goals will help us to shape the show into something that does a few things really well, rather than accidentally doing lots of things half-assedly. Here’s what I’m thinking:

#1) We are re-affirming that Hip Hop and Queerness are not opposite. Queer hip hop artists: They’re real! Straight hip hop artists: They’re not all homophobes! And I hope we can spark some discussion/acknowledgment that not only isn’t all rap homophobic, but that hip hop, insofar as it is a music of struggle, is a form that bucks the status quo, with serious anti-authoritarian shit going on in it. And if it is going to be really radical, then it has no room for homophobia, and is in fact a perfect forum in which to talk about LGBTQ issues.

#2) Activism takes many forms. Sometimes it looks like dancing. And it can be damn fun. More diversity of tactics is always good.

#3) Information! Diversity of information! OutFront MN is the biggest LGBTQ lobbying organization in the state, and they are sponsoring and sharing info. The Twin Cities Avengers is an all inclusive queer direct action group committed to dismantling all forms of oppression, and will be there with info and treats. Not all events have lobbyists and direct action queers side by side.

#4) Coalitions! It was mad cheesy and didn’t happen quite as well as I wanted it to, but my favorite part of November 15 rally was getting to talk to strangers. I met an old man who’d traveled miles to be there, and I met the kids trying to start the Luther College GSA. They all had a lot to teach and tell me. I’d love for this to be an event for both personal and organizational coalition building.

#5) A Safe & Positive Space. I’ve been seriously feeling the lack of safe queer space, at a time when I need it more than ever. Violence against queer people feels way up lately. The Twin Cities Avengers, Join the Impact, and OutFront will provide info about what’s going on, and how to be more involved, but I’m in serious need of some life-affirming shit right now. So I want it to be a time to get news, but I also really want it to be fun for the people there, amazing for the performers, and, yeah: queer hip hop dance party.

Tell me: what are your thoughts on my goals? Are yours similar, different, additional?

Kyle “El Guante” Myhre: For me, the biggest goal has little to do with the show itself (I’m sure it’ll be great) and is more about the media coverage and ripple effect. Before we started organizing this, I googled “Hip Hop Against Homophobia” and nothing came up. If you google it now, a whole bunch of links to this show will come up. I’ve already been contacted by the national Join the Impact group about replicating this event in other cities, which was a major goal. I’d also like us to do this again here in the Twin Cities, maybe even make it a regular thing like the “Hip Hop for the Homeless” shows have been. A second, all ages show is already in the works.

It’s funny; I just wrote an article about how “hip hop activism” needs to be less event-oriented and more campaign-oriented, and here I go throwing an event. But I think the nature of this event is special, and I think it can have an impact beyond the night of January 23rd. It’s really just about opening doors and creating space; queer artists and allies have already been doing this for years now; we just want to continue in that tradition in a very visible way.

It was important to me to book a mix of out, LGBTQ-identified artists and some straight allies. On a larger level, I think we can’t have only gay people fighting for gay rights while the rest of us happy liberals sit on the sidelines smiling politely. We have to realize that “an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere”—not just as an expression, but as a physical, measurable reality. Holistic thinking is the future of progressive activism; I don’t think of myself as a hip hop activist or antiracist activist or media activist; I’m a social justice activist, and that means, more than anything else, understanding how all these different struggles are intimately connected.

I have a million other things I could say, but most of my thoughts can be found in this article I wrote a couple years ago, “‘Conscious’ Hip Hop, Homophobia and Hypocrisy.” It ran at DaveyD.com and got linked to all over the place. Overall, I just want to say thanks for all the press we’ve already gotten, to the artists for playing the show, to the artists who wanted to play the show but weren’t able to, to our great sponsors and to everyone who is going to attend. It should be a great time. Oh and also thanks to you, Jessica, for doing so much.

Any wrap-up thoughts for you? How can people get involved in the struggle if they can’t come to the show? What are you looking forward to the most? In ten words or less.

Jessica Rosenberg: How can people get more involved in the struggle? Check out OutFront, Twin Cities Avengers and Join The Impact. Support the artists. Get outside your comfort-zones.

What am I looking forward to most? Some sort of glorious, unplanned queer hip-hop connection, never predicted.