First Published: Before August 2002
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
Why Sir Elton John agreed to perform at the Grammy's with Eminem, notorious for his homophobic and racist lyrics, remains a mystery. Nevertheless he went ahead performing the keyboard and backing lyrics to Eminem's hit Stan, a song about an obsessed fan who murders his pregnant girlfriend and commits suicide. Should he have done are the arguments for and against...

An Open Letter to Elton John Regarding Grammy Appearance with Eminem

From Robin Tyler, Co Founder former National Protest Coordinator,, The Anti Eminem Coalition Member Rally at the Staples Center, Feb. 21 and Andy Thayer, former Assistant National Protest Organizer,
Dear Sir Elton,

By agreeing to appear on stage as back-up singer to Eminem at the Grammys, you are spitting on the grave of Matthew Shepard, and every other hate-crime murder victim. It is an insult to every Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) person and every woman who has suffered violence. The Grammys rightly came under fire for nominating Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP as record of the year. They knew what they were doing when they nominated him - promoting a viciously misogynistic, homophobic man who calls women "bitches" and wishes Lesbians, Gays and Transgendered people were dead.

It also doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out at least one reason why Eminem and/or the Grammys chose you to back him up at their Feb. 21st event. They chose a prominent gay man as window-dressing to cover themselves from the charge that they're promoting anti-gay hate. This is a familiar game in American politics - choose a representative of an oppressed group to deflect criticism from hateful policies or rhetoric, as when President Bush (the first) nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

You justify your appearance as supporting Eminem's right to 'free speech'. How would you have felt about open LGBT people if we had played "back up singer" to the hate campaign which attempted to "out" you in the late 1970s? Would you have been there defending this quisling role in the name of "free speech"? I doubt it. Any who participated in that hate campaign against you did so out of choice or cowardice, and they were not bound by any lofty first amendment proscription to support the hate campaign, any more than you are now obliged to support Eminem.

The honourable thing for you to do would be to break your agreement with Grammys, the networks and/or Eminem, actively assisting in the political marginalization of this homophobe, much as "Dr." Laura Schlessinger has successfully been publicly labeled as a bigot and thus is a much less dangerous person than she was a year ago.

Hate speech encourages discrimination and brutality, and you are under no moral obligation to personally support it. Eminem's speech is not "free" to those of us and/or our families who have been brutalized, beaten, murdered, and raped. His hateful lyrics are dangerous to this community,especially our youth for whom Eminem's message promoting death can have a particularly devastating impact, whether in form of physical assaults by their peers or increased suicides.

We don't care how popular he is. If you do this, despite your prior advocacy, activism and philanthropy, we will consider you a collaborator in our war against injustice. Do you really want to draw a line in the sand between you, and the community that has supported you?

Are you prepared to continue to allow yourself to be used as a token in the service of anti-gay hate? Your choice is clear: resign from your commitment to appear with Eminem at the Grammys, or go down in history as a gay Uncle Tom who foolishly allowed himself to be used as a tool against "his own" people.

Robin Tyler

In Support of Eminem and Elton John

By Christian Grantham a talk show host on the GAYBC Radio Network and best known for living his life on a webcam which is featured in OutBack.

The first time I heard songs from the Marshal Mather’s LP by rapper Eminem was on MTV. The music didn’t seem all that different from everything else the network played, and I didn’t pay too much attention. It wasn’t until the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) publicly critiqued the album and led protests at the MTV Music Awards against the artist that I gave it another listen. The questionable content that concerned GLAAD was lyrical prose depicting violence against gays and women. The lyrics were a perfect vehicle for the organization to demonstrate how homophobia has permeated our culture. Like a predictable virus, the controversy acted as a host and propelled the artist’s content into the spotlight where art’s success is often measured. The lyrical content is disturbing. But "disturbing" can describe pretty much any provocative art. What’s great about the album is Eminem’s presentation: it’s angry, it’s raw and it’s real. It's so real, in fact, that Eminem took criticism from gay and lesbian leaders and publications for somehow inspiring society’s homophobia.

Supporters like Madonna, Stevie Wonder and Elton John came to his defense reminding us that blaming the artist for society’s ills cuts both ways. Who knows how many unwanted pregnancies in the 80s Madonna is responsible for, right? It wasn’t until Elton John agreed to perform with the controversial rapper at the Grammy’s that the shit hit the “fans,” so to speak.

Caught off guard, GLAAD quickly urged Elton John to live up to the standards for which he was presented GLAAD’s Vito Russo Award the previous year for outstanding work with the gay and lesbian community. Activist Robin Tyler said in an open letter to Elton John that he was “spitting on the grave of Matthew Shepard.”’s Michael Signorile wrote that it was “arrogant of Elton John to use his power in a way that undercuts an entire movement” unless he got a permission slip from the executive directors of the gay and lesbian movement. GLAAD’s Executive Director, Joan Gerry, implored Elton John to “not perform with Eminem at the Grammy Awards.” Dr. Dre’s protégé learned from the best and rode it all the way to the bank.

Gay and lesbian attacks on rapper Eminem scapegoated the artist and a marginalized medium for society’s homophobia. The tactic was long popular with religious political extremists to blame gays and lesbians for everything from child molestation to broad declines of morality. Gay and lesbian activists argued Eminem was scapegoating gays and women in his prose. Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!

If anything, our movement’s duet with Eminem exposes our own occasional reliance on questionable tactics. It also highlights what a willing dance partner we make for people, such as Eminem, by rushing headlong into giving them the attention they so desire.

What’s worse in our apparent role as “art critic” is the pressure of political expectations placed on artists we ceremoniously award. Elton John is an entertainer who owes creative control to no one but himself. If he wishes to play the “Uncle Tom,” as letters to the editor describe him, let’s pick up Elton’s depiction and talk about the Uncle Toms in our community. Or is this a sore spot for folks? If the duet is about homphobia in your face, let’s address what we're doing about it and not “who should and shouldn’t artistically represent it and why.”

Elton John isn’t the only artist to experience this from our community. In a discussion I had on GAYBC with Queer As Folk’s Executive Producer, Ron Cowen, he baulked at activist demands that QAF’s story line represent diversity, as though it’s his job to be social engineer. If art reflects a less than politically correct reality, we all have short comings to address. Charles L. Mackay, LL.D, once wrote in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds that people “think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly; and one by one.” Our movement’s reaction to Eminem and Elton John show gays and lesbians aren’t immune to being apt hosts.

Many of those who attack Eminem hide behind claims that his rap is not art and is a true confession. The last I recall we left deciding what is and isn’t art to Congressman Jesse Helms and NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Madness makes strange bedfellows of foes. I wonder what our friends must be thinking? Madonna, no stranger to the controversy herself, said in the L.A. Times that Eminem is simply “reflecting what's going on in society right now” and “That is what art is supposed to do.” Stevie Wonder also pointed out that “art is a reflection of our society, and people don't like to confront the realities in society.”

As long as gay and lesbian leaders dodge the "realities in society" in favor of lynching homophobia's messenger, all we’re funding is an endless game of “whack the mole.” I’d settle, however, for old fashion activism over playing art critic any day. In the least case, it would be great to get a heads up on when it will be Howard Stern, David Geffen or Ru Paul’s turn. William S. Burroughs, a founder of the Beat Generation, himself gay and brought to court over the questionable content of his novels, once said “The next revolution will be ignoring others out of existence.” I have to wonder sometimes if the free market of ideas would have left Eminem at the bottom had we not lifted it up as a pet example rather than focusing on society's ills his art reflects. Enough about Eminem.


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