Houston Music Scene Once Again in A Bigotry Crisis
Cassandra Quirk of Giant Kitty. Photo: Scot Overholser
I have typed some variation of the sentence “Houston is literally the most diverse city in America” with cited sources I don’t even know how many times in articles. All the proof you need is a trip to the Houston Zoo on a nice weekend, and you will see an unbelievable rainbow and hear a hundred different languages being spoken. And yet, bigotry never seems to stop, whether it’s dildos protesting an Arabic-Immersion Elementary School or racism at one of the city’s bro-iest night spots.
Lately, it’s the music scene that is giving the city a bad name. Sara Fitzgerald, the owner of one of Houston’s most-storied venues that bears her surname, got in supremely hot water over a rather amazingly racist rejection letter she sent to TrakkSounds over a gig. The producer took to Twitter with screenshots, and artists began threatening to boycott the club. Fitzgerald’s response, that her rejection was in the name of feminism over misogynistic rap lyrics, didn’t really assuage fans and musicians against the racial stereotyping present in her email.
Now, Houston Whatever Fest is under fire thanks to promoter Jason Price. On February 22, Price posted a picture on Facebook of a woman in the airport in Las Vegas he took without her permission. The since deleted post read, “Vegas to HOU = I mean, I know it’s Vegas and anything can happen here and does, but he really should be wearing more clothes going through security at the airport. Yes, I did say HE.”
The picture showed a woman in a cocktail dress with a slit exposing her thigh and a low top exposing her arms. There’s no indication whether she was trans or cis.
The “joke” sparked outrage from a recent addition to the festival, Giant Kitty, a band founded by two trans women. One of those is guitarist Cassandra Quirk.
“I was shocked,” she says. “You go through your newsfeed, and there’s this thing with the poster using the festival logo as his profile pic. Being trans, you’re used to getting a certain amount of crap thrown at you, but in the punk scene we’ve been embraced, almost protected. We have a lot of allies, and these acts celebrate the diversity of gender identity. A big part of our core audience is under the rainbow umbrella.”
Giant Kitty subsequently pulled out of the festival over Price’s post, with several other bands, including Rose Ette, immediately following suit. This wasn’t easy for Giant Kitty, says Quirk, who told us that they weren’t a band that usually gets festival invites, and that this was a great opportunity for bigger and better gigs.
“I knew it was pretty much a no-win situation,” says Quirk.
Longtime associate of HWF, Andrew Youngblood, also announced on Facebook that he would be stepping down from the organization after fulfilling his obligations this year over the issue.
Price’s response has been better than that of Fitzgerald’s. He issued an immediate apology, and sought out the guidance of HATCH, an off-shoot of The Montrose Center aimed at educating and empowering young LGBTQ people.
“Until this all went down, I didn’t even know what HATCH was,” says Price. “I’ve learned a lot since Friday.”
Price told us that he will be including HATCH in HWF in hopes of healing the breach. The festival will be making a donation, and volunteers will be on hand to make sure the festival is a “safe space.” Update: Anna Garza, program manager for HATCH Youth and founder of Girls Rock Camp Houston, however, has stated that their group will not be involved in HWF. “I told Jason explicitly that I don’t want HATCH to be associated with his apology tour,” she stated via text after this story initially ran.
“I hope something positive can come out of this,” says Price.
That hope is echoed by Quirk, who declined further comment on the promoter as she didn’t want the incident to become “tit-for-tat.”
“His intent wasn’t to be harmful,” says Quirk. “But the impact was devastating on the trans community. I find the generation of Miriam and Roger [the band’s two younger members] to just automatically be more empathic. My [and Jason’s] generation seems to have the hardest time educating themselves or reaching out. You have to be focused on how you affect society, not just on your own personal beliefs. Our job is to make the world better.”
It’s a shame that Houston has yet another beloved music institution embroiled in a bigotry-laced scandal, and in both cases Fitzgerald and Price have a lot of defenders. I’ve worked with both of them as a musician in the Black Math Experiment days, and found them generally open-minded and willing to learn.
But that was back when a band, promoter or venue’s social media reach was limited to a Myspace page, and bigoted or off-color remarks didn’t have the virality they do in the age of Facebook and Twitter. People like Fitzgerald and Price seem to forget that when dealing with performers, every word or post has the opportunity to suddenly reach thousands or even millions, and as a result, it behooves everyone involved in the scene to actively try and educate themselves on what are appropriate responses when dealing with diverse groups.
Because I really don’t want to spend the rest of the year finding out that Zack Palmer over at Walter’s believes in Jewish Global Banking Conspiracy Theories or that Rudyard’s has a secret no-hijab policy or whatever. Houston has that diversity I mentioned in the beginning, and an awful lot of them are picking up guitars and scribbling lyrics. It’s the job of the people guarding the gates to make sure they are incorporating new information on things like trans issues or whether it’s okay to stereotype an entire genre of music in a really racist way. Otherwise, in this changing world, they may find the people at the gates aren’t ticket buyers, but an angry mob. Or worse, that there’s no one at the gates to hear the music.
by Jef Rouner