Shirley Q. Liquor picturedThe Hartford City Council was ready to tackle issues of racism and stereotypes Tuesday through a resolution that objected to the Feb. 23 performance of a drag queen in blackface. But the cancellation of the show Friday may make the issue moot. Councilwoman Elizabeth Horton-Sheff, said Friday, before news of the cancellation, that the resolution does not trample on anyone’s First Amendment rights because it does not ask the bar owners that are hosting the performance to cancel the show. However, the resolution does show support for members of the LGBT community, some of whom are offended by the show and have planned a counter-event that same night at Bulkeley High School. According to a statement released by the bar’s owner the decision to cancel was not based on political pressure or media coverage. It was based on bar owner Gary Bechard’s decision not to divide the gay community.
It’s no wonder the show stirs up controversy. Shirley Q. Liquor is a poor African-American female character created by Charles Knipp, a white male minister from Kentucky. More simply, it’s a white man in drag and blackface scheduled to perform in a city where racial tensions already are high. Horton-Sheff said she studied Liquor’s past performances on the Internet before agreeing to write the resolution on behalf of the city’s LGBT commission. “I just don’t understand why people think it’s funny,” she said. “Not to mention the show is being hosted during Black History month.” Representatives of the LGBT community met with the management of Chez Est, the bar hosting the show, at the end of January to try and persuade them to cancel the Shirley Q. Liquor show and to replace it with a performance by a nationally known lesbian comedian, Karen Williams. Chez Est management refused at the time, but had a change of heart late Friday. True Colors, the group that spearheaded the protests against Liquor’s performance, was unhappy about the initial refusal.“We feel that in light of the obvious racial tensions that exist in Hartford, this show has no place in our beloved city, nor does it belong at the Chez Est, an establishment considered by many to be a safe space for the LGBT community.“Horton-Sheff said she’s offended by the show, and cited last month’s controversial “Bullets and Bubbly” party held recently by University of Connecticut law students as proof that the timing of the show is bad. Photographs of the party found their way onto the Internet, showing white students dressed in attire that highlighted black stereotypes, drinking from 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor. The students were widely criticized for being racially insensitive.Horton-Sheff said she sent copies of the resolution to the rest of the council in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, but wasn’t going to make any predictions about whether it will pass. Now the issue may be moot since the performance has been cancelled. Neil G. Giuliano, president of Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, issued a press release this week.“We recognize that this performer has a right to free speech and expression, but we also have the right to condemn his performance and speak out against this harmful depiction” the statement from the national group said.“This performance perpetuates ugly racial stereotypes that are offensive, hurtful, and simply unacceptable, and we are urging our constituents to visit glaad.org so that they can express their concerns to the venues at which Knipp is expected to perform in the coming months,” he added. The controversy comes on the heels of some good publicity for Hartford, with respect to its reputation as a LGBT friendly community. According to a Williams Institute study, members of the LGBT community make up nearly 7 percent of Hartford’s population, the 10th-highest among U.S. cities.For more information about the counter-event click here. For more information on Liquor visit her Myspace page here . Below is the draft of the City Council resolution: WHEREAS Charles Knipp is a Caucasian male who performs in full blackface makeup under the stage name “Shirley Q. Liquor,” andWHEREAS Through this character, Charles Knipp satirizes the life of a poor African American single-mother of nineteen children, some of whom he has named after brands of alcohol, and another after a sexually transmitted disease, and WHEREAS A growing number of concerned citizens who have viewed this character on stage or on the Internet find the material therein ethically offensive, with the potential to further negative stereotypes about African American females, andWHEREAS Charles Knipp is scheduled to perform in Hartford during this Black History month, andWHEREAS On 25 January 2007 a coalition of concerned residents approached the management of the venue at which this performance is scheduled to take place to express its concerns and offer suggestions for alternative events, andWHEREAS This effort met with complete denial from this management as to the insensitivity of this type of performance, andWHEREAS This coalition, that includes members of the City Of Hartford Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgender Issues, has called upon city officials to join its efforts to provide an alternative to this show, now therefore be itRESOLVED That the members of the Hartford Court of Common Council, in light of recently highlighted racial tension in the City of Hartford and in support of the moral good of the whole, places on the record its objection to the hosting of such a show in Hartford, and be it furtherRESOLVED That the members of the Hartford Court of Common Council supports the effort of this coalition to host a positive alternative event and calls upon the residents of Hartford to stand in solidarity with those promoting harmony between the races and justice for African American women.