IS COACHELLA ANTI-GAY OR A UTOPIA OF ACCEPTANCE? MAYBE IT’S BOTH.
By Lina Savage
4 · 29 · 2019
For the past two years, I have surrendered myself to the hypocrisy of purchasing a Coachella ticket. It is no secret now that Coachella’s founder Philip Anschutz, has donated a significant portion of his $12.9 billion dollar net worth to organizations that actively combat LGBTQI rights. The website for one organization that Anshutz regularly donates to, the Family Research Council, says they believe “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large,” and their mission is to advance a family-centered philosophy of public life. One LGBTQI organization, Freedom for All Americans, revealed that Anschutz will donate a sum of $190,000 to homophobic groups over the course of the next two years. But like a large majority of young liberals who find themselves at the anticipated festival, I was pulled in by Coachella’s star-studded lineup – and despite my knowledge of the above, I once again found myself in Indio this April.
Although, apart from the insignificant detail of virtually abandoning my morality, the experience of the weekend seems to empower everything that Philip Anschutz opposes. Worries about donating to far-right organizations were simply danced away to music by some of the most influential LGBTQI advocates in the music industry, including King Princess and Janelle Monae. Watching Monae wear vagina pants, singing along to lyrics like “pussy is god,” and admiring the pride flag at the end of Ariana Grande’s performance didn’t scream “threatening” in the slightest. Some artists even began to promote “GayChella” and denounce the owner of Coachella himself in backlash.
However, many fans are criticizing these same artists for their hypocrisy. Grande, one of this year’s three headliners, for example, received hateful messages about the ineffective pride flag she waved around during her performance, denouncing her actions as “fake activism.” People around the world tried to take action and develop a movement tagged #BoyCottChella. One fan even commented on Lizzo’s instagram post writing, “I’m so confused why so many people are supporting this event that supports anti-lgbt organizations.”
In an attempt to justify her attendance at the festival, Lizzo explained how despite Anshutz’s political views, Coachella gives a platform to promote ideas of love and comfort to LGBTQI individuals in particular. The unapologetic cult-favorite, whose entire platform is rooted in body-positivity and acceptance, wrote, “I’m doing what I gotta do to make sure my big black ass voice is heard. Can’t wait to dismantle the hate that funds this country….but until then, imma be putting big, black, femme, lgbtq bodies on stages and telling our stories.”
And Lizzo certainly has a point – there is undeniable power in displaying such bodies on stages as large as those at Coachella. But in doing so, such artists are giving money directly to causes that directly hurt them and many of their fans.
In order to get further insight into the controversy, I interviewed Jack Garrell, a sophomore at UCLA who is openly gay and attended this year’s festival. When asked about how he felt about Anschutz’s donations prior to purchasing his ticket, he responded, “It made me think a lot about what I’m investing my money in and why I am.” He went on, “I don’t feel 100% comfortable going to Coachella, but at the end of the day there’s no escaping every single company that is anti-LGBT.” He explained how other companies show direct homophobic violence, and he would obviously boycott if he felt that Anschutz was directly harming others. “I would think about boycotting it more of the artists were white and privileged, but the fact that Coachella is putting on such a diverse group of people made me feel okay with it.
Another openly gay UCLA student Shea Durazzo shared his experiences regarding Coachella. Although he knew about the donations prior to buying a ticket, he never second-guessed attending the festival. “The actual festival is super accepting, kind of like a utopia where you can just be yourself and no one cares,” Shea said. “Ariana had the pride flag and that was super cute.” When asked about how he felt about the tag “Gaychella,” he responded “I love it. The gay community loves any type of love that we get.”
Ultimately, one question remains: is there value in supporting the mainstream representation that Coachella offers? Or does it mean nothing when such representation puts money directly into the pockets of those that seek to tear down such inclusion? I’m still figuring it out – what do you think?
Graphic by Becca Goldman