4 min

Michael Jackson fled moralistic religion & did great AIDS work

Plus: Once again, Tories pander to religious base

Michael Jackson’s death has prompted a widescale review of his life, and it’s led to some inflated claims and unanswered questions.

The assertion that Jackson paved the way for Barack Obama may be hyperbolic. And we may never know whether Jackson was actually gay or be able to measure his effect on queer culture. But in one area, at least, there’s no question that Jackson was a groundbreaker among celebrities: in his work for AIDS organizations.

That work started as early as 1984, when he co-wrote “We Are the World,” money from which went, in part, to the fight against AIDS in Africa. Jackson, along with Elton John and others, also publicly supported Ryan White in 1989, when the young Indianapolis hemophiliac was expelled from school for having AIDS. Jackson went on to help fund groups like AIDS Project LA and the Minority AIDS Project.

Now remember when Jackson began his work against AIDS, it wasn’t the publicly acceptable cause it is today. And it especially wasn’t acceptable to the religion of Jackson’s birth: the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In 1986, the Witnesses outlined their stance on homosexuality in one of their many publications.

“Dreadful sexually transmitted diseases such as the deadly AIDS are often linked with sexual immorality… What of homosexuality? As we have seen, this practice is covered by the word por·nei’a (‘fornication’), used by Jesus and his disciples. The disciple Jude used that word when referring to the unnatural sex acts of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah. Has God’s view changed since then? No… Such persons not only fall under God’s condemnation, but they also receive a ‘recompense’ of mental and physical corruption. Today, for example, there is a disproportionately high rate of syphilis, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases among homosexuals.”

Jackson left the Witnesses in 1987 after being forced to attach a disclaimer to the Thriller video stating that it did not reflect his view of the supernatural. The religion’s leaders also reportedly wanted Jackson to publicly repudiate his work.

It’s then somewhat disappointing that supposedly within his last year, Jackson converted to Islam, another religion not notably sympathetic to some of those causes.

It’s interesting, though, to compare Jackson to another performer born in that summer of 1958, a man considered in many ways to be Jackson’s alterego: Prince. The Purple One actually converted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2001.

In a 2008 interview with The New Yorker, when asked about social issues, including same-sex marriage and abortion, Prince replied, “God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.'”

Prince’s representatives claimed he was misquoted. But it’s interesting that one performer — Prince — whose songs are largely about sex would join a moralistic, overbearing religion. And another performer — Jackson — whose performances were largely about trying to reclaim innocence, would flee it.


Speaking of musicians and homosexuality, I was disappointed to note that on the bill for the Warped Tour, which hit Toronto on Jul 10, was Christian punk band Underoath.

To me, Christianity and punk — in fact, religion and punk — just do not go together. It’s one thing, perhaps, if like some Muslim hardcore bands, the music is about defying and redefining the standards laid down by that religion. But that’s not what a band like Underoath is doing. And I don’t understand how they fit into a bill that includes such punk bands as Bad Religion and NOFX, known for their progressive and rebellious politics, which to me is what punk should be about.

Underoath guitarist Tim McTague has said in interviews that he “doesn’t agree” with homosexuality or same-sex marriage, but that he has homosexual friends. Which, as I’ve said before, is the sort of statement that makes me see red. Homophobia is not a choice that can be justified as being part of a religious belief system. You can’t agree or disagree with homosexuality, you’re either a bigot or you’re not.

If a band said they “don’t agree” with Judaism or with being black, they would never have been invited on the tour. I’m not saying punk is not subject to racism. In fact, racism and homophobia among punk audiences is a major reason I’ve basically stopped going to punk shows. But a band that was openly racist would not be on the Warped Tour, and a band that’s homophobic is.

To his credit, Fat Mike, the leader of NOFX, has been very vocal in criticizing Underoath’s homophobia. But he’s not calling for them to be kicked off the tour or censored, and neither will I. What I would like is for them to perform every night and then be soundly booed by the entire audience.


The federal Tories have opted to placate their base of religious fundamentalists — of whatever creed — by turning down federal funding for Montreal’s queer Divers/Cité festival.

The whole mess started when cabinet minister Diane Ablonczy got in trouble, supposedly for giving Pride Toronto $400,000 from the Marquee Tourism Event Program. Never mind the millions of dollars Pride brings to the Toronto economy, or the million people who attend the event. Apparently, the Conservatives were offended by the move.

Subsequently two major queer festivals in Quebec — Divers/Cité and Black & Blue — were up for funding. Black & Blue is still waiting to hear.

The Quebec festivals were a test for the government as to what was more important: votes or religion. And the Tories have apparently decided to appease their religious supporters in the West and rural Canada by denying funding to Divers/Cité, thus basically reverting to its old social conservative roots and abandoning any hope of picking up soft votes in Quebec and much of Ontario.

The result is gays and lesbians could be in real trouble for the rest of Harper’s time in government and could be a target in the next election. The policy of going after queers has been set.