Charles Knipp is a self-described forty-five-year-old, fat, gay white man who believes he's on a mission from God. A mission that involves mimicking Black women as his alter ego character Shirley Q. Liquor. The character is favorite among his core audience whom Knipp describes as being “gay men, their moms, and rednecks.”
In San Francisco Bay area, folks are saying keep this racist drag queen out of our town.
If you have never seen or hear of Shirley Q. Liquor, you can watch a clip here. Here are a few examples of some of Shirley Q. Liquor's tamer quotes:
"I'm gonna burn me up some chitlins and put some ketchup on there and aks Jesus to forgive my sins." Shirley also shops at "Kmark," eats "Egg McMuffmans," visits her "gynechiatrist" and just loves "homosexicals."
"On the fifth day of Kwanzaa, my check came in the mail/AFDC!/Thank you, lawd!/Come on, kids/Let's go to the store/For some collard greens, ham hocks and cheese!"
"Baby, we was extremely povertied this week. My check had not came on time. Oooh, we was stretchin' it, honey. I aks them to keep my power on. I said, 'A woman have got to have some fans runnin' down here in this heat.' "
Knipp has been performing the Shirley Q. Liquor character for nearly 10 years. When the Shirley Q. Liquor character first appeared on the scene in the South, Knipp's performance sparked protests that prompted mainstream gay organizations like GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination) to denounce Knipp's performance. A GLAAD statement described Knipp's character as "one that perpetuates ugly racial stereotypes that are offensive, hurtful and simply unacceptable."
Such criticism forced Knipp to take his performances underground where they were promoted clandestinely by word of mouth. Knipp's shows this weekend at the Russian River Resort are not only being widely publicized on the Resort's web site, it's also being promoted as part of the Resort's series of benefits for Hurricane Katrina victims, many of whom are African American. Adding insult to injury for African Americans is that Knipp's performance is occurring on Juneteenth weekend, the celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery for African Americans in the United States.
Other mainstream gay leaders and organizations have similarly denounced Knipp, but critics say the apparent lack of outrage of Knipp's appearance at the Russian River Resort represents a double standard that condones racist performances. Knipp’s critics believe there is currently a "wink and nod" attitude toward Knipp's racist performance in that while gay leaders may do the politically correct thing and publicly denounce Shirley Q. Liquor, gay leaders and organizations are not taking the extra step of boycotting clubs, bars and festivals that host Shirley Q. Liquor performances.
Blacks in both the straight and gay community say the nationwide protests against reggae stars Buju Banton and Capleton for anti-gay lyrics are examples of the power of Gay community organizing. Both artists were forced to cancel Bay Area concerts, nationwide tours and appearances at major festivals after GLAAD and other organizations threatened to set up picket lines outside of clubs like Slim's in San Francisco, the House of Blues in Los Angeles and festivals like the Ragga Muffin festival and the Miami Reggae Festival.
Blacks who are active in both the Black and Gay community note that no Gay club in the country would risk protests, picket lines and boycotts if the level of protests against Shirley Q. Liquor matched the nationwide outrage against Buju Banton, Capleton and actor Eddie Murphy, who endured years of protests for making remarks offensive to Gays early in Murphy's career.
Black activists like Jasmyne Cannick, who has produced one of the few anti-Shirley Q. Liquor websites, says on her website that white gay activists are quick to denounce blacks who demean gays -- but turn a blind eye when whites like Knipp do the same thing.
“The hypocrisy is sickening," Cannick says on her blog. "Isaiah Washington was unable to escape the wrath of Gay America, but Charles Knipp, a White Gay man, can perform a blackface minstrel and be rewarded by Gay Americans to the tune of $90k annually. Someone has some explaining to do. This has gone on for far too long under the radar.”
Gay activists say that relations between Blacks and the mostly White Gay community have improved greatly since the days that Bay Area Black Gays felt so excluded from the San Francisco Gay Pride Festival that they created an Afro-Centric Pride festival in Oakland, and when Black Gays accused several Castro Street Bars of discrimination against Blacks and women. The executive director of this year's Gay Pride Festival is an African American woman and Pride organizers say that this year's festival will be the most diverse ever.
Black Gay activists say one big reason the Prop 8 measure banning Gay marriage won two years ago was a lack of education and outreach among African Americans. Many Black voters polled after the November 2008 election said they were misled by Black ministers and other community leaders who were paid by Prop 8 organizers, and would have probably voted against Prop 8 if there had been better outreach to African Americans by the Gay community; outreach that includes education on eradicating stereotypes about both Blacks and Gays.
Activists say Shirley Q. Liquor's performance at the Russian River Resort this weekend will send a message to African Americans that there is hell to pay if blacks make disparaging remarks against Gays, but it's fun and games and a good time to be had by all when White Gays perform materials considered racist by African Americans. Leaders in both the African American and Gay communities are concerned that if Shirley Q. Liquor’s performance goes off unchallenged, the message, and image of Shirley Q. Liquor will reverberate in the minds of African Americans who may be asked in the future to support pro-Gay legislation or ballot measures.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Beyond Chron readers can call the Russian River Resort at (707) 869-0691 and demand that they cancel Shirley Q. Liquor's performance.