Censorship concerns informed Luther Burbank Center’s choice to honor contract for Dave Chappelle shows, official says

An official with the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts said censorship concerns informed the venue’s decision to honor a rental agreement with the producers of Dave Chappelle’s show, upon learning that the controversial comedian would be performing there.

Center staff initially agreed in mid-July to rent the LBC to Live Nation without knowing details about the performer, Anita Wiglesworth, the LBC’s vice president of programs and marketing, said in an email Monday.

Once LBC staff learned Chappelle would be the performer, they weighed their responsibility to the community and issues related to censorship, she added.

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, a group known as LGBTQ+, have criticized Chappelle for comments he made about transgender people in his 2021 Netflix comedy special “The Closer.”

Last week, during a show in Minneapolis, he referred to the viral disease monkeypox as a “gay disease” and labeled protesters outside the performance as “transgender lunatics,” The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Chappelle is set to give his first of four performances at the Luther Burbank Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Three more shows, two on Wednesday and one on Thursday, are planned. The shows are presented by Live Nation Entertainment.

The upcoming performances are taking place despite calls from members of of Sonoma County’s LGBTQ+ community, and their allies, to cancel Chappelle’s shows.

“Many members of the staff, which represent the diversity of the community, watched ‘The Closer’ and other material from the artist to understand context,” Wiglesworth said. “In the end, we determined it is not our role to censor, particularly from an organization renting our facility and one that provides diverse artists to our community. This decision was not made lightly.”

An online petition seeking to stop the performance in Santa Rosa had collected just short of 300 signatures by Monday afternoon, three times more than the number of signatures recorded on Friday.

Joy Anderson, a 24-year-old nonbinary member of the transgender community who started the petition, said the LBC needs to be held accountable for its decision.

“They’re not acknowledging their role in allowing Live Nation to hold the show, and the money they are going to make,” Anderson said. “I would like them to take more accountability and hopefully prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future.”

In response to a message from Anderson, LBC officials said they were willing to discuss the decision to host Chappelle, but only after Tuesday, upon the return of Wiglesworth, who would be out of the office.

While Anderson said they were still open to the discussion with the Luther Burbank Center, the timing of the conversation was unfortunate.

Positive Images, a Santa Rosa nonprofit that serves LGBTQ+ individuals in Sonoma County, said it was disappointing that the Luther Burbank Center would host Chappelle despite its stated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

The nonprofit, and Anderson, also took issue with the LBC for hosting Jordan B. Peterson, a Canadian psychology professor and author who, in 2016, said he would not use the preferred gender pronouns of students and faculty at the University of Toronto, where he was a professor.

The Luther Burbank Center’s website shows that event happened in April.

“Dave Chappelle isn’t calling for LGBTQ+ people to be murdered, but he is telling his audiences that it’s OK to devalue and dehumanize queer and trans people,” the group’s statement said. “Further stigmatizing queer and trans people contributes to a climate of unsafety for our community ― and for Black and brown people within our community most of all.”

Gary Carnivele, a longtime activist in the LGBTQ+ community who lives in Sonoma, said Monday that he too is demanding the Chappelle shows be canceled.

In an email he sent to 300 people in his contact list on Friday, he implored them to reach out to LBC staff, board members and sponsors to demand that the Chappelle shows be stopped.

Carnivele, who said he attends shows at the Luther Burbank Center several times a year, said the center’s decision to host the show came as a surprise to him.

“I’ll probably never buy a ticket to a (Luther Burbank Center) concert again,” Carnivele said. “It’s pretty unforgivable as far as I’m concerned.”

Live Nation declined a request for an interview through a Luther Burbank Center staff member on Monday.

Attempts to reach Chappelle’s representatives on Monday were not successful.

So far, the center has received 33 messages, via email and phone, from community members who are concerned about the Chappelle shows, Wiglesworth said. Staff has also heard from members of the LGBTQ+ community who support the performances, she said.

The shows will have security and bag checks, which is the case in all events at the center, she added.

Neither Carnivele nor Anderson knew of any planned protests outside the center in light of the show, though Wiglesworth said the venue will allow “space for peaceful protests” should they occur.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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