“This is not your demographic”
Several readers have alerted me to this story out of Charlotte about the Hoppers doing a benefit for an HIV/AIDS clinic’s foodbank:
Pierce says he didn’t know want to expect when he first reached out to The Hoppers. Nationally recognized, award-winning and Southern Gospel community favorites, The Hoppers have also worked closely with gospel legend Bill Gaither. Needless to say, HIV/AIDS patients and LGBT people aren’t the first groups of folks one might think of as fans.
“I reached out to them and said this is what we are doing,” Pierce explains. “It was a booking; they were going to take it. But the next thing I said was, ‘Let me explain. What we are doing, this is not your demographic. There will be a lot of gay and lesbian people in attendance.”
Pierce says Claude Hopper, the group’s father and founder, took a long pause and asked, “Tell me, son, exactly what the money is going for?”
Pierce told Claude how his clinic’s pantry shelves were getting empty, and how they provided basic canned foods and dry staples to those in need.
“If you came in with your family and needed food, you would leave with a bag of groceries to feed your family for the night,” Pierce told Claude.
The Gospel singer’s response was enthusiastic: “Son, we’ll be there,” he said.
Pierce sees the concert as an opportunity to build bridges. To his knowledge, the holiday concert and fundraiser will be among one of the first times a Southern Gospel group of The Hoppers’ caliber has stepped up on their own and offered their talent for an HIV/AIDS-related cause.
“Most of them won’t touch it,” Pierce says. “There is still that stigma with HIV/AIDS and the Christian community. We’re breaking down the wall a few bricks at a time.”
Full story is here. The event will also include Jeanne White Ginder, the mother of Ryan White, whose life with and death from HIV/AIDS galvanized national attention around the disease in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
A few thoughts:
- It would probably be wrong to read too much into this. I’m sure plenty of commenters will want to point that helping people with HIV/AIDS a)doesn’t mean you’re always helping non-heterosexuals (see the Ryan White story, though of course HIV/AIDS from transfusions accounts for relatively few infections) and b)doesn’t mean you’re endorsing “the gay lifestyle” even if you concede, as I assume Claude Hopper effectively did in agreeing to participate in the benefit, that helping people with HIV/AIDS means unconditionally and non-judgmentally helping a lot of not-straight people (smart bit of media savvy on the clinic’s part, btw, making it a lot harder for the event’s headliners to get cold feet and then back out on the basis of not having been told what they were getting into). Another way to illustrate this point: David Phelps has a new cd out that includes “For Those Tears I Died” - a song with a history of gay controversy in southern gospel - but I don’t assume that means he’s coming out or anything like that.
- By the same token, plenty of us gay southern gospelites and our straight gospel-lovin’ friends would probably like to also point out that it’s a lot easier to sing at a foodbank benefit for an HIV/AIDS clinic and get all the good-Samaritan points out of showing up than it is to knowingly ride with a gay guy on the bus and keep him on the stage and payroll. After all, there’s a lot of rank hypocrisy among southern gospel artists who rely on gay professionals to help make their music possible and gay fans to help support their music while doing little or nothing to challenge or moderate anti-gay attitudes and rhetoric in sg. This can be awfully cynicizing if you let it, to the point that one’s first instinct when reading a story like this could be to scoff and dismiss. It may not always be fair, but I can assure you that’s a not-uncommon reaction to this sort of thing. The man doesn’t tell Claude that “this is not your demographic” for no reason.
- All that said, props to the Hoppers. Maybe in a perfect world someone with Claude Hopper’s safe, cemented, and financially secure status in the industry should do more to live out the Christian ideal toward the most controversial of the least of these, but if things were different, they wouldn’t be the same. In an industry that links gospel music to and rewards artists for aggressive, public denunciations of non-heterosexual ways of being, it’s not nothing for an industry leader to agree to something like this, eyes wide open.
- I would love to know what made the clinic’s manager, Dale Pierce, decide to call the Hoppers in the first place.
And of course we’ll expect a full debriefing from anyone who happens to attend the concert. Tickets available here.Email this Post