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|Sponsors withdraw support from 'Bedlam Presents' party over 'Indian' theme|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|November 10, 2011 15:25|
The popular Atlanta costume-themed party "Bedlam Presents" stepped into hot water again this month when it attempted to host a "Pocahotass" party on Saturday that numerous people found offensive and took to social networking to get sponsors pulled.
The party, to be held at the Mood Lounge and named "Pocahotass," enraged several people who posted comments to the Facebook page of the party's invite on Tuesday and Wednesday. That page, however, has been deleted, but not before dozens of posts were made by those who opposed the party, stating the party was exploiting an oppressed people. Bedlam Presents supporters argued back that, essentially, the party was not offensive and telling those who did not like the theme to not attend.
The party, founded and hosted by Barry Brandon, who is openly gay, invited people to dress up as "Indians and pilgrims." Those opposing the party said the name of the party was offensive and to dress up as people from an oppressed culture was "racist." The poster (above) for the party, also, was deemed insensitive by those opposing the party.
This is the second time a Bedlam Presents party has been criticized by many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Atlantans via Facebook. In March, many LGBT people said they were offended by the "Derelicte" party derived from the movie "Zoolander" that glorifies "homeless chic."
That party also garnered outrage via Facebook debates but was not canceled. It was held at lesbian bar My Sister's Room. Owners of the bar issued an apology after the party was held.
But now with sponsors pulling out after activists opposing the party emailed the companies and posted comments on their Facebook pages, Bedlam Presents faces even more scrutiny.
Brandon posted on Facebook last week that a new sponsor for the party was to be new vodka drink American Harvest Organic Spirit and the company is included on the party flyer.
A spokesperson for American Harvest, however, said today the company had no association with Bedlam Presents.
"American Harvest Organic Spirit was never a sponsor of the Bedlam event," said Kate Laufer, spokesperson for the vodka.
"American Harvest recently launched in Atlanta with a partnership with the Atlanta Community Food Bank and is continuously working with charities across the nation to strengthen the brand's charitable footprint and to promote positive social change," she added.
Whynatte, who has been a sponsor for the Bedlam Presents party for approximately 10 months over the party's year-and-a-half history, also posted to its Facebook page today a "mea culpa" over this month's party.
Whynatte founder and CEO Jesse Altman also issued a direct response.
"Whynatte had absolutely no idea that this month's Bedlam party was a Native American themed party, and up until we started seeing the posts on our Facebook wall by people that were offended, we thought that it was a 'neon body painting' themed party. We even printed out hundreds of the neon paint party posters, and were caught completely off guard by the current theme," he said.
"We have since learned that there was a change of venue and a change of theme, but this was not communicated to us by Bedlam, and we were never shown any of the corresponding collateral prior to it being published on the internet," Altman said.
"Had we seen it prior, we never would have approved it. As anyone who is familiar with our brand knows, Whynatte consistently promotes equality and diversity, and we will continue to do so. "We have pulled our sponsorship from this event, as well as future Bedlam parties, and sincerely apologize to those that were hurt by it," he added.
Pinnacle Vodka, partnered with Whynatte, has also pulled its sponsorship of Bedlam Presents. parties.
Brandon: No harm meant
Brandon said in an interview today he and Bedlam organizers had no intention of offending anyone. The party is canceled although a private party will be held at Mood Lounge on Saturday but without any Native American costume theme, he said.
"We're fairly certain we've lost our sponsors for future events and rightfully so," Brandon said. "I respect and understand their decision. It was a touchy subject for a lot of people."
Brandon also said it was a "big leap" for those opposing the costume party to see it as an attack on Native Americans. Those arguing against the party pointed out how the Native American culture has suffered from genocide and rape at the hands of colonizers.
"There's a difference between offensive and racist and just a costume," Brandon said.
He added that he also took away from the dialogue that holidays celebrated, such as Thanksgiving and Halloween, are also "offensive."
But, he said, the comments prompted him to cancel the event.
"The ultimate rule of thumb is perception versus reality and I think when people perceive something as true it is reality," he said.
He added that he remains "on the fence" about the opposing side's views, "What I failed to realize is that attire, garb, fashion of another culture would be taken to be racist. I didn't realize that," said Brandon.
Activists argue that party exploits a culture
Some of the back-and-forth as pulled from Brandon's Facebook page on Tuesday:
"So - will this be honoring Native American culture or further exploiting people we have already exploited for centuries?" asked one person.
"Neither actually. Just celebrating the fashion inspired by their culture ;). As simple as that," Brandon answered.
"Barry, 'celebrating the fashion inspired by…'would mean featuring couture designers who claim Native American influences. Instead, you're asking people to 'dress up like' indigenous people, and unless carefully and respectfully informed how to do so, most folks will create stereotypical and inaccurate costumes that harm (detract from, misrepresent) Native American culture. 'If you harm no one, do what you will.' This event, as planned, crosses that line," wrote another person.
Brandon said he plans to make a public apology soon from Bedlam Presents about the party and has talked with activist Jess Morgan of queer activist group Glitterbomb Atl to discuss how future marketing could be handled to not be seen as offensive.
Morgan said today he had to give kudos to Brandon for pulling the event.
"It's very hard to admit you are wrong. I have to give him kudos for admitting for doing something wrong and canceling the event," Morgan said.
Morgan started a new Facebook group, "Offensive Parties Suck," which he said brought queer activists and Native American activists together to show their dismay with the party's theme. The "power of dissent" and dozens of people emailing sponsors as well as using Twitter and Facebook to let the sponsors know of the party resulted in positive results, Morgan said.
The sincerity of the party organizers, however, is under question, Morgan acknowledged. He said one of the organizers posted to his Facebook page that perhaps Bedlam Presents should offer "blankets" to those opposing the party as a peace offering. History recounts that those colonizing the land of North America offered blankets with the smallpox virus to Native Americans as a way to kill them.
"So you know comments like that are disheartening and disappointing. When we talk to Native American groups and they see these comments and see how problematic these are, it's disturbing," Morgan said.
More education needs to take place, Morgan said, but the immediate goal by activists was to get the party canceled.
"I believe we have to keep having these conversations," he said.
Photo: Facebook invitation to the Bedlam Presents party that has now been canceled after activists protested to sponsors and organizers.
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