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Donna Summer's Never-Before-Published 1989 Letter to 'ACT UP' Asking for Forgiveness


POZ's Peter Staley looks back at Donna Summer's attempt to mend her divide with the gay community six years after the Village Voice published anti-gay remarks she had reportedly made, calling AIDS "a punishment from God".

Staley writes: Summer2

"As some in the community continued to embrace her, others grew angrier at her hedged denials (words like "misunderstanding" were used), and the issue continued to percolate...By 1989, various ACT UP chapters started protesting at Donna Summer appearances...To everyone's surprise, Donna Summer wrote a letter to ACT UP New York attempting to mend the divide. A few quotes from the letter were reported at the time, and appeared often in recent online obituaries, but the letter itself has never been seen publicly...I don't think ACT UP kept up their demonstrations after she sent it, but that probably had more to do with our priorities at the time, rather than this strange letter. Note to PR agents: when you apologize to the gays, it's probably not best to quote at length from the bible (even though it's a lovely quote)."

Read the second part of the letter and a text transcript HERE.

And in related news, this is a still of Staley (along with the trailer) from How to Survive a Plague, being handled with gloves by police officers afraid of being infected with the HIV virus at an ACT UP demonstration.

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  1. It was certainly reported at the time that when she got religion, she (like so many numb-skull religionists) said AIDS was a punishment from God.

    Posted by: Danny in the East Village | Jun 13, 2012 10:18:49 AM

  2. I wonder if this was about money.

    Posted by: Jacques Rosas | Jun 13, 2012 10:21:38 AM

  3. That's a hilarious misquote from the Bible. It actually says "If I have a faith that can move mountains..." but DS writes "If I have a face that can move mountains..." I wonder if that's like a face that can stop a clock. :-)

    Posted by: Seattle Mike | Jun 13, 2012 10:25:22 AM

  4. That letter honestly sounds to me like a lengthy version of "Hate the sin, love the sinner" that Fundamentalists throw at us.

    Look, I grew up in the disco era and Donna Summer was a great gift to us all, musically, lubricating every Friday and Saturday night like noone else could.

    So I would love to believe she was not homophobic.

    But this letter does not convince me of that; in fact, it kind of reinforces the idea that she was, although she realized that she hurt people by being so and felt bad about that.

    Whatever. Maybe she was just too deeply indoctrinated by her Baptist minister of a father and the rest of her family to change....and she was, after all, part of a generation for which homophobia was entirely the norm and people who were not homophobic were the rare exceptions rather than the rule.

    So perhaps this was the best she could do and as far as she felt she could go, all things considered.

    In another place and time, things might have been different.....

    Posted by: Rick | Jun 13, 2012 10:36:00 AM

  5. Well she's gone on to Jesus now, so none of this really matters anymore.

    Posted by: MrJ | Jun 13, 2012 10:54:43 AM

  6. To Rick's thoughtful perspective, I would add that it's entirely possible and politically acceptable to love the art, but not the artist. That's how I felt at the time about Donna.

    Posted by: Joe in CT | Jun 13, 2012 11:06:42 AM

  7. Oh but MRJ, it does matter now.

    The people in her life who now will push the sales of her re-released disco hits from way back when want the gays to support her, who else would be willing to buy her crap. And btw, she was a homophobe!

    Posted by: Truth | Jun 13, 2012 11:06:51 AM

  8. She has died. Why dissect messages and quotes from years ago? She gave the world great music to boogie down to. Leave it at that. She was a sweet lady. No one is required and we have no authority to demand that ANYONE approve of us gay guys and our lifestyle. So who cares. Straight people's sex grosses me out, but that doesn't mean I hate straight people.

    Posted by: Alan | Jun 13, 2012 11:11:25 AM

  9. Ah... so human... I wonder how many of the negative posters here have ever said anything that was mis-quoted or taken out of context. I wonder how many ever took the time to set the record straight. My guess is very few.
    For some, a letter like this means, "Too little too late." or "It's not enough."
    Sad, really.

    Thank you, Donna.
    Shame on you, ACT UP. ACT UP SHOULD HAVE made this letter public back in 1989.

    Posted by: JimmyD | Jun 13, 2012 11:14:37 AM

  10. Typical queens defending a black diva who didn't do anything for you. She was black, she was a female singer, and all the old gays loved her even though she didn't love you. Why couldn't you old queens have loved masculine manly singers in the 1970s? Why did you kick up your heels for this woman and then pretend to ignore that she, like all women and blacks, doesn't actually support you? Stupid liberal queens.

    Posted by: Jason | Jun 13, 2012 11:15:14 AM

  11. It seems like a lovely letter to me. I see this comments from people getting mad at religious people who believe homosexuality is a sin. But if they take the "hate the sin, love the sinner" approach that someone here mentions, isn't that their right? No matter what gains are made, there will always be people who believe homosexuality is wrong. And, well...okay. Fine by me. Having that belief doesn't hurt anyone. Acting on that belief to prevent measures of equality--that's the problem. So maybe Donna Summer loved the gay people in her life but still thought they were sinners. So what if she did? That was her right.

    Posted by: Jim | Jun 13, 2012 11:25:58 AM

  12. It's a good letter. It's understandable that we, as a people, are sensitive, to say the least, but forgiveness and letting go are the future for us.

    Posted by: Jack | Jun 13, 2012 11:28:07 AM

  13. Our punishment, Jason, for not being prescient is you.

    Posted by: LCMP | Jun 13, 2012 11:30:34 AM

  14. Jim,

    your whole argument stands on the false notion that being gay or acting on anything gay IS a sin. You state "Having that belief doesn't hurt anyone". Are you kidding me, Jim!

    Let me guess you're an old gay with an "old-school" mindset that doesn't care if they are treated like second-class citizens, right! Hostile anti-gay violence (mostly committed because the "bible" told them being gay was wrong) continues because of submissive gays like you who refuse to demand equality!

    Posted by: Lucas | Jun 13, 2012 11:47:50 AM

  15. Why have I never come across any original source material to support the claim that Summer made homophobic statements? There's nothing on Youtube. There's no audio anywhere that anyone's published. There's nothing in writing attributable to her to prove the various claims about anti-gay diatribes, yet so many people take it on faith that she made statements. Where's the proof?

    If no proof, I would say, let it drop.

    Even if there is proof, while her denial would not be a true apology, it's more than we've gotten from others. So, even so, let it drop.

    Posted by: fred | Jun 13, 2012 11:57:33 AM

  16. @fred

    exactly. i have yet to EVER hear a first hand account of summer saying that AIDS was god's punishment. one would think, after all these years, there would be somebody who'd actually witnessed her saying that coming forward. but, to date, not a single one.

    Posted by: alguien | Jun 13, 2012 12:05:45 PM

  17. I forgive Donna Summer, but I won't go along with these hysterical attempts to whitewash what she said in ignorance off the record. Here are the details of her 1983 condemnation of Gay people:

    However, in later years Ms. Summer did much work for AIDS charities. I'd like to believe she repented of her Bible bigotry; the evidence would certainly lead one to that conclusion. But we'll never know.

    Posted by: Stuffed Animal | Jun 13, 2012 12:24:45 PM

  18. @Jason. you're a bigot

    Posted by: Mike | Jun 13, 2012 12:28:19 PM

  19. Screw you, Jason!

    Posted by: Jeff R. | Jun 13, 2012 12:42:31 PM

  20. Ignorance is human and an apology for it should have been honestly accepted. There was more wasted energy trying to ostracize Donna than you ever should have spent time on. You probably made more of an unconcerned citizen than an ally the way she was treated - it was extremely cruel at times.

    Ignorance happen(s) on both sides. For some gays to actually take offense at the use of bible verses while in the same breath advising that preachers translate and use the bible in ways it was never intended is just as ignorant and unexpectedly hurtful. You're basically saying you can't believe in God or the bible and be gay. What a sad angry little world you must live i.

    Just the same way she kept her cancer a private issue, she kept many of her charity efforts low key and out of the spotlight - that was her way. Unfortunately we've become a society that ignores quiet grace but applauds grand staged press conferences.

    Jason, Donna has done more for AIDS and charities in general that you've probably ever done. For someone who is, I'm assuming, actually wanting equal rights for the GLBTQ community, your obvious prejudice is the same reason why we remain fighting for our rights to this day.

    Even the link that Stuffed Animal recommends is full of inadequacies because it's mainly all hearsay. The "Adam & Eve" remark was a not-so-wise attempt to make a joke in reference to the song "Woman" that she was introducing. It was a song for women and although she was trying to acknowledge the gay men in her audience she was trying to say this particular song was for the women in her audience not the guys. The remainder of the alleged comments were attributed to her extremely out of context, but just like prosecution in most legal cases, a substantial case again the defendant must be made - sometimes consequential evidence just to see what sticks. In the world of hear-say usually it all sticks.

    Anywho this is still all 20 years ago and I think over her lifetime her actions spoke louder than words that she said or those attributed to her.

    I for one know that Donna wasn't a homophobic person but was not going to apologize for her faith either.

    I will forever miss the singer as well as the human.

    Posted by: jakeinlove | Jun 13, 2012 1:11:55 PM

  21. There's one line in the letter that I think is key. She says, 'I did not say that god is punishing gays with aids.' There. That is a flat out denial. And lacking any proof that she did say those things, I'm willing to accept the denial. Case closed as far as I'm concerned.
    The problem is that in the backwater NW they only play her second tier hits, Bad Girls and Macarther Park. Please. No On The Radio, Try Me, Dim All The Lights, or Sunset People. This is the real issue.

    Posted by: Wilberforce | Jun 13, 2012 1:22:38 PM

  22. You guys this was obviously before "spell check" and the powerful PR Reps that clean up our celebs misquotes or messes of today. Even if she had said it.....FREEDOM OF SPEECH PEOPLE...THIS IS AMERICA!

    Posted by: wopboptorledo | Jun 13, 2012 1:27:30 PM

  23. You guys this was obviously before "spell check" and the powerful PR Reps that clean up our celebs misquotes or messes of today. Even if she had said it.....FREEDOM OF SPEECH PEOPLE...THIS IS AMERICA!

    Posted by: wopboptorledo | Jun 13, 2012 1:27:30 PM

  24. Andy for the love of god make people register to comment so trolls like Jason can be weeded out and we can have non-trolled discussions here. It's so depressing to waste time reading flame threads from people who take the bait.

    Posted by: Derek Pearce | Jun 13, 2012 1:49:03 PM

  25. If it walks like an anti-gay bigot, swims like an anti-gay bigot, and quacks like an anti-gay bigot...

    Posted by: candide001 | Jun 13, 2012 2:03:01 PM

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