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Some LGBTQ Activists Are Upset That Miley Cyrus Will Headline DC’s Pride Festival

A scene from the 2014 Pride parade. Photograph by Flickr user S Pakhrin.

Not everyone in the LGBTQ community is thrilled that Miley Cyrus will headline DC’s Pride festival concert in June. Cyrus’s quotes about hip-hop in a recent Billboard magazine interview have refreshed long-simmering criticisms of the singer, and two activist groups contacted by Washingtonian had harsh words about the booking.

In the Billboard interview, Cyrus discussed her musical evolution away from hip-hop and toward country sounds, saying she liked Kendrick Lamar‘s song “Humble”: “I love that because it’s not ‘Come sit on my dick, suck on my cock,’” she told John Norris. “I can’t listen to that anymore. That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much ‘Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock’ — I am so not that.”

Cyrus “decided to call out the misogyny of black artists, but didn’t call out any other forms of artistry or genres that are also misogynistic,” says Preston Mitchum, writer and member of Black Youth Project 100, a black activist organization. Cyrus is “someone who’s ripped off black culture and profited from it, then in a recent interview has tried to diminish it,” says Drew Ambrogi, spokesperson at local LGBT activist group No Justice No Pride.

Indeed, the singer  has received criticism in the past for caricaturing and exploiting black culture, which partly explains the backlash that greeted the Billboard interview. Cyrus apologized on Instagram, saying “I have always and will continue to love and celebrate hip hop” and that “At this point in my life I am expanding personally/musically and gravitating more towards uplifting, conscious rap!”

In its press release, festival organizer Capital Pride cites Cyrus’ Happy Hippie Foundation, which provides homeless, LGBTQ and other vulnerable youth with support services, as well as her outspokenness in addressing stigma around these communities, as factors for their decision to invite her.

“Miley Cyrus will be joining Capital Pride as part of a diverse group of entertainment that includes Tinashe, The Pointer Sisters, and VASSY,” a Pride spokesperson tells Washingtonian in an email. “DC has a homeless youth crisis on our hands, with almost half of all homeless youth identifying as being LGBTQ. Miley and others have actively worked to reduce youth homelessness, particularly among our community.”

The tussle over Cyrus is emblematic of a growing rift between “mainstream” Pride and activists who feel the festival has become commodified and compromised by sponsorships from certain entities including Wells Fargo. Activists are frustrated with what they describe as a lack of people of color, trans, and other more marginalized individuals in visible and decision-making roles.

“Miley Cyrus headlining Capital Pride is both a manifestation and an extension of white gay obliviousness,” says Samantha Master, another member of Black Youth Project 100. “I just really wish DC Pride and Prides across the country really took into account the needs and experiences of all LGBT people,” says Mitchum, “the LGBT people who are experiencing homelessness, the ones who are impoverished, the ones who are unemployed or underemployed, the ones who experience hate crimes, the ones who don’t get enough attention on TV.”

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Julie Strupp is an editorial fellow. Before Washingtonian, she did francophone video, radio, and photography projects addressing gender-based violence in Togo, West Africa with Peace Corps. She worked at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and AllAfrica and has contributed to Mic, Center for Public Integrity, DCist, and more. Now a proud Petworth-dweller, she’s also a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate who loves judo, biking, art, and keeping the powerful accountable.