Artists Pull Out of Houston Whatever Fest After Ill-Advised Transgender Comments [Updated]

Giant Kitty at Houston's Nightingale Room, October 2016
Giant Kitty at Houston's Nightingale Room, October 2016
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
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NOTE: This article has been updated significantly to include comments from Houston Whatever Fest founder Jason Price.

A handful of artists have pulled out of Houston Whatever Fest following a Facebook post by the organizer that many people have interpreted as disparaging to the transgender community.

Sunday night, Houston’s Roologic Records announced on social media that local punk rockers Giant Kitty would cancel their appearance at the festival, scheduled for April 1 and 2 in the area around 8th Wonder Brewery. Two more of the label’s acts, Genesis BLU and SoBe Lash, are also pulling out “in solidarity,” the statement said.

“The transphobic comments at the center of the controversy was hateful and heartbreaking,” it added.

Last week, HWF founder Jason Price posted a photo on Facebook depicting someone in a dress waiting in an airport security line. The caption read, “I mean, I know it’s Vegas and anything can happen here and does, but he should really be wearing some more clothes going through security at the airport. Yes, I did say HE.”

Giant Kitty guitarist Cassandra Chiles and drummer Trinity Quirk are transgender, and married to one another. Price’s post has since been deleted, but not before being shared multiple times and provoking dozens of incensed comments. Late Friday night, he posted the following apology:

Saturday afternoon, HWF’s official Facebook account followed with another on behalf of the festival.

Monday morning, Roologic boss Ruben Jimenez said he and others in the Giant Kitty camp had been involved with discussions with representatives from the festival over the weekend, but both sides remain reluctant to make any further public statements because of the sensitive nature of the situation, the ongoing nature of the discussions, and the volume of social-media vitriol the issue has generated so far.

“I hope that those things won’t prevent what everyone would be hoping for, which is a positive outcome,” he said. “I really do feel that way, because while the situation was wrong, we live in a society nowadays that’s so quick to red-letter that person or organization. One thing I’ve learned is [that] if you look them in the eye that doesn’t lead to any misinterpretation.”

Jimenez also said the band did consider remaining on the HWF bill and using their performance to make a statement against such discrimination, but ultimately decided doing so would have brought too much of the wrong kind of attention — namely, that playing the fest would inevitably be viewed in strictly political terms and nullify their ability to perform solely as a punk rock band. The decision to pull out was made after a mutual agreement between the band and Roologic, Jimenez explained.

“We definitely looked to [Giant Kitty] because they are sort of at the front lines of the community that’s affected by the situation,” he said. The decision to cancel, he added, was made out of “complete respect to their feelings, and for the right reasons.”

One of which, he added, was “them not being able to be comfortable after all this.”

Also Monday morning, Houston-based indie-pop band Rose Ette announced they have pulled out of HWF, saying, "While we very much appreciate the opportunity as well as the support of local music, we feel it is important that we stand in solidarity with the trans community and our friends Giant Kitty." A few hours later, Roky Moon & BOLT!, the defunct Houston glam-rockers who had been scheduled to reunite at the festival, followed suit.

"We would like to announce that we will be dropping off of Houston Whatever Fest," the band posted in a statement. "We will always stand with the LGBTQ community against any hate or prejudice, no matter how great or seemingly insignificant. In the meantime, we are working hard to put together a FREE make-up show for anyone and everyone that was expecting to see us play in April. Stand by!"

Monday afternoon, Jason Price called the Houston Press to go over everything that has happened since last week’s original comments began going viral. Before he even posted his apology on Facebook Friday evening, Price says, he attended a meeting at the offices of HATCH Youth, an offshoot of the nonprofit Montrose Center that is dedicated to empowering and creating a safe social environment for LGBTQ young people between the ages of 13 and 20.

There, Price says, “I apologized, and then, you know, what I told them is, ‘I want something out of this crappy, negative situation; I want something positive to come out of it.’”

Price says some people at the meeting, which included members of Giant Kitty, were more receptive to his apology than others, and admits there was a fair amount of heated discussion. Some possible methods of making amends, such as making a donation or setting up an information booth at the festival, met with a lukewarm reception, the feeling being they came across as somewhat insincere, he adds. However, when someone else floated the idea of having some HATCH regulars volunteer at the event, Price says the room lit up in agreement.

“So those were basically the action items that we left the room [with], [that] we’re gonna put out there and push,” he says.

Price also says he’s had several people come to his defense, including from the transgender community, to the point that he almost wishes they hadn’t, due to the amount of social-media invective that has piled up on both sides. And despite the cancellations, other artists have already reached out to him and offered to take HWF’s newly open spots, he adds.

"One of the comments was like, ‘you guys are basically the most diverse event in Houston, so we want to be a part of it to support that,’” Price says. “I mean, that’s basically what we were founded on, is every walk of life and everything is who we are.”

Note: an earlier version of this article stated that this year's Houston Whatever Fest — an indoor/outdoor event featuring music on multiple stages — will be centered around Warehouse Live. It will be based around 8th Wonder Brewery this year instead. It was also amended to clarify some comments in Price's account of the meeting.

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