After eight years of success as the queen of the disco scene she had moved out of the club circuit and was now playing large theatres and arenas. The gay community had helped build her career by buying – by the truckload – what The Advocate magazine called “fuck anthems” like Love to Love You Baby, I Feel Love and Hot Stuff.
So it all came as a bit of a shock when her born-again Christianity allegedly got the better of her at an Atlantic City gig and she came out with a string of homophobic remarks. These included the declaration that “It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” and that AIDS was God’s punishment on gays.
The issue was exacerbated by the perception that she and her management were very slow to address community concerns and, ultimately, only did so when it became clear that protests were impacting on her career.
A ‘Trash Donna’ campaign was mounted wherein people were urged to boycott her records and those who already owned them were urged to send them back to the record company. Ian Levine, from London’s Heaven was one of many DJs to ban her records from playlists and ACT UP picketed her shows.
The campaign was far from unanimous; some gay clubs continued to play her records and there was one notorious incident where ACT UP members jumped on stage at an AIDS benefit when the DJ played one of her tracks. Bronski Beat – a very upfront gay band – also came in for criticism when they released and continued to perform a version of I Feel Love in 1985.
Despite this lack of solidarity the campaign was felt to have had an impact on Summer’s career and, in consequence, been the trigger for her eventual apology – in 1989.
In that year she told The Advocate, “What I supposedly said, I did not say, and my reference to AIDS was really an innocent reference.” She also sent a letter to ACT UP, which was heavily laced with quotations from the Bible but included the statement,” If I have caused you pain, forgive me. It was never my intention to reject you but to extend myself in love.”
For some, it was a case of ‘too little, too late’. For others it was the opportunity to forgive and forget. But, sadly, there were others for whom it was a case of ‘carry on as usual’, since they hadn’t bothered to do anything in the first place. Such is the nature of our diverse community.