In a newly released letter from Donna Summer to an AIDS advocacy group, the disco singer defended herself against long-standing accusations that she made offensive comments about gay people during a concert.
During the height of her fame in disco’s 1970s heyday, Donna Summer, who died of lung cancer May 17, was an icon in the gay community.
That changed in 1983, when the “Queen of Disco” allegedly made several derogatory remarks about the gay community and HIV/AIDS during a performance. The comments sparked immediate backlash from both gay and straight fans.
“It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” Summer allegedly said during the Atlantic City performance. Summer had recently announced she was a born-again Christian, and her alleged comments were based in her new religion.
“I have seen the evils of homosexuality,” The Advocate reports she said. “AIDS is the result of your sins.”
She later denied ever making the comments, and in a just-released letter from 1989, Summer calls the accusations “unjust and unfair.”
The letter, dated July 26th, was sent to ACT UP, a prominent AIDS advocacy group. In it, Summer explains the difficulties in her personal life at the time, and recalls her strong gay following before “the confusion.”
“I have made numerous replies and spoken openly to try and clear up this misunderstanding,” she wrote, according to the blog POZ. “I did not say God is punishing gays with aids [sic], I did not sit with ill intentions in judgement [sic] over your lives.”
She said she never chose friends based on their sexual preference, and embraced her gay fan base.
“We have too many good memories together to live in this state of unforgiveness [sic],” Summer wrote. “I never denied you or turned away, but in fact you turned away from me. If I have caused you pain, forgive me. It was never my intention to reject you but to extend myself in love.”
She concluded the letter by quoting extensively from the Bible, referencing Corinthians 13.
The same year she sent this letter, Summer told The Advocate she did not know where the alleged quotes came from.
“What I supposedly said, I did not say, and my reference to AIDS was really an innocent reference,” she told The Advocate, adding that she didn’t fully understand what AIDS was at the time.
When she wrote the letter, Summer’s career was still suffering as a result of the alleged remarks. Gay rights groups protested some of her concert appearances, although some in the gay community continued to embrace her.
Although her career was hurt by the controversy, Summer’s legacy after her death is still as the “Queen of Disco.”