In 1992, Nirvana Fought an Anti-Gay Ballot Initiative and Celebrated a Burned Down GOP Headquarters
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In 1992, the northwestern U.S. state of Oregon voted on an infamous ballot amendment known as Measure 9, which forbade the government from funding the promotion, encouragement or facilitation of “homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism,” adding that all levels of government should set a standard to teach kids that “these behaviors are abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided.”
The law gained widespread national attention and eventually lost 56.4% to 43.5%, but less known is the fact that the legendary grunge band Nirvana played a “No on #9” benefit concert in 1992 to help defeat the homophobic, kink-shaming law.
This Nirvana gay rights concert was held on Sept. 10, 1992, at Portland Meadows alongside the metal band Helmet and the all-female punk band Calamity Jane.
Nirvana’s participation in the mini-festival was captured in a documentary called No on Measure 9. (Watch some footage from that documentary below.) In the footage, Cobain and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic discuss what they’d like to see changed in the music industry, MTV‘s policies — apparently, the network forced the band to play their hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at an awards show — and how music lovers at the cable network had put their jobs on the line to advocate for decent musicians.
Here’s footage from backstage at the Nirvana gay benefit concert in 1992:
In the clip above, Cobain also starts the band’s set with a angry speech:
So I saw this picture on the news about three weeks ago. It was in Republican Party headquarters in Pasadena. And it was firebombed, and it was a beautiful picture. It was a picture of Republican Party headquarters in Pasadena, and there was a window. And there was smoke and fire coming out if it. It was really pretty. It should be on a Christmas card.
Did you know that I’m gay? Then I got married to a hermaphrodite, but they’re trying to take away my gay rights. I would have been really mad, because I really like to buttfuck! It’s fun. It feels good.
Later in the set, Cobain and Novoselic reportedly kiss onstage after engaging in an argument with a fan.
As for the homophobic Oregon ballot measure, the conservative group that tried to pass it, the Oregon Citizens Alliance, failed, as did its similar bills introduced in later years. Though the anti-gay alliance was able to pass similar measures on local ballots in areas of the state that supported Measure 9, the state government eventually overruled these measures.
The activists who rose up to defeat Measure 9 in 1992 formed a core that would eventually jumpstart the state’s LGBTQ rights movement, and the Nirvana gay rights concert was part of that.