CT high school play that includes gay kiss creates furor
posted at 12:05 pm on October 22, 2011 by Howard Portnoy
Imagine a world where heterosexuals are the minority and homosexuals are the majority. Actually, there is no need to imagine. Someone else has already conjured up this vision and committed it to paper and sheet music, in the musical Zanna, Don’t.
The 2002 play, the book for which was written by Tim Acito, with additional lyrics and material by Alexander Dinelaris, is set in a fictional high school. It was, however, a recent performance at a real school, Hartford Public High, that generated headlines.
The Hartford Courant reports:
Members of Leadership Greater Hartford’s Quest, a program for professionals that develops leadership skills, put forth ‘Zanna’ as an anti-bullying community service project that helps lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.
In a partnership with the nonprofit True Colors, one Quest team raised $10,000 to show the musical three times at Hartford High this month. The Knox Foundation and the Samuel Roskin Trust at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving gave sponsorship money. Students from area high schools and Trinity College are the actors.
In one scene in the play two males of the species exchange a brief kiss. The scene was obviously meant to raise the consciousness of audience members. But when the play had its debut at Hartford High last week, the scene instead raised the blood pressure of some in attendance.
The Courant notes that
a piercing clamor rang through the auditorium. There were screams and loud voices and a bit of feigned or real disgust. Dozens of students, mostly male and a few in their Owls football jerseys, hurried out of their rows and walked out. A few jumped over seats to leave.
Before the day was out, one parent had stormed into the main office with a Bible, pointing out portions that condemn homosexuality as a sin. Others took their teenage children out of school early.
According to the Courant David Chambers, principal of the school’s nursing academy, had informed his students ahead of time there might be same-sex affection in the play. Some had asked to be excused, and Chambers had considered—but then rejected—the idea of sending home an opt-out letter.
Chambers is said to have hoped the play would help his students develop a sense of empathy toward gays and lesbians, or at least exposure to “that which makes them uncomfortable.”
“Our kids are not there yet,” he is quoted as saying.
But some evidently are. Oneida Fernandez, a 17-year-old law and government student, is quoted as saying, “To me, people are people. We’re human beings.… I don’t discriminate.”
Another, Dineily Vargas, told a reporter:
I think it opened a lot of people’s eyes.… This school never really had anything like this happen. I’m still happy. It was wonderful.
The only part I hated, was when some people left.
This story raises all manner of questions. Chief among them is where a school’s responsibilities to its students and to the community at large begin and end. There are also see clear-cut First Amendment issues here. Anyone with answers is welcome to weigh in below.
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