"Throwing Stones"

Commentary by Mark F. Johnson

The angel pushed back the stone. When it was all over, there was a resurrection of hope. Many thought that this heralded a new beginning of freedom and tolerance and the end of persecution by small-minded souls.

Sounds a lot like the Easter story. However, I'm speaking of other angels closer to home.

When it was announced that Angels in America, the award-winning play dealing with AIDS and gay relationships, was coming to Charlotte, North Carolina, many in that newly emerging boom city rejoiced. Finally, they thought, Charlotte, with its banking industry, crystal-clear skyscrapers and recently-acquired basketball and football teams, was coming out of the Dark Ages and joining the ranks of sophisticated cities where art, music, theater and other forms of culture common to American metropolises flourish.

However, other Charlotteans were not quite as ready to usher the city into the 21st century. A coalition of religious and conservative leaders protested the play from day one and threatened to close it down before it even opened. Lawyers for the theater company went to court charging the arts center where the play was scheduled to run and local government officials with unconstitutional prior restraint of free speech.

Under the leadership of Keith Martin, the producer and managing director of the Charlotte Repertory Theatre, supporters of the play won a temporary restraining order which allowed the play to run for ten days. Theatre company officials then planned to get a court injunction to keep the play on the stage for the remaining 20 days of its month-long run in Charlotte.

Martin has now been dubbed the "Angel in Charlotte." When the controversy over male frontal nudity and simulated gay sex scenes in the play dropped on Charlotte like a boulder, it was Martin who pushed back the stone.

In explanation of his angelic act, Martin commented that he did not want Charlotte to be portrayed as a "hick" or "redneck" town.

Imagine if the original Easter story were re-staged today and Jesus were cast as a gay man. There are many among our foes who would love to see all of us forced into a cave sealed by giant stones. In fact, they would use the same stones that they threw at us. After all, recycling is "in" these days. Then, along comes Keith Martin, who rolls the stones away.

Like Martin, there are many other angels in America. These are the individuals who stand up for what they believe in and are not afraid to confront those who think differently no matter how strong or mighty.

Let's be blunt: most of the opposition to Angels in Charlotte derived from the fact that the two-time Tony award and Pulitzer prize-winning play has a gay theme. That is what makes it "bad" or "distasteful" to so many. Other stage productions featuring nudity and explicit sexual subject matter like Oh! Calcutta! and Equus have been performed there with little or no opposition. Once again, we bump into the double standard that society has imposed on gays and lesbians.

We often must protest to see ourselves represented well and fairly in society. We must fight to have our stories included and we still do not have the same rights and privileges as others to make the person that we love a part of our lives through a legal marriage license. The stone of opposition is always in the way.

However, lately there are signs that the granite is slowly being chipped away. American society is in the midst of a social and religious revolution that could result in long-awaited equality for gays and lesbians in our daily and family lives, in our work lives and in our spiritual lives. But we can anticipate a nasty political and legal component to all of this that will probably result in a congressional battle as well as a Supreme Court showdown before it's all over. In other words, it will probably take an earthquake to move the stone completely.

The gay and lesbian human rights battle looms large as the social movement that will see this country into the 21st century, a time when we can attain the cultural equality that GLAAD has been fighting for since 1985. At least we have a wing and a prayer.

If we wage a strong and consistent effort on all fronts over the coming years, can we be more than a stone's throw away from the full partnership that we deserve in the American tradition?

This is the first in a series of regular columns, called News Angles, that will analyze recent coverage of lesbian and gay issues by the news media or provide a behind-the-scenes look on recent events or situations. The purpose of GLAAD's News Angles column is to provide an alternate view of how issues affecting the lesbian and gay community are perceived and handled. The column will be written by GLAAD's News Media Director, Mark F. Johnson, who has been both a reporter and writer in the gay community. Johnson is a former Legislative Specialist for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in Washington, D.C. and also a former News Assistant in the Washington Bureau of The New York Times. His commentary has appeared often in gay, political and business publications. GLAAD will also invite individuals most affected by coverage to express their opinions and we will share these with you as well. Johnson can be reached at JOHNSON@glaad.org.
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