Local Theater Bans Teen's Prize-Winning Play Because Main Characters Are Lesbians

March 5, 1999 12:00 am

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Local Theater Bans Teen’s Prize-Winning Play Because Main Characters Are Lesbians


CHARLOTTE, N.C.– A high school junior who won a playwriting contest is staging the play with the help of local activists after a theater refused to produce it because the two main characters are lesbians.

As one of five winners of the Charlotte Young Playwright’s Festival, 17-year-old Samantha Gellar won a $100 cash prize and the chance to have her play produced at The Children’s Theater. But the theater said that they could not stage Gellar’s work because of a Board of Education rule saying plays with “homosexual content” could not be shown.

Now, with help from Time Out Youth, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and the Great Aunt Stella Center and her parents, Gellar is staging the first professional reading of “Life Versus the Paperback Romance” in Charlotte this Sunday, March 7 at 5:00 p.m. A “talk back” with the playwright and a panel discussion will follow (further details below).

Gellar said that Scott Miller, artistic director of the Children’s Theater, had offered to present the play if she changed the characters to a heterosexual couple, but she refused. “At first I didn’t think I cared whether the play got produced,” she said. “But after I won, I realized I did care.”

Tonda Taylor, founder and director of Time Out Youth, said Miller had told a local official that he regretted the censorship but he was following “the will of the community.”

“I grew up in Charlotte when it was the ‘will of the community’ to keep black children out of my school,” she said. “And I have seen the ‘will of the community’ lead young lesbian and gay youth to drop out of school and worse, rather than face harassment from other students and even from their teachers.”

While Gellar’s work is the first winning play to be excluded at the Children’s Theater, several plays with gay and lesbian content have been censored. The City of Charlotte gained notoriety two years ago when county officials yanked funding for the arts because of objections to gay themes and nudity in a local production of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play “Angels in America” at the Charlotte Repertory Theatre.

“We felt the most important issue here was to make sure that Samantha’s voice was heard,” said Deborah Ross, Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “The best answer to suppression of speech is more speech. So it made sense for the ACLU to join the effort to get the play produced.” The ACLU’s National Lesbian and Gay Rights Project also contributed funds to the production.

Ross said that the ACLU had considered a legal challenge on Gellar’s behalf but that courts were bound by a recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision saying that a North Carolina high school teacher’s selection of a play could be censored by school officials. The play in that case, by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lee Blessing, was about a dysfunctional family that included a lesbian daughter and a promiscuous sibling. The name of the play was “Independence.”

This Sunday’s reading of “Paperback Romance” is taking place at the Great Aunt Stella Center in Charlotte. “We are a place of openness and respect, a place where there can be discussion of different issues,” said the Center’s president, E.M. “Butch” Rosen.

Sunday’s events include:

  • A professionally staged reading of the play at 5:00 p.m.

  • “Talk Back: A Theatrical Assessment. Keith Martin, Managing Director
    of the Charlotte Repertory Theatre and President of the ACLU of North
    Carolina, leads an audience discussion and critique of the play with the
    playwright and theater professionals.

  • Panel Discussion: “Gay and Lesbian Youth: Do they Deserve to Have
    Voice?” Participants include Samantha Gellar, the author; Tonda Taylor
    of Time Out Youth; Deborah Ross of the ACLU; Barbara Pellin, Charlotte
    Mecklenburg Schools Assistant Superintendent for Student, Family and
    Community Services; an invited guest from the Board of Education, and an
    invited guest from Charlotte’s religious communities.

The Great Aunt Stella Center is at 926 Elizabeth Avenue in Charlotte and can be found online at http://www.stellacenter.org.

Time Out Youth, a support and advocacy organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning youth ages 13-23, is online at http://www.timeoutyouth.com.

The ACLU of North Carolina is online at http://netmar.com/~acluofnc/ and the national ACLU’s website can be found at http://archive.aclu.org.

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