Last week, The Washington Post published an article about a group of teens at Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., who had their school play canceled due to parental complaints. The complaints were that the play, titled “Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood,” contained LGBTQIA+ content – gay and nonbinary characters.
Kaye Niman, a pastor’s wife, said at a school board meeting that she applauded whoever shut down the show because “we believe in … what the Bible says, and the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin.” While Niman is free to believe whatever she pleases, her religious beliefs cannot dictate the activity of a public school. Niman’s “we,” no matter the number of school board members, parents or teachers to which it may apply, should not have the power to impose a religious belief on members of Carroll High School.
The performance of a play containing LGBTQIA+ content is not an ideological issue: It is one of representation and identity. Calling gay and nonbinary characters controversial is wrong, full stop. But think about the message that is sent to nonbinary and gay students when their very identity is called problematic or sinful – not in a church, but in a public, secular institution. Regularly having your personhood called into question is harmful for anyone, but it’s particularly insidious when those calls come from a supposedly safe and accepting institution like this public school.
As we move into Pride Month, there will likely be increased hateful rhetoric and action levied against LGBTQIA+ communities everywhere. And as Christian Nationalists renew attacks on marriage equality and transgender people, we must be cognizant of the fact that civil rights for the LGBTQIA+ community is not a settled battle. There are people among us who wish to wield religion as a weapon against folks with different sexual orientations or gender identities.
LGBTQIA+ rights under assault
The challenges facing the LGBTQIA+ community are unfolding in front of us every day; the Supreme Court is soon to rule on whether businesses can openly discriminate against same-sex couples as a matter of free speech; companies like Target are facing backlash for Pride Month displays; schools in Florida are banning the mere mention of the gay community. It is imperative that we oppose this blatant discrimination in all its forms, especially when people use their religious beliefs to infiltrate public institutions and launch unconstitutional attacks against the LGBTQIA+ community.
The kids in Fort Wayne fought back against the vile comments and discrimination they faced, raising over $80,000 dollars to put on the performance privately. Nearly 1,500 theatre-goers attended the play in one night. The community rallied together to show love and support for this show and the students involved. And these students showed the courage to stick up for themselves, organize and effect real change in their community. We can all learn a lesson from them.