I had a cold earlier this week, and decided it was the perfect time to watch a bootlegged copy of Milk that a friend had lent me. [Note: I am not condoning bootlegging.] It’s an excellent film, most notably because of Sean Penn’s skills as an actor. He has a way of completely embodying a character; to the point where it’s easy to forget that it’s Sean Penn. The story is simultaneously uplifting and sad; whether or not my emotions were out of whack due to sickness, I’m not sure, but I found myself sobbing on my couch, and thinking about the film long afterwards.
When you live in a city and have gay friends, you might forget sometimes that gay rights are even an issue. I was shocked when Prop 8 passed, and even more shocked that any state would want to prohibit gay couples from adopting children. Really? We want to keep financially stable people who desire to raise a child in a loving home from doing so?
Most of the time, I can’t believe that a debate over gay rights still even exists. It feels like it should have been over and done with forever ago, like suffrage or segregation. To me, homophobia is no different from racism or sexism. If we have no tolerance for the latter two in modern governmental affairs, why should we tolerate the first?
And that’s the disheartening part of Milk. That 30 years have passed and, as a society, we’ve only progressed a few baby steps beyond, in terms of how we view gay people. And there’s proof of that in the New York Times today, in this article, about American high schools opting to stage watered-down versions (read: they’ve taken out that orgy song) of Rent (perhaps in attempt by it’s producers to keep the spirit alive, since it closed this year on Broadway), and the uproar it’s caused.
At least three of the planned high school productions, in California, Texas and West Virginia, have been canceled after administrators or parents raised objections about the show’s morality, its portrayals of homosexuality and theft, and its frank discussions of drug use and H.I.V., according to administrators, teachers and parents involved in those cases.
Theft and drug use may be moderately understandable reasons (one could note, however, that often-produced musicals like West Side Story and Guys and Dolls, are exactly devoid of immorality) and H.I.V. is not surprising, given the ridiculous persistence of abstinence-only education in this country.
But the remainder of the article seems to stress that homosexuality part.
Ron Martin, the theater teacher and director here at Corona del Mar High School, found out just how controversial “Rent” can be… He said his principal, Fal Asrani, had objected to the show because of its treatment of “prostitution and homosexuality.” “When I heard that, I stopped her and looked her in the eye and said, ‘First, there is no prostitution in ‘Rent,’ and second, homosexuality is not wrong,’ ” Mr. Martin said. “She made no comment.”
Asrani, of course, denies bringing up homosexuality. Susan Collins, a superintendant from West Virginia (who was unfamiliar with rent until “last year,” a fact I find amazing), is against Rent in high schools as well, though she takes the passive-aggressive approach.
Mr. Dillon said in an interview that when he told Ms. Collins there were two gay couples in the musical, “she got flustered and worked up and expressed concerns.”
Ms. Collins said she had no personal problem with the homosexuality in “Rent,” but she was concerned that families in her West Virginia school district would not find that content and other themes appealing.
Is it just me, or does “flustered and worked up” not sound like no personal problems with homosexuality?
The silver lining to this is that high schoolers are rebelling – they’re forming Facebook groups, and fighting to stage Rent, which could translate to a younger generation supporting gay rights – evidence that those baby steps from the Harvey Milk years are still transpiring.