Administrators at Buchanan High school in Clovis, California cancelled a play, existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944, No Exit, because, according to the play’s director, Senior Jared Serpa, one of the characters is a lesbian.
According to Serpa, though the administration claimed in the press it had closed down the play because of its language and violence, the administration told him it made its decision since:
“One of the biggest complaints [parents] had was that one of the characters was a lesbian. And how the administrator told me was that if a parent takes their child to see the show, and the child’s like ‘Is that woman trying to kiss that woman?’ what is the parent going to say? That puts the parent in a sticky situation. No. That just shows how cowardice the parent is for not talking to their child about reality.”
Jared Serpa and his student cast had been in rehearsal for approximately two months, but after only one performance, administrators forced the cancellation of its remaining run over parental complaints. In a self-produced on-line video, Jared provided wise council to parents:
“Talk to your children about reality. Don’t put them into this bubble and darkness…because you couldn’t find the courage to talk to your own children to the fact that people are different.”
This incident at Buchanan High School taught students much more than acting skills. It dramatized some of the ways that the stories, the lives, the experiences of marginalized people and communities have been silenced.
It demonstrated how, in this instance, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people grow up in a society without an historical context in which to project their lives. They are weaned on the notion that they have no culture and no history.
In the famous words of African American social activist Marcus Garvey: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.”
The lives, stories, and histories of LGBTQ people have been intentionally hidden by socially dominant individuals and groups through neglect, deletions, erasures, omissions, bans, censorship, distortions, alterations, trivializations, change of pronouns signifying gender, and by other unauthorized means.
Examples of these erasures abound. Historian John Boswell cites an example of censorship in a manuscript of The Art of Love by the Roman author Ovid. A phrase that originally read, “A boy’s love appealed to me less” (Hoc est quod pueri tanger amore minus) was altered by a Medieval “moralist” to read, “A boy’s love appealed to me not at all” (Hoc est quod pueri tanger amore nihil). In addition, an editor’s note that appeared in the margin informed the reader, “Thus you may be sure that Ovid was not a sodomite” (Ex hos nota quod Ovidius non fuerit Sodomita).
One of the first instances of an unauthorized changing of pronouns signifying gender occurred when, according to Boswell: “Michelangelo’s grandnephew employed this means to render his uncle’s sonnets more acceptable to the public.”
We know about the figure of Sappho and her famed young women’s school on the Isle of Lesbos around the year 580 BCE, where we find the earliest known writings of love poems between women, and other important writings. Unfortunately, only one complete poem and several poem fragments survived for us today after centuries of the Catholic Church’s concerted effort to extinguish the works of these extraordinary women. An order in 380 CE of St. Gregory of Nazianzus demanded the torching of Sappho’s poetry, and the remaining manuscripts were ordered destroyed by Papal Decree in 1073 CE.
For LGBTQ people and allies, this information can underscore the fact that their feelings and desires are in no way unique, and that others like themselves lead happy and productive lives. This in turn can spare them years of needless alienation, denial, and suffering.
For heterosexual people, this can provide the basis for appreciation of human diversity and help to interrupt the chain of bullying and harassment toward people based on sexual identity and gender identity and expression. For all students, this content area has the potential to further engage students in the learning process from multiple perspectives.
LGBTQ topics needs to be taught and studied all year, every year, age-appropriately across the academic and non-academic disciplines pre-kindergarten through university graduate studies. LGBTQ experiences stand as integral strands in the overall rainbow of human diversity, and everyone has a right to information that clarifies and explains these stories.
Therefore, the half-truths, the misinformation, the deletions, the omissions, the distortions, and the overall censorship of LGBTQ history, literature, and culture in the schools and the larger society is a form of violence.
No matter how loudly organizers on the political and theocratic Right protest that this is merely a “bedroom issue,” we know that the bedroom is but one of the many places where we write our stories.
For curriculum and other resources, contact History UnErased at:
For my two-part LGBTIQ PowerPoint presentation, go to:
An LGBTIQ History: Part 1
An LGBTIQ History: Part 2
Photo credit: Getty Images