Back in May of this year, Principal Jesse Smith of the South Williamsport Jr/Sr High School in Pennsylvania dashed off a $1935.00 check to order the licensing rights for the musical Spamalot to be performed at the school next spring. Then, without warning, the play was off.
And when people began to question why the play had been cancelled, speculation arose it was because the musical contained a same-sex wedding scene and, you know, gay. Principal Smith, who’d sent the original check, vehemently denied that the cancellation had anything to do with homosexual themes except … lie.
In addition, Mark Stamm had claimed that, even though the play was cancelled, it was never really scheduled to be performed, even though the school had spent nearly two-thousand dollars securing the rights to perform the musical.
Then Keystone Progress, using Pennsylvania’s ‘Right to Know’ law found a series of emails between Principal Smith, school musical director Dawn Burch, and Superintendent Mark Stamm making it quite clear that the only justification Smith ever gave for canceling the Spamalot production was its “homosexual themes.”
In emails sent by Principal Smith to Dawn Burch, he voiced his concerns about two issues in the script: “a guy sending another guy a message on girl’s underwear and a gay wedding being performed.”
Dawn Burch, who had a copy of the script and had read it through twice, replied that there was no underwear-sending scene in the script, and, as for the “homosexual themes” she replied: “I am fully aware of their place in the script and am not certain what offense they create” since marriage equality had recently arrived in Pennsylvania.
Smith then made it clear that he was “not comfortable with Spamalot and its homosexual themes for two main reasons:”
1] Drama productions “are supposed to be performances that families can attend” and that “this type of material makes it very hard for that to take place.”
2] Controversial productions “put students in a tough spot.”
He said he didn’t “want students to have to choose between their own personal beliefs and whether or not to take part in a production.” He also said homosexuality does not exist in a conservative community such as South Williamsport.
Wow, then it must be the only place in the entire world that is queer free, eh?
Dawn Burch, apparently aware that Principal Smith was pushing his own anti-gay agenda onto the production, reached out to Superintendent Stamm to tell him how shocked she was by Smith’s decision: “It is extremely disappointing that homosexuality would be the basis of not approving a show.” She also suggested that, by cancelling the show, that “this is how we raise children to be haters.”
Stamm, though, was firmly on Team Bigotry, saying “[Principal Smith’s] decision is sound” and so the play was off; the two grand flushed away.
Dawn Burch put away her plans for Spamalot and met again with Smith to select a new musical, but by this time the story had gotten out and a local news station, WNEP, as well as Think Progress reached out to Dawn Burch, Principal Smith and Superintendent Stamm for a comment.
Stamm apparently replied that the school wanted performances “to be appropriate for the student performers and audiences” and then asserted, again, that the play was only in consideration—the existence of that check had yet to be revealed. School Board President John J. Engel Jr. also claimed that homosexuality did not enter into the decision to cancel the production, but that they had merely decided it was not an appropriate show because … gay.
Look, let me make this queer for Smith and Stamm, et al: there was no issue with the play in the beginning; the school paid to license the rights to the play so it was planning to perform it; it wasn’t ‘under consideration’ because two-thousand dollars had already been spent and you don’t spend that kind of money on an ‘if.’ It wasn’t until Smith and Stamm got wind of the same-sex wedding scene that they decided, these two men and no one else, that Spamalot was inappropriate for the students and for a town where The Gays don’t exist.
And I’ll go back to what Dawn Burch said, because it’s true: by cancelling this play it sends a message to the students at the school that being gay is wrong, that same-sex marriage is wrong. This decision reinforces that sense of hatred, bigotry and intolerance on yet another generation.
It’s time that stopped.