An arts festival dedicated to human rights was forced to move a performance on Sunday after New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan complained about gay and transgender content.
Less than 72 hours before the The International Human Rights Art Festival was to premiere new work at Saint Mary's Church on the Lower East Side, organizers were told the Archdiocese had issue with several works—in particular, Accidental Trans Anthems by trans artist Maybe Burke, and Thank You for Coming Out, an improvised piece by Alex Song (The Tonight Show) and Michael Hartney (School of Rock).
"We cannot have this kind of work in the Catholic Church," a spokesman told festival director Tom Block. The Church offered to host the event if the two acts were rejected, but Block declined.
"The idea that some of us would go forward while others were rejected is antithetical to our mission, our belief and frankly, our faith," Block added. "I feel fortunate in that I am not beholden to a spiritual structure that tells me who is worthy of a voice and protection, and who is not."
Actress Kathleen Turner, slated to perform a monologue, called Dolan's complaint "absolutely, completely wrong,” and said silencing anyone's voice “is very much against the teaching of Christianity.”
The evening was produced in conjunction with Culture Project, and was going to inaugurate Saint Mary's 9,000-square-foot grand hall as that group's new regular performance space.
Culture Project founder Allan Buchman says the archdiocese told him he'd have to sensitive about what he presented, but the example given was about profanity. Buchman insists he wasn't told gay-themed works would be questioned.
Block similarly claimed, "It never crossed our minds that we would be banned or asked not to present certain things."
Given the Church's history of condemning and erasing LGBT identities, maybe it should have.
“Whenever parish property is used by an outside group of any sort... the expectation is that nothing would occur that would violate Catholic sensibilities and teaching,” said church spokesperson Joseph Zwilling.
A new venue was eventually found at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn, an Episcopal church. But it's not clear if the incident will cause Culture Project to rethink its relationship with St. Mary's. Catholic Churches all over the country line their pockets with money from theaters and arts organizations in need of homes. How many are writing checks to an institution that actively wants to silence them?