An Episcopal church in Brooklyn Heights has stepped in to provide space for an arts festival that was deemed too controversial for its original location, a Roman Catholic church in Manhattan.
According to the New York Times, St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Episcopal church will be the new location for the International Human Rights Art Festival, a part of the larger Culture Project. The Culture Project had recently signed a contract with St Mary’s Roman Catholic church in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, to use 9,000 square feet of basement space as a regular home for their events.
Father Andrew O’Connor, the administrator of St. Mary’s, said in an interview that he had recently received a call from Bishop John O’Hara, the vicar for Manhattan, expressing concern on behalf of himself and Cardinal Dolan about the gay and transgender-themed performances of the festival. He wanted Father O’Connor to speak to the producers to make sure that the material was appropriate for the Catholic Church.
Had there been more time, perhaps a compromise could have been worked out, Father O’Connor said. When Mr. Block [the event’s producer] asked him if the festival would be allowed as is, Father O’Connor said he told him “probably not,” and rather than ban some artists, Mr. Block decided to pull the show.
“We are a human rights arts festival,” Mr. Block said. “We are not going to abandon people.”
The performances in question were a comedy improv piece titled “Thank You for Coming Out,” about revealing gay identity, and a series of original cabaret songs by transgender artist and activist Maybe Burke. The event’s organizers and artists seemed shocked at the actions of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
“I think it’s absolutely, completely wrong,” Ms. [Kathleen] Turner said [the event headliner]. Deciding who should be heard and who silenced, she said, “is very much against the teaching of Christianity.”
Allan Buchman, the founder of the Culture Project, said he was told that he would have to be sensitive to the church in what he presented, but the example he was given was avoiding excessive profanity. He was not told, he said, that gay-themed work would be unacceptable.
The essential question is whether or not allowing use of space in a church for outside voices is an implicit endorsement by the church of that voice. The Times reached out to the Rev James Martin, author of Building a Bridge, who has been pushing the Catholic church to be more inclusive and who has also faced a backlash from reactionary elements in the Church:
“Sadly, many self-appointed Orthodoxy watchdog groups are focused on this, hosting a play about coming out is not an endorsement, any more than hosting a Greek tragedy is an endorsement of murder and suicide.”