Accuracy in Media

A new genre has been added to the list of promoted high school literature: racist gay porn. Deerfield High School of Deerfield, Illinois decided to integrate the Pulitzer Award-winning play, Angels in America: a Gay Fantasia On National Themes into its curriculum. The play features pervasive swearing, graphic sexual content, bigoted remarks, and involves sexual experiences profaning both angels and the Mother Theresa. If high schools are sensitive about assigning Mark Twain’s great classic, Huckleberry Finn, due to its pejorative language, then why is Deerfield High promoting Angels in America?

The book was actually required reading at Deerfield High until recently, but the school demoted it to an “optional title” after parents filed a formal complaint. This means that students who are willing to read the book can still receive course credit for it.

The Illinois Family Institute, which has launched a campaign against the book, provides excerpts (warning: extremely explicit content) from the book and estimates that the book contains 221 vulgar words. “The school justifies this egregious choice because of its themes of hope. Evidently, all great literature with themes of hope have already been exhausted so teachers need to start offering pornography. We say-enough,” Executive Director of North Shore Student Advocacy, Lora Sue Hauser, told IFI.

As the Lake County News Sun (LCNS) reports, Deerfield High also hosted a talk by the play’s author, Tony Kustner, who described to students how he wrote and produced the play. The school district also raised considerable controversy last year when it required freshmen to not only attend a frank panel discussion arranged by the Gay Straight Network Alliance (GSNA), but to sign a confidentiality agreement about the panel’s content. This second requirement was eventually dropped.

The Tennessee Herald-Citizen has provided favorable coverage for Angels in America, publishing both a favorable review and article about the play’s local performance this February. Andrew William Smith, an English instructor for Tennessee Technological University describes the play and its characters as “epic,” “complex and controversial,” “profound” and “dynamic.” “Confronting issues such as gays, Republicans and gay Republicans, the play hilariously combines fantasy and reality, politics and pop culture, spirituality and sexuality,” he writes.

Similarly, the Herald-Citizen’s February 11 article mainly quotes the actors involved and vaguely alludes to the controversy as between liberals and conservatives. They quote Mark Creter as saying “‘Angels’ is the kind of play that you’ll want to talk about after you leave. It celebrates what it is to be human, both good and bad…Yes, it’s edgy. Yes, it’s adult, but it’s a smart show…It completely fulfills my mission to embrace important works that, because of its controversial nature, are avoided by educational institutions.” Deerfield High is apparently not so hasty to avoid such “controversial” material.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ayres writes that the play, which features gay themes, has “also been the root of controversy between liberal theater-goers and their more conservative counterparts.” This marginalizes opposition to the play as homophobic, rather than grounded on family values. Or are they meant to be considered the same thing?

Conservative Milkwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Patrick McIlheran, in contrast, describes the play as winning a Pulitzer Prize for its “blend of AIDS, homosexual longing, and rips on conservative politicians.” “And sex acts involving Mother Theresa. Can’t leave that out,” he continues.

“It’s disgraceful for [the high school staff], who have been entrusted to help mold the minds of Deerfield’s impressionable youth, to have abused those youth by ostensibly violating the very laws intended to protect them…Deerfield parents should seriously consider every possible legal option to ensure that these people are held accountable,” said Concerned Women for America Policy Director Matt Barber in a recent press release. But those legal options may be slim. According the CWA, Hauser was told by the State Attorney’s office that both state and federal obscenity laws specifically exempt educators from prosecution.

LCNS reporter Frank Abderholden offered a slightly different perspective, writing that State’s Attorney Michael Waller argued that the book’s assignment “did not violate any criminal statute.” Abderholden also writes that the high school’s curriculum, which includes Angels in America, was approved by the AP College Board.

Policy Director Barber rejected the idea, offered by some, that this is a free speech issue. “My jaw hit the ground when I read what’s in this book. This isn’t a First Amendment issue; this is about school officials betraying the community trust,” he said.



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