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April 16, 2004

Pulling purse strings

Theater says city cut it from grant because of a gay play

Cincinnati--A theater company claims its name was removed from a city arts funding list as punishment for producing Corpus Christi last year.

The Know Theatre Tribe, a small contemporary troupe, was removed from the list of capital arts projects on recommendation from Mayor Charlie Luken after objections to its June production of the controversial play.

The work, by gay playwright Terrence McNally, depicts Jesus� rebirth as a gay man named Joshua in Corpus Christi, Texas. Joshua has sex with disciples and is put to death as �King of the Queers.�

Know has done other gay-themed productions including Torn: Gay in America.

The company applied to the city last November for $15,000 to replace seats and stands in Gabriel�s Corner, said Know executive director Jay Kalagayan.

The facility in the Over the Rhine neighborhood houses Know and occasional children�s productions. Gabriel�s Corner also applied to the city for $45,000 for improvements, including new restrooms accessible to the disabled.

The grants were to be funded from $4.4 million set aside by council two years ago for permanent improvements at arts facilities, not operating costs. A total of $1.3 million was awarded to 15 organizations in 2004.

Know and Gabriel�s Corner submitted separate applications because, said Kalagayan, it was important that the six-year-old troupe show that it received a capital grant from the city.

However, Know�s application drew criticism and protest by community leaders and members of council.

Nathaniel Livingston, Jr., who heads the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, appears to have spearheaded the opposition to Know by sending a March 31 email to community leaders titled �Cincinnati City Council Subsidizing Blasphemy.�

The coalition is leading an economic boycott of the city over what it calls �economic apartheid, police misconduct and civil rights in Cincinnati.�

�I write to ask for your support in opposing the Cincinnati City Council Art Committee�s proposed capital budget which includes a $60,000 [sic] grant to the Know Theatre Tribe,� wrote Livingston.

�Our message is clear and simple,� Livingston continued, �This is America, and everyone has a right to free speech, even if the speech is offensive. There are, however, consequences to your actions. And there should be no reward for the producers of Corpus Christi.�

Livingston�s effort generated a flurry of calls and emails to council and the mayor.

Council member James Tarbell, a Charterite, chairs the Arts Committee. He supported Know�s application on the belief that it is not council�s role to endorse artistic content.

Council combined the two grants, but gave the $60,000 only to Gabriel�s Corner for all the improvements requested by both groups. Know�s name was stripped from the list of funded projects by a 7-2 vote at the March 31 council meeting.

Joining Tarbell in voting for the funding were Democrats Vice Mayor Alicia Reece, Y. Laketa Cole, John Cranley, David Crowley, David Pepper, and Christopher Smitherman.

Opposed were Republicans Pat DeWine, who also opposed funding the other 14 projects, and Sam Malone, who is suing the city over council�s 2003 vote to add sexual orientation to the hate crime ordinance.

Kalagayan says the consequence of council stripping his group from the list of funded projects is that it might make it harder for groups doing cutting edge work to receive city capital arts funding in the future.

Bloch backs down, will enforce U.S. job bias rule

Washington, D.C.--The office that handles discrimination claims by federal employees says it will once again enforce a longstanding policy protecting workers from sexual orientation bias.

The April 8 announcement came when Special Counsel Scott Bloch, a Bush appointee, reversed his decision that the protection was �an unwarranted extension of this office�s prosecutorial power.�

He had put the policy on hold in February pending a �legal review.�

Bloch had also ordered that references to sexual orientation discrimination be removed from the Office of Special Counsel�s brochures, complaint forms and web site.

He also purged a June 2003 press release from the site about an IRS supervisor disciplined for refusing to hire an applicant because, she said, he was �a flaming queer.�

National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen Kelley questioned Bloch�s move in a February 11 letter.

�OSC�s recent actions appear to be in direct contradiction to this established interpretation of the law, as well as to previous OSC policy and procedure,� wrote Kelley.

NTEU represents IRS employees and those of 28 other agencies.

Kelley said that the sexual orientation anti-bias rule goes back to a 1978 executive order barring discrimination for any kind of off-duty conduct that does not adversely affect job performance.

Kelley also noted a 1980 Office of Personnel Management memorandum to heads of all departments that first used the term �sexual orientation� in stating non-discrimination policy and a 1983 opinion of former associate attorney general, now Solicitor General Theodore Olson.

Olson�s opinion says, �It is improper to deny employment to or terminate anyone on the basis of either sexual preference or or conduct that does not adversely affect job performance.�

In his March 11 response to Kelley, Bloch said, �Because neither [federal law] contains the term �sexual orientation,� a question arose regarding whether the previous special counsel�s interpretation may have gone beyond the agency�s jurisdiction or statutory authority.�

Bloch added that his interpretation was based on Congress� failure to add sexual orientation to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Kelley responded March 23, �The controversy . . . appears to be of your own making, to justify conducting a �comprehensive legal review of all relevant authority as it pertains to this provision of law�.�

U.S. House members Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and George Miller of California, all Democrats, held a press conference March 31 to pressure Bloch to restore the protections. Frank and Baldwin are openly gay.

White House spokesperson Trent Duffy indicated President Bush�s position on the matter April 1 saying, �The president believes that no federal employee should be subject to unlawful discrimination.�

However, no federal law makes anti-gay discrimination unlawful.

�That�s long-standing federal policy that prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation� for federal workers, Duffy added.

A week later on April 8, Bloch announced �the results of the legal review� to determine his position on the matter. He had told the Federal Times on March 15 that the review would begin in April when his �senior legal advisor begins work.�

�It is the policy of this administration that discrimination in the workforce on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited,� said Bloch.

Stating his agreement with Kelley�s legal reasoning, Bloch continued, �OSC has always enforced claims of sexual orientation discrimination based on actual conduct.�

However, at press time, the Office of Special Counsel web site remains purged of the earlier references to sexual orientation.

�OSC believes that the materials currently on its web site are consistent with the view of the law described above,� said Bloch.

OSC spokesperson Cathy Deeds said the office would give �no further comment� on the matter.

Students march for Ohio marriage rights

Marietta, Ohio�Around 60 people took to the streets on April 3 for a rally and march in support of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The event, organized by Marietta College�s Rainbow Alliance and Coalition for Social Justice and Change, kicked off with a rally at Gilman Student Center on campus before supporters marched through town.

�Our direct goal is to petition the city of Marietta and the state of Ohio to give employees same-sex partner benefits,� Rainbow Alliance chair Liz Schulz, a senior at Marietta, told the Marietta Times. �We also just want to be seen on campus and say, �We�re here and we support gay marriage.��

�We believe that marriage is an institution of love,� said Brandon Sims. �While recognizing its long tradition, we also note that marriage has been adapted to encompass more people in an effort for equality. Allowing interracial couples to marry, and allowing women equal property rights in marriage, were not special privileges. Neither would allowing same-sex marriage create a special privilege.�

Sims belongs to both the Rainbow Alliance and the Coalition for Social Justice and Change.

Many facets of LGBT lives seen at folkways conference

Columbus�Facets of LGBT life from AIDS to drag, military service to female bullfighters were examined at the second annual Qualia Conference on Gay Folkways from March 31 to April 4.

According to the American Heritage dictionary, qualia means a property considered separately from things having that property. In this case, it was a consideration of gay lives apart from �the gay community,� covering a spectrum of identities. The conference�s theme was �Secrecy and Revelation in the LGBT Community.�

Presenters at this year�s conference ranged from Jim Marks, the chief financial officer of the Names Project AIDS Quilt, who brought panels from the quilt to display, to Kathryn Klassen, who gave a presentation on female bullfighters� fear of being identified as lesbian.

Sessions on the evolution of harm reduction in the gay male �party� scene and the eroticism of DJing circuit parties were held, along with discourses on the creation of a military gay pride flag and the difficulties facing LGBT veterans.

The Royal Renegades, a Columbus drag king troupe, held a question-and-answer session with conference attendees, and singers Deb Adler and Russ Hunter performed.

Among the films that were screened during the conference were Out of the Shadow/Into the Sun, a documentary on the aforementioned female bullfighters, Jim in Bold, an exploration of gay youth, and Open Secrets, a Canadian documentary about gay World War II veterans.

In addition to the presentations, Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Atlanta held a Pride Passover celebration. There were also dances featuring DJs Alyson Calagna of Ft. Lauderdale, Ra from New York and Kio Kio from Los Angeles. The dances raised $3,000 for the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization.


Waging the culture war with hair pomade

Cleveland�Forty years after the civil rights movement made front-page headlines across the nation, same-sex marriage has taken its place in the news.

In the current battles are African American men and women on both sides of the issue. The pro-gay side compares today�s struggles to those of decades past, while traditionalists accuse the activists of trivializing their fight.

Black ministers accuse gay marriage rights advocates of trying to tear down the basic building blocks of society, while Dr. Martin Luther King�s widow reminds the nation of her husband�s words, that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

Into this battlefield steps a curious figure, forced by birth and nature to straddle the fine lines of race and sexual orientation. His weapon? Hair pomade.

Kori Newkirk is that figure. Born in the Bronx, raised in central New York and based in Los Angeles, Newkirk has opinions on many hot-button issues, displaying a cross between jocularity and incisiveness that is readily reflected in his work.

On gay marriage, for instance, he echoes the sentiment of many a comedian.

�I think everyone should be able to go through the same stress,� he says. �I think everyone should have the same right to be unhappy. It�s only fair.�

In a more serious tone, he adds, �If two people love each other and want to do that, go for it.�

Newkirk has an installation currently on display in the rotunda of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland. Along the curved inside wall are a series of fingerprints, painted on the wall in hair pomade, Newkirk�s signature art supply. Opposite the fingerprints, in the space between windows, there is a neon drop, perhaps a tear, perhaps sweat, perhaps simply a drop.

�I�m not too sure it�s a �teardrop� or a �droplet�,� Newkirk confides. �I would prefer not to really talk too much in depth about this element, and would just like to let it stand as an unknown.�

�You have an idea,� he continues. �It�s an element of confusion . . . is it a tear? a bead of sweat? a drop of water? It�s very open-ended that way.�

At the request of MOCA�s visitor services manager, Newkirk was asked which finger he used to create the original prints, which he then blew up onto the wall with an overhead projector and pomade.

�I used different finger, not quite sure what hand anymore, but I have a feeling one was from my index finger and another was my thumb,� he remembers. �I know that it�s a combination of both hands.�

Of course, no piece on Newkirk can be written without explaining his choice of media. Pomade, hair beads, other items like that are his stock in trade.

�Hair is such a potent marker of identity to many different people,� he said.

His sentiments were reflected by a woman who came to see the installation. The smell of the pomade, then fresher and more potent, brought her mind to hair salons. The neon piece on the opposite wall seemed to her a tear, brought on by the touch of a hot iron to the ear or the back of the neck while having her hair straightened.

That experience, shared by so many black people in America, is what ties the artist to the viewers of his works.

�I tend to prefer to deal with more concrete issues such as my race as compared to what I see as more fluid issues such as sexuality,� Newkirk opines. �My work as of yet has not been �queered,� well, at least not on paper. I think there might be a queer or gay sensibility to it, but it�s certainly not the first thing that is usually noticed.�

�It�s like post-gay, perhaps,� he decides.

The pomade, while a significant cultural marker and an unusual choice of material, is easier to use than one might think, according to the artist.

�Its texture is close to that of paint, so it�s rather easy to use in that way, just really messy,� he says. �I think about frosting a cake with a knife or spatula made out of a paper plate . . . I think it was a Duncan Hines one, frosting in a can.�

Kori Newkirk�s installation, the latest of the Curve series at MOCA, will be on display until May 23. The museum is located at 8501 Carnegie Ave. in the Cleveland Play House complex. It can be reached at 216-4218671 or online at


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