3 min

School censors same-sex kiss

Handsworth play takes out kiss, but leaves in rape

Apparently, a same-sex kiss is more offensive than domestic violence or rape. At least that seems to be the opinion of some parents who took in Handsworth Secondary School’s most recent theatrical production.

From Apr 1-3, the drama students of Handsworth, a high school located in North Vancouver, presented Broken Theory at the Centennial Theatre in Vancouver. The play was the latest in Handsworth’s series of collaborative, student-written plays that address common adolescent issues such as depression, drug use and peer pressure.

“Our main focus (at Handsworth) is developing a safe and caring school,” says David Beare, Handsworth’s drama teacher and the play’s director. “All of our plays focus on this message.”

The kiss in question was part of a fantasy song-and-dance number which featured two couples-one straight, the other lesbian. In the middle of the number, both couples exchange an innocuous peck on the lips. When the show premiered it included the same-sex kiss, but on the last two nights of the run, the kiss was cut.

Beare was appalled at how the brief Sapphic smooch became the focus of people’s ire. “We got standing ovations on opening night,” says the openly gay Beare. “The audience really responded to it. And the next morning the principal got about six to seven phone calls from parents and staff members complaining about the content of the play. They didn’t like the swearing, they didn’t like the sexual innuendoes in the play, and then the female-female kiss they didn’t like. So she basically told me that I had to take those things out.

“On the Friday night when we re-did the play, we took out five swear words, three sexual innuendoes through body language, and then the female-female kiss was taken out. But then on the Saturday, a parent phoned and basically said she gave her permission for her daughter to put the swear words back in the play. So everything was put back in the play, but the only thing that they wouldn’t allow to be put back in was the female-female kiss.”

Beare, who has taught at Handsworth for eight years, finds this amazing, especially in light of all the other things that the play depicted. “There was another kiss where one girl was actually being physically assaulted.

[The angry parents] didn’t like the fact that that was on the stage, but we were never told to take that out. There was never any pressure to take that out. But there was a lot of pressure to take out the female-female kiss.”

But Beare was quick not to blame the principal for the axing of the kiss: “She has been very, very supportive of me and the drama program. So from my perspective she felt very torn, because she wanted to support me, but at the same time she needed to respond to these people who were complaining.” But, he adds, “I think they made a mistake. The administrators did not handle this properly.”

In an interview with Xtra West, Handsworth’s principal, Olga Woodland, says that she never told Beare to specifically remove the same-sex kiss. “I simply asked him to tone the play down. He asked me about the kiss and I said, ‘I can’t give you permission to do something like that because, as a principal, I can’t. You have to use good judgement.'”

Handsworth, she says, is a public institution and “if something offends people, then we have to reflect on that.”

She adds, “One of the things that as a principal and as a school district we look at, is that whether it’s plays or sports, it’s important that we stay within a code that’s acceptable to the general audience.”

Several of Beare’s former students, including Alison Benjamin of Vancouver, attended the show and expressed outrage over the censorship: “One of the things about the drama program at Handsworth is that students really get a chance to express themselves in a safe environment,” she says. “And censoring the play suggests that straight people and queer people aren’t equal. And I don’t think that’s okay. Queer youth have a higher suicide rate. What kind of a message does this send to someone who is unsure about their sexuality?”

Adds Devin, another former student: “Handsworth’s plays are totally student driven-they’re written by the students. [The censors are] basically saying that gay love is not okay. I don’t have a problem if the parents have a problem with it, but the school should be like, look, this is a safe place for all people. If parents have a problem with it and their kids aren’t safe in their house, they should be safe in school.”

On the upside, says Beare, people at Handsworth are at least talking about homophobia, and his students are united in their opposition to the censorship. “[Being gay] is a complete non-issue for them,” says Beer. And the incident has shaken him out of his own complacency with regard to queer issues: “Gay marriage was never really that important to me, but on the Saturday [after the show] I asked my partner to marry me. Because [of the incident], I’m not going to silence myself-they’re not going to silence me. It’s made me really embrace my identity, I guess.”