A Maryland Middle School is reversing its decision to cancel their production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee after backlash from parents called the school out on perceived homophobia.
If it walks like a duck...
Students at Hyattsville Middle School in Maryland had been rehearsing the musical for three months when they were informed the musical would be canceled because there were "concerns that the content was too mature for middle school students."
Right away, some suspected the administration's fears weren't centered around the occasional "damn" or risque song, but around the two LGBTQ parents who make a brief appearance in the show.
Parents told reporters that push-back from administrators began when the district received complaints from a homophobic parent about gay content in the production.
District interim CEO Dr. Monica Goldson issued a statement via Facebook attempting to "explain" the musical's cancelation:
"Teachers expressed concern given the extended use of profanity in the play even though it was identified as PG-13 appropriate. The supervisor for performing arts was then requested to review content during which time it was decided that the play should be canceled since copyright laws did not permit the change in language when she reached out to the company."
Music Theatre International, the musical licensing company which sells the rights to perform Putnam County, told ABC7 News that they "have accommodated similar requests in the past."
Jamie McGonnigal, a gay father from Hyattsville, spoke with six students about the production and believes the district's statement expressing "concerns" about mature content was a lie:
“All of them were led to believe that the cancelation was over the gay parents portrayed in the show...The idea that this was canceled over profanity was a lie.”
McGonnigal acknowledged the show contains several instances of the word "damn" which is often changed to "darn," and the song "My Unfortunate Erection," which, in some school productions, is changed to "My Unfortunate Distraction."
GLAAD chief programs officer Zeke Stokes spoke out against the decision to NewNowNext, saying:
“Every student in every school deserves to be valued for who they are. If this show was canceled because of its LGBTQ content, it sends a dangerous and discriminatory message that should never be associated with our public schools.”
After McGonnigal launched a petition which gained over 7,000 signatures, the school district decided to reverse their decision.
Principal Thornton Boone wrote in an official statement:
“We celebrate our diversity and recognize the many rich contributions of the LGBTQ community to the greater Hyattsville Community."
This isn't the first time the Hyattsville school district has been the center of homophobic controversy. They were recently served with a federal lawsuit by former English teacher Jennifer Eller, a transgender woman.
She alleges that years of inhumane treatment from both students and staff at her school was so intense it pushed her into outpatient psychiatric services and, ultimately, forced her to leave the job:
“I woke up each day afraid to go to work because I didn’t know where the next attack would come from, but I already knew full well that the school administrators would do nothing to support me. My pleas for help, for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, fell on deaf ears.”
Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, an attorney at Lambda Legal, who is representing Eller, told NewNowNext the problem is a systemic one within the school district, and that the incident surrounding the middle school musical isn't surprising:
“Unfortunately what we are seeing at Prince George’s County Public Schools is really a culture of discrimination and harassment toward LGBTQ people, and not just teachers but students and really the community as a whole. I think that the incident that happened at this middle school is really indicative of that as well.”
Eller's lawsuit is still pending, but at least the students at Hyattsville Middle School will get to perform the musical they've rehearsed without interference from any homophobic parents or staff.