PA school at center of antigay controversy

PA school at center of antigay controversy

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A Lycoming County school is under fire after canceling a musical that has gay content.

South Williamsport Junior Senior High School drama department was preparing to perform the Broadway musical “Spamalot” this coming spring, but school administrators pulled the plug due to what they called controversial content.

According to WNEP, drama department director Dawn Burch received an email from principal Jesse Smith that the show was inappropriate because of aspects like a same-sex wedding and other sexual content.

Burch also told WNEP that the principal allegedly wrote that LGBT individuals do not exist in the South Williamsport community.

A copy of the email has not been made public.

School superintendent Mark Stamm denied to PGN that Burch made the antigay comment.

Stamm told PGN that the drama program consists of students from grades seven-12. He said the musicals, which are open to the public, should be appropriate for audiences of all ages.

“We want our performances to be appropriate for the student performers and audiences so that anyone participating or watching can enjoy all aspects of the show,” he said. “The South Williamsport Area School District strives to provide a rigorous and relevant educational program that accommodates all students. We serve the community and all its children.”

Burch’s attorney, Clifford Rieders, said his firm plans to contact the school this week to urge it to issue a press release, making public all of the facts of the situation.

Reiders said he hopes the school district is transparent about the situation.

“We want the outcome to be that the school district will be honest about its goals and reasons for prohibiting this particular play and that they will take action that will not reflect negatively on Dawn Burch,” he said. “She is a person of integrity and she is honorable in her dealings. We want to have a correct record out there and we want to know what the school district is doing and why. We need them to be up front on what they are doing.”

Keystone Progress hosted a press conference July 3 at the New Covenant United Church of Christ to address the issue.

Keystone Progress North-Central organizer Alison Hirsch said the crowd had a mixed recreation to the incident.

“There were people that said if there was bad language or immorality in the musical, they agreed that it should have been pulled but they didn’t get the point. This was a chance to have a teachable moment to make it clear that the LGBT community is a marginalized one and we need to find a way to address the problem,” she said.

Hirsch said Keystone Progress, along with Equality Central PA, hopes to host a public forum with the school administration to discuss LGBT issue. Hirsch said the administration seemed open to the idea.

“It is not just about what the principal said or how they can improve the drama department,” she said. “It is about making the kids who are questioning their sexuality feel loved and protected in their schools.”

No decision has been made on what musical will replace “Spamalot.”

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