Nettime — 'We have to protect people'.

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‘We have to protect people’.
Gary Taylor meets the politician in charge of making it happen
Gary Taylor
Thursday December 09 2004
The Guardian
What should we do with US classics like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or The
Color Purple? “Dig a hole,” Gerald Allen recommends, “and dump them in
it.” Don’t laugh. Gerald Allen’s book-burying opinions are not a joke.
Earlier this week, Allen got a call from Washington. He will be meeting
with President Bush on Monday. I asked him if this was his first
invitation to the White House. “Oh no,” he laughs. “It’s my fifth
meeting with Mr Bush.”
Bush is interested in Allen’s opinions because Allen is an elected
Republican representative in the Alabama state legislature. He is Bush’s
base. Last week, Bush’s base introduced a bill that would ban the use of
state funds to purchase any books or other materials that “promote
homosexuality”. Allen does not want taxpayers’ money to support
“positive depictions of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle”.
That’s why Tennessee Williams and Alice Walker have got to go.
I ask Allen what prompted this bill. Was one of his children exposed to
something in school that he considered inappropriate? Did he see some
flamingly gay book displayed prominently at the public library?
No, nothing like that. “It was election day,” he explains. Last month,
“14 states passed referendums defining marriage as a relationship
between a man and a woman”. Exit polls asked people what they considered
the most important issue, and “moral values in this country” were “the
top of the list”.
“Traditional family values are under attack,” Allen informs me. They’ve
been under attack “for the last 40 years”. The enemy, this time, is not
al-Qaida. The axis of evil is “Hollywood, the music industry”. We have
an obligation to “save society from moral destruction”. We have to
prevent liberal libarians and trendy teachers from “re-engineering
society’s fabric in the minds of our children”. We have to “protect
I ask him, again, for specific examples. Although heterosexuals are
apparently an endangered species in Alabama, and although Allen is a
local politician who lives a couple miles from my house, he can’t
produce any local examples. “Go on the internet,” he recommends. “Some
time when you’ve got a week to spare,” he jokes, “just go on the
internet. You’ll see.”
Actually, I go on the internet every day. But I’m obviously searching
for different things. For Allen, the web is just the largest repository
in history of urban myths. The internet is even better than the Bible
when it comes to spreading unverifiable, unrefutable stories. And urban
myths are political realities. Remember, it was an urban myth (an
invented court case about a sex education teacher gang-raped by her own
students who, when she protested, laughed and said: “But we’re just
doing what you taught us!”) that all but killed sex education in
Since Allen couldn’t give me a single example of the homosexual
equivalent of 9/11, I gave him some. This autumn the University of
Alabama theatre department put on an energetic revival of A Chorus Line,
which includes, besides “tits and ass”, a prominent gay solo number.
Would Allen’s bill prevent university students from performing A Chorus
Line? It isn’t that he’s against the theatre, Allen explains. “But why
can’t you do something else?” (They have done other things, of course.
But I didn’t think it would be a good idea to mention their sold-out
productions of Angels in America and The Rocky Horror Show.)
Cutting off funds to theatre departments that put on A Chorus Line or
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof may look like censorship, and smell like
censorship, but “it’s not censorship”, Allen hastens to explain. “For
instance, there’s a reason for stop lights. You’re driving a vehicle,
you see that stop light, and I hope you stop.” Who can argue with
something as reasonable as stop lights? Of course, if you’re gay, this
particular traffic light never changes to green.
It would not be the first time Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ran into
censorship. As Nicholas de Jongh documents in his amusingly appalling
history of government regulation of the British theatre, the British
establishment was no more enthusiastic, half a century ago, than
Alabama’s Allen. “Once again Mr Williams vomits up the recurring theme
of his not too subconscious,” the Lord Chamberlain’s Chief Examiner
wrote in 1955. In the end, it was first performed in London at the New
Watergate Club, for “members only”, thereby slipping through a loophole
in the censorship laws.
But more than one gay playwright is at a stake here. Allen claims he is
acting to “encourage and protect our culture”. Does “our culture”
include Shakespeare? I ask Allen if he would insist that copies of
Shakespeare’s sonnets be removed from all public libraries. I point out
to him that Romeo and Juliet was originally performed by an all-male
cast, and that in Shakespeare’s lifetime actors and audiences at the
public theatres were all accused of being “sodomites”. When Romeo wished
he “was a glove upon that hand”, the cheek that he fantasised about
kissing was a male cheek. Next March the Alabama Shakespeare festival
will be performing a new production of As You Like It, and its famous
scene of a man wooing another man. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival is
also the State Theatre of Alabama. Would Allen’s bill cut off state
funding for Shakespeare?
“Well,” he begins, after a pause, “the current draft of the bill does
not address how that is going to be handled. I expect details like that
to be worked out at the committee stage. Literature like Shakespeare and
Hammet [sic] could be left alone.” Could be. Not “would be”. In any
case, he says, “you could tone it down”. That way, if you’re not paying
real close attention, even a college graduate like Allen himself “could
easily miss” what was going on, the “subtle” innuendoes and all.
So he regards his gay book ban as a work in progress. His legislation
is “a single spoke in the wheel, it doesn’t resolve all the issues”.
This is just the beginning. “To turn a big ship around it takes a lot of
But make no mistake, the ship is turning. You can see that on the face
of Cornelius Carter, a professor of dance at Alabama and a prize-winning
choreographer who, not long ago, was named university teacher of the
year for the entire US. Carter is black. He is also gay, and tired of
fighting these battles. “I don’t know,” he says, “if I belong here any
Forty years ago, the American defenders of “our culture” and
“traditional values” were opposing racial integration. Now, no
politician would dare attack Cornelius Carter for being black. But it’s
perfectly acceptable to discriminate against people for what they do in
“Dig a hole,” Gerald Allen recommends, “and dump them in it.”
Of course, Allen was talking about books. He was just talking about
books. He never said anything about pink triangles.
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