One South Carolina high school principal and two in Tennessee have banned the Indigo Girls from playing free half-hour concerts at their schools. The South Carolina performance was cancelled after the principal of Irmo High School, Gerald Witt, received complaints regarding the bands sexuality. According to spokesman, Buddy Price, "the principal canceled it. After it was made public that this group was coming, he got a lot of phone calls from parents and others raising various concerns . . . one of which was the sexuality issue." The principal canceled the concert because the protests were polarizing the community. The next day, the principals for two high schools, Germantown and Farragut, decided to cancel the concert by the duo at their schools. These principals, however, say it has nothing to do with their sexuality but rather their lyrics. Claiming that he is trying to maintain an atmosphere conducive to good education, Germantown H.S. principal Ernest Chism said, "We canceled the show based on the lyrics to a song they performed at . . . in Georgia." He went on to claim that his decision has nothing to do with the duo's homosexuality.
Not everyone at the high schools are happy with the decisions made by these principals, however. Katie Fort, a 15-year-old staff reporter at The Pitchfork, Germantown H.S.'s student newspaper, said many of the students at her school think that the cancellation has a lot to do with the fact that Ray and Saliers are lesbians. "Some people think it is because they're lesbians," Fort said. Meanwhile, the students at Irmo H.S., where the homophobia is blatant, protested the cancellation by staging a walk-out. The students were given eight-day suspensions following the walk-out, a decision which is being protested by the South Carolina chapter of the ACLU. Singer/guitarist Emily Saliers released a statement, which reads as follows: "We are saddened and angry to hear that our shows (have been canceled) . . . it is a blatant case of homophobia. The shows were canceled because we are gay."
The actions by the three principals involved is disturbing for two reasons, for it is not only a violation of freedom of expression but of human rights as well. One of the functions of a school is to be a forum for ideas. Unfortunately for the students, this no longer holds true. The actions by the principals are horrific, for the administrators themselves decided to shoot down expression due to the sexuality of the performers, thereby killing their First Amendment rights. It can be construed as a human rights violation in the sense that two lesbian artists are not allowed to perform their art in a public forum - for free no less - effectively destroying the rights of the students in each school and strangling the voice of a group who many believe is the voice for the gay and lesbian community. The students in this country would be better served if administrators thought up better ways to teach rather than looking for more and more "creative" ways to squash expression.
There are those that may question the value of concerts to the learning process. We would applaud the decision by school administrators to originally allow the concerts in the first place in seeing the value of artistic/musical expression for the learning process in helping to develop the creativity of students. However, once the decision was reached that the concerts could be held at the schools, to suddenly make such a reversal on policy based simply on the sexual preference of the performers is inexcusable. We at ROC fear that the answer to the "problem" will likely be that the schools will just choose not to hold any events like this in the future. Let's hope that they will move forward in their thinking and not further backward, stifling all possible concerts simply because there may be some that will cause offense for some.
All this leads us back to the same conclusion for those that so often strive to be offended: if you are offended by things you see or hear, just don't attend, watch or listen. It's that simple. It's fine to peaceably protest to increase visibility of your opinion, but we at ROC cannot understand why there is this continuing need on the part of those we are fighting in these battles to try to completely stop performances, artwork, recordings, etc, preventing those that are not offended from enjoying the things they choose willingly by their own artistic/musical tastes.
To contact those involved, please use the information provided below:
ACLU of South Carolina
Executive Director: Steven Bates
1338 Main St., Suite 800
Columbia, SC 29201
Phone: (803) 799-5151
ACLU of Tennessee
Executive Director: Hedy Weinberg
PO Box 120160
Nashville, TN 37212
Phone: (615) 320-7142
Principal Edwin Hedgpeth
11237 Kingston Pike
Knoxville, TN 37922
Principal Ernest Chism
7653 Old Poplar Pike
Among the leading opponents of the concert in Germantown is the Germantown Baptist Church. They can be reached at: email@example.com
Irmo High School
Principal Gerald Witt
6671 Saint Andrews Road
Columbia, SC 29212