Organizers of the International Human Rights Arts Festival moved their event booked at St. Mary’s Church on Grand Street after Archbishop Timothy Dolan objected to two gay/transgender-themed performances.
The festival, a production of the Culture Project, was supposed to take place Sunday evening in the Grand Hall, a newly restored space in the basement of the Lower East Side Catholic church. Actress Kathleen Turner is headlining the event, which was relocated to St. Ann & the Holy Trinity, an Episcopal church in Brooklyn.
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Father Andrew O’Connor, the administrator of St. Mary’s, said in an interview that he had recently received a call from Bishop John O’Hara, the vicar for Manhattan, expressing concern on behalf of himself and Cardinal Dolan about the gay and transgender-themed performances of the festival. He wanted Father O’Connor to speak to the producers to make sure that the material was appropriate for the Catholic Church. Had there been more time, perhaps a compromise could have been worked out, Father O’Connor said. When Mr. Block asked him if the festival would be allowed as is, Father O’Connor said he told him “probably not,” and rather than ban some artists, Mr. Block decided to pull the show.
The festival includes an improvisational comedy piece, Thank You for Coming Out, and a series of cabaret songs from transgender artist Maybe Burke. These performances were apparently the ones that top officials in the archdiocese found objectionable.
The festival’s producer, Tom Block, said he had the option of removing the two pieces, but decided that was not a viable solution. “We are a human rights arts festival… We are not going to abandon people.” Kathleen Turner told the Times, “I think it’s absolutely, completely wrong.” Deciding who can and cannot be heard, she said, “is very much against the teaching of Christianity.”
Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said, “Whenever parish property is used by an outside group of any sort, whether for a performance, speech, discussion, or other use, the expectation is that nothing would occur that would violate Catholic sensibilities and teaching.”