ACLU Blasts Bel Air High School Censorship of Gay Scene in “Almost, Maine”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org BALTIMORE – Disturbed that students at Bel Air High School are being required to delete a key scene in an upcoming student play, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland (ACLU) is urging Harford County Public School officials to reverse course and permit the play to go on as written, so as to avoid a First Amendment clash. The ACLU contacted the school system Wednesday on behalf of students involved in the school’s Bel Air Drama Company (BADC), who oppose the school system’s censorship of their production. The students say they are prepared to perform the scene – called “They Fell” – in John Cariani’s critically acclaimed play, “Almost, Maine”, about falling in and out of love. The show is scheduled to open on November 10, 2011. “Many of the scenes in Almost, Maine feature characters falling in love,” said ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon. “The only notable difference between the deleted scene and others in the play is the gender of the characters involved. Fear of same-sex romance is not a legitimate pedagogical concern, and it cannot justify censorship of this innocent and amusing scene.” The ACLU contends the school system’s censorship of the scene violates students’ First Amendment rights. The scene features two male characters who discover they are in love with each other and humorously share that discovery. It includes no references to sexual activity, nor do the characters engage in any sexually suggestive behavior in the scene. In fact, the scene is less suggestive than other scenes in the play that depict characters falling in love who kiss, remove clothing, then leave the stage in a suggestion of sexual activity. The students believe that the only reason “They Fell” was removed from BADC’s performance, while the rest of the play was left intact, is fear of the expression of same-sex love or gay identity. That is unacceptable. “I was very upset that the scene was cut from the play because it is sweet and funny,” said Julia Streett, a student sound engineer with the Bel Air High School drama program and president of the school’s gay-straight alliance. “I think it is important to speak out against homophobia and discrimination, and the full play can help students better understand that love is not something to be feared.” The full play has been staged at many high schools and universities across the country and several productions have received regional accolades and awards, including from the Wall Street Journal. Go to YouTube to see video of a production of the scene at William Woods University: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTg8LSxfXTo “The students of the Bel Air Drama Company wish to perform a scene portraying two characters falling in love,” said Jessica Weber, pro bono counsel at Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP. “It is not only sad that in 2011, school officials would remove the scene simply because that love is shared between two men; it is also unconstitutional. Homophobia is not a legitimate basis for censoring student speech.” Go to our website to read the ACLU letter to Harford County school officials: http://www.aclu-md.org/aPress/Press2011/letter_almost_maine.pdf