BWW Blog: Dan McCleary - Challenging The Kelsey Bill
On February 7, The Commercial Appeal reported that two Tennessee state senators had filed a bill that would shield individuals, businesses, and other entities from lawsuits or other sanctions for refusing services and goods to same-sex couples "if doing so would violate (their) sincerely held religious beliefs."
I am not sure how a proprietor or private business owner could determine if my friend was my husband or partner or boyfriend anymore, I am sure, than I could determine if the owner's personal religious beliefs were "sincerely held."
If this bill were to become law, therefore, it is merely upon a stranger's suspicion that I could be refused a hotel room or lunch; and it would be mere imagination, therefore, that a Tennessee court could be legally permitted to imagine one's religious genuineness - a religion, which, by definition, evidently adheres to a dogmatic belief in blind judgment, consequential castigation, and overt discrimination.
One of the senators has titled this bill the "Religious Freedom Act." We are left to identify for ourselves, then, exactly which religion is being freed in this act.
My shock and sadness at someone in my own state, my own backyard, not only thinking like this but putting this thought to official action only serves to embolden me in the pursuit of producing all of William Shakespeare's plays for our schools and for our community. I hope it also rouses fellow arts leaders to speak and to produce in an attempt to educate and to encourage a greater compassion in our ethos.
I don't believe there is anyone William Shakespeare didn't speak for, to, or about. Especially on the subject of discrimination, he tread with grace and artistry - yet not without some controversy. He afforded, in may cases for the first time, multi-dimensional scope to women, people of color, those outside the majority, those practicing non-Christian religions, society's "others," the poor and the hungry, the very young and the very old. See, among others, Coriolanus, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, All's Well that Ends Well, King Lear, The Tempest, The Winter's Tale, and Othello.
I can't help but recall our production of Othello over three years ago here. Tennessee Shakespeare Company was performing in St. George's Church in Germantown, TN. As ever, the kind and generous leaders of the church not only permitted us to use their sacred space for theatre, but allowed us to build in it. The cast and I found it an artistic revelation to deal with the hatred, racism, and death of the play in a place of safety and reverence. And though our cast held the violence of the play with great care, particularly Johnny Lee Davenport, Paul Bernardo, Vanessa Morosco, and Kate Abbruzzese, I still felt the need to couch our production with heightened awareness with our audience in my pre-show speech.
At one performance, we had finally managed to get one of our community's high-ranking public officials to attend. This official brought their spouse. I was particularly interested in their response following the performance, so I sought it out in the theatre. I was told that they did not see any racism in the play, and I was asked why I had gone to such lengths to speak with sensitivity to the audience and our school students about it. In that moment, I knew the introduction of live, professional Shakespeare was in a needful place.
But we also knew what an uphill struggle was at hand. It has been important for us to set achievable small goals in pursuit of TSC's larger vision that occasionally feels out of reach. One of those occasions is now when I read that state senators wish to legalize discrimination.
I can feel demoralized in the struggle as a human being when I consider this action inhumane, demoralized as a citizen of this country when I consider this action un-American; but when I can narrow it down within the words written by the man I work with every day, to consider this act un-Shakespeare-like ultimately makes me feel focused and clear. This focus calls me to action. Look for it in our production of The Taming of the Shrew in April and May in Memphis.
I encourage your own creative act of compassion and understanding.