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Principal says reaction to gay-themed play shows importance of teaching acceptance

Principal says reaction to gay-themed play shows importance of teaching acceptance

HARTFORD, Conn. — School officials at Hartford High School are catching some flack, but standing by their decision to allow production of a gay-themed play, and even made attendance mandatory for some of their students.

Two male cast members kiss in a scene from “Zanna Don’t!”
Photo by: Michael McAndrews, Hartford Courant

The play — about homosexuality and the importance to stop bullying — was staged by a local community theater group and starred high school and college students.

It’s a musical set in an alternate universe where everyone is gay, except for a few closet heterosexuals, reported the Hartford Courant.

At issue was a performance at the high school of “Zanna, Don’t!”, an anti-bullying play sponsored by Quest, an arm of the nonprofit Leadership Greater Hartford. The play, acted by high school and college students, takes place in a mythical high school where homosexuality is the norm and straight students are marginalized.

At one point, two male actors kissed briefly. That set off a firestorm of protest in the audience. Some students screamed, shouted or made loud sounds of disgust. Dozens immediately left the auditorium.

According to the Courant, the first kiss between the play’s Heartsville High quarterback — who is later exposed as a closet heterosexual — and the most popular boy in school, a gay chess champion, amounted to a second-long peck on the lips.

Later there were other same-sex kisses on stage, some bolder — a lesbian smooch was cheered among students.

More than 400 students attended the first performance on Oct. 14 — attendance at the play was mandatory for students in the school’s Nursing and Law and Government Academies.

Hartford Public High School is arranged in a group of four academies — the Nursing Academy, focused on math and other hard sciences students will use in health care fields; the Law and Government Academy, which focuses on social studies; the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology; and the Freshman Academy, geared toward ninth-grade students. Each academy has its own principal.

Nursing Academy Principal David Chambers said he considered sending an opt-out letter home with students, but decided not to because in the health care field, they’ll be exposed to all kinds of people.

It was a shocking display of intolerance from those with eyes on careers in law, government and nursing. The principal of the Nursing Academy was correct in pointing out that if they become nurses, his students will be required to treat people who are different from them; the same is true of would-be lawyers or those in public service.

Chambers said he had hoped the play would help students develop a sense of empathy toward gays and lesbians, or at least exposure to “that which makes them uncomfortable.”

“Our kids are not there yet,” he said.

For the second and final performance for students on Friday, freshmen needed a parental permission slip to watch, and half — about 130 — brought one back with a yes, reported the Courant. Sophomores, juniors and seniors in the school’s Engineering and Green Technology Academy had the chance to stay in their classrooms, but most headed to the auditorium.

Prior to yesterday’s performance, Executive Principal Jack Baldermann gave a stern talk in which he demanded students’ respect for the actors on stage. For many of the teenagers, Baldermann said later, this was likely the first time they had seen live theater.

The musical was organized as an anti-bullying initiative by Leadership Greater Hartford’s Quest program in partnership with True Colors, a nonprofit group that helps LGBT youth.

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