Following up on gay bashing at the Smithsonian

Carla Axtman

Following up on my recent post about the censorship of an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., the saga continues. Marking the just-over-a-week's worth of the controversial removal of a four-minute video excerpted from A Fire In My Belly by artist David Wojnarowicz, was a column in the Sunday edition of the New York Times by the brilliant Frank Rich:

The Smithsonian’s behavior and the ensuing silence in official Washington are jarring echoes of those days when American political leaders stood by idly as the (AIDS) epidemic raged on. The incident is also a throwback to the culture wars we thought we were getting past now — most eerily the mother of them all, the cancellation of a Mapplethorpe exhibit (after he died of AIDS) at another Washington museum, the Corcoran, in 1989.

Like many of its antecedents, the war over Wojnarowicz is a completely manufactured piece of theater. What triggered the abrupt uproar was an incendiary Nov. 29 post on a conservative Web site. The post was immediately and opportunistically seized upon by William Donohue, of the so-called Catholic League, a right-wing publicity mill with no official or financial connection to the Catholic Church.

The entire privately funded exhibit is causing power hungry GOPers like Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va) to call for the fainting couch and the yanking of the Smithsonian's funding. The weak-kneed Smithsonian removed the video after Donohue's screed but without a single complaint filed with the museum from the public.

More from Rich:

It still seems an unwritten rule in establishment Washington that homophobia is at most a misdemeanor. By this code, the Smithsonian’s surrender is no big deal; let the art world do its little protests. This attitude explains why the ever more absurd excuses concocted by John McCain for almost single-handedly thwarting the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are rarely called out for what they are — “bigotry disguised as prudence,” in the apt phrase of Slate’s military affairs columnist, Fred Kaplan. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has been granted serious and sometimes unchallenged credence as a moral arbiter not just by Rupert Murdoch’s outlets but by CNN, MSNBC and The Post’s “On Faith” Web site even as he cites junk science to declare that “homosexuality poses a risk to children” and that being gay leads to being a child molester.

The censorship of the exhibit by cowardly directors at the Smithsonian is only a piece of this story. The fact that homophobia under the guise of taking offense for religious reasons is being allowed to flourish with virtually no push back by political leaders is appalling.

Fortunately, a major funder of the National Portrait Gallery is stepping up. The Warhol Foundation is threatening to withhold funding for future projects unless the video is restored to the exhibit.

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