Blog / 2016 / This Is What Discrimination Looks Like Sometimes.

August 9, 2016

Being asked to show my work at a public library thrilled me. For one thing, unsolicited invitations to share my art are part of how I define success. For another, my love for the public library as an institution is on par with my love for chocolate, meaning that both are something I need in my life every day.

Everything was going swimmingly with the organizer. They behaved as though they knew my work—they complimented my art a lot—and our emails were professional. It all seemed normal, until I sent them the promotional text for the show.

I was planning to display paintings from Crime Against Nature. When I tried to email the description to the organizer, the library’s communication filter blocked my message, probably because it included the words “sex,” “homosexual,” and “transgendered.”

clownfish
poster from Crime Against Nature

This irritated me. Censorship via email filter is idiotic. An institution treating its staff like incompetent children is always unfortunate, but, when it’s a library, it’s offensive. Still, there was nothing else to do but work around the problem. I moved the text into an attachment and sent the email.

And I got no response to it. For two weeks.

I had sent multiple emails: one with the attachment and one with an explanation that the filter had rejected previous emails. I also called twice over the next ten days, trying to get in touch with the organizer and feeling more uncomfortable each time I tried.

They should have confirmed receipt immediately. It was the right thing to do in any case, but especially because their filter had blocked some of my emails. Also, they had said they needed the info quickly in order to begin promoting, so it was bizarre that they weren’t reaching out to me.

dromedary
poster from Crime Against Nature

When I finally got a reply, the tone was vague. They didn’t say that the show’s content bothered them, but they weren’t as enthusiastic as they had been before the two weeks of silence. I tried to smooth things over, asking to talk about what was going on, but the response was bland. The organizer was defensive about the two weeks without communication and seemingly uninterested in helping me feel better about working with them.

It was maddening. I could sense the homophobia, but I wasn’t getting anything concrete. Was I overreacting? Was there something else going on in the organizer’s life? Was this just a random act of rudeness?

Tired of the confusion, I named my concern outright. I wrote that I wanted to cancel the exhibit because “I’m getting the feeling that you or the library disapproves of the proposed show.” I reasoned that, if the organizer wasn’t a homophobe, they would react strongly to the accusation.

chameleon
poster from Crime Against Nature

For once, they wrote back as soon as they were in the office again. They confirmed the cancellation without argument.

Part of why I can post this article without too much worry is because, although I identify as queer, I easily pass as straight. The library’s behavior hurts me deeply, but I cannot imagine what this sort of situation feels like for someone who never gets a break from the judgment of homophobes.

UPDATE

May 17, 2017

If, after reading this article, you want to tell me that “this is just how the world is” please watch this video. Soon after I wrote this post, I wrote another about a library that did things right, but a few months after that the story didn’t end so well and even resulted in me deciding to quit writing for Professional Artist magazine.

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