Whitty also posts a transcript of much of a conversation he had this week with Eckern, the embattled artistic director of Sacramento's California Music Theatre, who as a dutiful California Mormon gave $1,000 to support efforts to pass the anti-gay Prop. 8. Leonard Jacobs posted a complete letter of protest from the estimable Susan Egan yesterday. Eckern has since given $1,000 to the Human Rights Campaign, but not before this choice exchange with Whitty:
"This is Scott Eckern, from the California Musical Theatre."
...I knew he'd already had a well-earned earful from Marc [Shaiman], so I decided to try a different tactic. I put on my soft voice.
"I understand that you contributed a thousand dollars to the 'Yes on 8' campaign."
Mr. Eckern affirmed that he had.
"So I have a question. This summer, my Mom celebrated her 70th birthday in Oregon, and my entire family came out and we spent a week together. It was wonderful. I brought my partner Steve, and we spent a lot of time with my five nieces and nephews. They love Steve. All they know is that he's the person I love and care about, just as with any other relationship they've come across. But I'd like to know: in your opinion, was I hurting my nieces and nephews?"
"No," Mr. Eckern said.
"Because so much of the Yes on 8 advertising was about hurting children. At least one of your spokesmen said that gay people actually recruit children."
I don't want to say too much about Mr. Eckern's response -- he can state it himself if he wishes -- but I'll say there was real ambivalence about the tactics of the campaign. I'm not sure these issues had occurred to him, quite, when the gays were a faceless menace to marriage. And he admitted that he said nothing as the inflammatory tactics escalated.
Next question: "How would me marrying Steve hurt straight marriages?" This got into the religious "the Bible says" argument, which I pointed out didn't wash in the United States I lived in with its vast array of religious affiliations. Mr. Eckern did point out that he was for civil unions, etcetera, just so long as the word "marriage" wasn't used -- that weird and tiresome semantic argument, whose subtext always seems to be, "We want to give you rights, but keep our foot on your neck at the same time."
Next question: "So why is it that a straight couple can meet in a bar in Vegas and be married an hour later, but my septuagenarian neighbors David and Donald, who've been together for thirty years, can't get married and have its legal protections? Doesn't that say anything?"
The conversation got very emotional. I let him talk and tried not to interrupt. I spoke about my new antipathy toward the Mormon church. I was firm, but honest, and with that honesty I expressed a great degree of hurt. Mr. Eckern kept bringing up the artistic perspective, that theater is a forum where people of opposing views can come together and air them and everybody can learn. I was less starry-eyed about the power of theater: "Well, then you walk out of the theater and the world still sucks"...
It was really hard not being livid. I know that there's a great degree of hue and cry over getting Mr. Eckern fired. I've searched my soul about this. I'm instinctively not comfortable with the idea of his dismissal, though my activist side still whispers, "Punish!" I fear for what Mr. Eckern's dismissal would say about theater: that there's only room for the pro-gay crowd. In a way, if we only allow people we agree with, if we only allow people who share a broad sympathy for the human condition, then we become one of those dreaded fantasy "elites" that Fox News and Sarah Palin and the jerks at the children's table keep harping about.
UPDATE: The LA Times' Culture Monster blog has more. Highlights: In addition to reporting that Whitty accepts Eckern's apology, the embattled AD outs his sister as a lesbian in a domestic partnership relationship; meanwhile, the theater continues to weigh its options. And Hairspray's Marc Shaiman suggests that a gay-rights benefit at the theater would help repair the damage, concluding with a note of caution about some of the rhetorical excesses of those on his own side: "We have to watch ourselves and not become what we're fighting against."