Nov 11, 2008

Redemption for Scott Eckern?

Avenue Q co-author Jeff Whitty thinks maybe so.

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."


Kent said...

On one issue, I think Scott is right. Theater is a place where opposing viewpoints can and should be discussed. We would be equally livid if a right-wing organization fired someone for supporting the no on 8 campaign. So to ask for his "head on a plate" is akin to hypocrisy. People have a right to believe what they want and express those opinions. We don't have to agree or attend their theater, but to demand he be fired for personal beliefs feels equally wrong.

Anonymous said...

This country was founded on religious freedom. Because this country allows differences of opinions and ideas, why are you attacking this man? Are you looking for a scape goat for the failure of Prop 8 to pass? There are areas of this world where gays are not tolerated at all. Mr. Eckern employs a lot of gay individuals and does so to the entertainment and enjoyment of even more non-gays. Leave the man alone and be glad we live in a society that accepts diversity. As for the word marriage, come up with a new word for gay unions. Why take away from marriage as it stands today? Enjoy the freedoms of this country. Be grateful, not hypocritical.

Cinco said...

It appears to me that Scott Eckern has worked in the world of theatre for some time. The fact that such a big deal is being made out of the discovery of his donation indicates to me that before this was revealed everyone assumed Scott had no issues at all with homosexuality. This despite the fact that he belongs to a church which teaches that homosexuality is a sin. A church whose core beliefs many if not most of those he works with consider to be a bunch of lies. And yet he was more than happy to work together with people of all sexual orientations and beliefs.

To me, that's the definition of tolerance.

And now that many in the world of theatre know what his personal religious beliefs are, they are refusing to work with him. He is a bigot. A horrible person. And he must pay.

To me, that's the definition of intolerance.

Rob, as you can imagine, this issue has been a thorny one for me. I, like Scott Eckern, felt caught between a rock and a hard place. It's a world of misgivings and confusion and faith and doubt. I did the best I could, and I imagine he did the same. Scott Eckern, like me, isn't perfect. None of us are. So--and my apologies for quoting the Bible--maybe we should all stop throwing stones.

Anonymous said...

"And now that many in the world of theatre know what his personal religious beliefs are, they are refusing to work with him. He is a bigot. A horrible person. And he must pay."

This is sickening. You don't know if he is a bigot. You don't know if he is a horrible person. But you DEMAND that he must lose his job/career because he supports a traditional definition of marriage, a tradition that the LGBT community for decades derided as legalized rape, oppression etc.
Now the gay marriage issue is what determines whether a human is horrible or not?

No to Utah because "they gots lots of dem ignunt Moomons livin there".


Well, now that we know that workplace discrimination for expressing political views is moral, we can organize campaigns, open or otherwise, to oust any employees who support racial or gender discrimination by any name, "affirmative action" or otherwise.

They are bigots. They are horrible people. They must be punished.

No employment for those who support discrimination. No bread on their table.


Anonymous said...

I thought you'd like to know that he's resigned....

Anonymous said...

This is so sad. As I read your article it is clear that you have zero tolerance for any viewpoint besides your own. Do you honestly believe that over 50% of Californians are motivated by hatred?

McCarthyism is alive and well, and wildly promoted by the Arts Community against their version of Communism: Religion.

Anonymous said...

This isn't about personal attacks. It's no different than when California voters approved a constitutional amendment (Proposition 14) in 1964 to prohibit blacks from moving into white neighborhoods. Were blacks being intolerant when they reacted negatively? The proponents said it was all about maintaining traditional property transaction rules. After all, blacks could keep whites out of black neighborhoods too. Discrimination is discrimination. You have to call people on it. (Besides, Mr. Eckern is the artistic director. Show Boat was the first and most oft produced show by the California Musical Theater. Does he know that the themes include bigotry and intolerance???? If he doesn't get that he needs to go somewhere else)

Anonymous said...

"It's no different than when California voters approved a constitutional amendment (Proposition 14) in 1964 to prohibit blacks from moving into white neighborhoods."

And A.A./racial/gender preferences are no different than slavery and Jim Crow.

It's no surprise that some gay activists called for the burning of churches and in fact shot at several Mormon buildings this week.

No employment for supporters of race/gender/gay affirmative action, no tolerance of sexual preferencialists.

Onward and downward. Let's do it.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed that this email has even been circulated this much. I am embarrassed by the reverse discrimination being throw at Scott Eckhern.We live in a democracy. The endangerment of an individual's employment based on his political stances are not only morally wrong but also illegal. I refer you to the following website that clearly lays out Federal laws prohibiting job discrimination: I would like to underline the following. " Certain personnel actions can not be based on attributes or conduct that do not adversely affect employee performance, such as marital status and political affiliation."

A person's political stance has nothing to do with the fulfillment of his job description. Just because Scott supported Proposition 8 does not mean that he hates gay people. Many countries including France ( a country very tolerant of homosexuality) have rejected the proposition of same-sex marriage based on civic research and the outcome on a society. They never said that homosexuality was bad, but they chose to reject it for various civic reasons. Whether you agree with them or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Scott has been attacked for his political stance regardless of the daily kindness he has shown to gay people. Those who do not hate gay people, but disagree with gay marriage for religious or civic reasons are described as bigots and intolerant persons regardless of the daily kindness and respect they show to gay people. Those who scream for tolerance often neglect the need to tolerate the moral and civic convictions of the other
side. The assumption that Proposition 8 supporters hate gay people is not only presumptive but embarrassing.

I, personally, love gay people. They have enriched my life. I believe Scott would say the same thing. Has anyone taken the time to ask him if he supports same-sex civil unions? Has anyone asked him if he supports rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights? Has anyone asked him what his reasoning behind supporting prop 8 was? No, they have assumed that his political beliefs are based on intolerance and hate. That is unfair to him and embarrassing for those who puts words in his mouth.
I am certain, had you been discriminated against for voting against Prop 8, you would be furious. The point is discrimination and intolerance is not one sided. Please get all the information before lashing out.

Anonymous said...

I am sickened, absolutely sickened, by the hypocrisy in this matter. Why cannot we treat each other as civilized human beings, regardless of our political differences? It appears that Scott did not wear his opinions on his sleeve at work. He donated to a political campaign. Big deal. What small people we must be if we must browbeat those we disagree with into silence.

Anonymous said...

I personally consider religious adherents to be delusional. I am a vocal opponent of religious interference into secular life and would strip religious organizations of any tax advantages they have over other businesses.

I also believe that it is preposterous to deny gay people the right to marry and be subject to all the protections (and obligations) of the institution. I also believe that within less than a decade most of the States will recognize the right of gay people to marry.

But this effective firing of Eckern makes my sense of justice want to puke. You can think of him as an idiot for believing the Mormon gibberish, you can fire him if it affected his professional decisions in any way, but you can't fire him for his beliefs, no matter how idiotic, or how abhorrent they seem to you.

It's a shame and he should be reinstated.

Anonymous said...

This is yet one more stirling example of the "we believe in tolerance and civil rights, but only for ourselves" attitude that has been displayed in all-too public form by the GLBT community since the 4th. Why should anyone else take you seriously when all they are shown is childish, boorish, anti-social anarchy? Before you start screaming about "tolerance" and "bigotry" you might want to take a close look in the mirror. Be warned, though, you might not like what you see reflected.

Anonymous said...

So, this is what Mormons get for trying to be good and tolerant neighbors to gays: outed, shunned, banished. All their concern and care and friendship "a pretense." Brother Eckern is out of a job.

I'm out of friends of a decade or more, them reluctant to let their children continue to play with mine. This from the folks who call for "tolerance." I call it "liberal tyranny."

We're damned if we do and if we don't. True to our neighbors, or true to our faith? Would the gays prefer we never "tolerated" them in the first place?

And this guy, this "Wicked Stage Hand," he's the one to grant redemption?

I gasp.

Anonymous said...

I am an aspiring broadway actor, and Mormon, and what this tells me is that I might be denied the right to provide for my family in this business because of my beliefs. First of all, it's flat out illegal. Second, did Scott ever fire someone or not hire them because they were gay? Nope. I know the guy personally and he has no problems with gays being on his now former stage. What Marc Shaiman needs to understand is that much of his revenues, maybe the majority, have come from people who supported Prop 8, and I truly hope this backfires on him. But I know it won't, because the groups in favor of Prop 8 will never raise much of a stink about it.

Anonymous said...

Scott knew that the environment in which he would be working is laced with many homosexual individuals - or, is he blind? It is a matter of intolerance from the gay community not willing to support someone who is hypocritical? I think not! Why should anyone support an institution that does not have its best interest at hand? Sure accept adversity but be adverse in your own back yard. I have no regrets what so ever that he relinquished his position. Bye-bye!

Anonymous said...

First, let me say that Prop 8 is just "separate but equal" for heterosexual and homosexual state-acknowledged unions. It should never have been on the ballot in the first place.

Second, we have separation of church and state in this country. The state's definition of marriage does not need to conform to a particular religion's concept of marriage. To force one's religious views on the state and its citizens of other religions or no religion is wrong. The state definition of marriage should be that any group of people sufficiently dedicated to one another should be entitled to marriage under state law. Yes, that means monogamy, polygomy, and gay marriage.

Third, Scott resigned, probably against the wishes of CMT. For 25 years, Scott has served CMT well. As a result of his donation in support of Prop 8, many of the people he knows professionally feel betrayed. Some sent angry emails. If you felt betrayed by someone, would you not call on Scott to make amends?

Fourth, composers and writers can decide where to do business. In a professional capacity, had Scott not resigned, he could have worked to improve his relationship with his co-professionals. In my understanding, Scott resigned in an effort to improve relations among the artists and CMT. This was Scott's decision. Whether or not Scott would have remained on as artistic director, artists would have to decide whether to continue working with CMT. As CMT as an entity had no part in Scott's decision to support Prop 8, most artists would probably come to realize the advantage to be had in continuing relations with CMT.

Fifth, there is no reverse discrimination going on here--despite what articles in bourgeois papers like the Sacramento Bee imply. Scott could have kept his job. But, like many public figures who also have private lives, once a private fact is out--it's out. Gay people want gay marriage recognized by the secular state--Scott's religious views to the contrary notwithstanding. Scott apparently wanted to support Prop 8 and continue as artistic director at CMT. If he called up Richard Lewis (Executive Producer/CMT) tomorrow and asked for his job back, my guess is he'd probably get it.

Sixth, Hairspray is a musical about integrating black/white people in a 1960's television dance show in Baltimore, Maryland. One of the composers of this musical sent one of the angry emails. In the show, there was "negro" day once a month. If you would have tuned in that day, you might have thought that blacks were treated equal (or even superior) to whites. After all, all you'd see is black people dancing. But, the point of Hairspray is that negro day is an unequal form of "separate but equal." The bulk of the days were white-only days. The show would never call them "honky" days.

Lastly, Scott has stated that marriage and domestic partnership are equal under the law. Then, I say make them also equal in NAME.

Anonymous said...

Limp-wristed gliberals are intolerant?

Oh, I'm shocked!

Thia said...

Would you be shocked if a theatre fired someone for funding the KKK? Do you think civil rights movement leaders in the 60's should NOT have called for boycotts of businesses, or called for the dismissal of certain emplyees practicing bigotry?

By FUNDING the Prop 8 initiative with $1000, he put himself on the frontlines of a historical battle. Someone supporting "no on 8" is not trying to deny anyone else their civil rights or their humanity. Accepting "opposing viewpoints" that are DISCRIMINATORY is not what art, or religion, should be about.

Anonymous said...

Thia, you say, "supporting "no on 8" is not trying to deny anyone else their civil rights", but in fact those like you that are blacklisting a minority (Mormon) for their democratic choice is doing just that. This is nothing more than mobism, something Mormons know much about!

The LDS Church does not condemn homosexuality, but rather any form of sexual relations outside of marriage, as a sin. This policy is non-discriminatory as it applies equally to heterosexuals.

Contrary to your believes, we actually have our leaders speaking publicly and publishing world-wide articles on love for those with same-gender attraction, not trying to excuse it in any way, but speaking about it as a fact, and that we love all people, independent of their gender attraction. As long as they follow the same laws of chastity, they can have equal status in the Church. You might want to read the discussion on the LDS homepage here:

Anonymous said...

Prop 8 takes no rights for anyone. It insures the meaning of the marriage that has for ions been defined as the union of man and women.

Elton John sums it all up:

"I don't want to be married. I'm very happy with a civil partnership. If gay people want to get married, or get together, they should have a civil partnership," John says. "The word 'marriage,' I think, puts a lot of people off.

"You get the same equal rights that we do when we have a civil partnership. Heterosexual people get married. We can have civil partnerships."

Keisha said...

anonymous said:

"What is relevant is that Scott has been attacked for his political stance regardless of the daily kindness he has shown to gay people. Those who do not hate gay people, but disagree with gay marriage for religious or civic reasons are described as bigots and intolerant persons regardless of the daily kindness and respect they show to gay people."

I think that this comment is spot on, and the gay community has really squandered an opportunity to pre-empt proposition challenges in the future in its response to the success of Prop 8. Instead of trying to understand people's nuanced and myriad reasons for voting in favor of the prop, and trying to understand why framing the issue as one of civil rights failed completely (especially among communities of color, where it was seen as offensive and totally backfired), most opponents of Prop 8 are just chalking its defeat up to (1) religious zealots who want to impose a religious definition of marriage on everyone, and (2) bigots who hate gay people.

Memo to Prop 8 supporters: these voters are not the primary reasons why Prop 8 passed. And the more you focus on these reasons alone, and scapegoat churches and people of color, the fewer allies you will have! You should try to figure out why it passed, so you have a better chance next time!

Here's a first opportunity from someone who voted for Prop 8, but was very conflicted about the issue (and continues to be). I don't think that marriage, as opposed to a civil union, is a civil right. Moreover, I don't think that sexual orientation should form the basis of a protected class on par with race or different-ability. No one can look at you, or hear your voice or read your resume, and know that you are gay. In fact, why should the issue of sexual orientation even come up in the workplace? I don't talk with my co-workers about what me and my fiance like to do in the bedroom... straight or gay, they really don't want to know. But, everyone I work with can see my face and my boobs and know that I am a black woman. And trust me, even in Berkeley CA, there are many white men who think it's weird if a black woman tries to participate in some of the behaviors (swearing, dirty jokes, making comments on other women's attractiveness, complaining about the wife, talking about sports) that they freely share. And let's not even get into past discrimination against blacks...

I am sympathetic to the argument that you shouldn't have to be forced to participate in these behaviors, and you should be able to act the way you want in the workplace, but not very sympathetic. I don't really think that discussions of sexual orientation have any place in the workplace, and if you have the ability to minimize your gay-ness on the job, that's a leg up over someone who can't minimize her blackness or Mexican accent or wheelchair.

So, when I see ads that equate discrimination against gays today with past, or current, discrimination against blacks, I am skeptical.

Anonymous said...

I am a gay man and theater artist. I did not support Prop 8 because I believe it is the worst case of religious beliefs being imposed via government process. The pro-8 campaign message was based on disinformation, fear and anti-glbt bias. However - asking that this man leave his job is a preposterous counter-display of bigotry and intolerance. Read Mr. Eckern's statement, his biggest sin (in my opinion): He seems mis-informed about the tone, content and consequences of supporting the pro-8 campaign. I completely disagree with his stated reasons for supporting the campaign. But I will NEVER deny him or anyone theright to stand behind their beliefs in a constitutionally lawful manner. It is immoral, and I'm certain in some cases, illegal, to deny employment in this country based on religious or political beliefs, period. Grow up people - vote with your feet or dollars. Don't support the organization he works for, protest. If you're an artist, do not make your talent or intellectual property avaialble to those who support causes you disagree with. Fight fire with water, not with fire. Please.

Anonymous said...

What has happend to Eckern is a true hate crime and I am sickened by it.

Is this how WE would want to be treated for exercising our rights?

I'm afraid this attack on him will set the cause back many years.

For God sake people: this is the kind of treatment that that we fought against for so long!

Anonymous said...

People posting seem think contributing to prop 8 is merely a matter of political views. Once upon a time segregation was merely a matter of political view. Political views can be wrong. Discriminating against homosexuals is wrong... and voting for discrimination is wrong. I'm shocked that people seem to think its wrong to boycott this kind of discrimination.

ladyviking said...

Scott Eckern has come under the vilest attack from some of the most morally bankrupt people on the planet.

Scott is more than entitled to his beliefs, I applaud his actions and hope he will have a wonderful future. He needs no redemption.

Anonymous said...

It is very ignorant to suppose that gay marraige will not hurt anyone. I see it with those who make their living in the wedding business. A refusal=lawsuit if it is made legal. This is a fact! Scott is only one casualty. There will be more. It is sad to see that behind the beautiful unions and gay pride there is an evil passion to see heads roll. You must admit there is some joy in what you are doing to those in support of Prop 8??? That's a question. I love Elton John's position. I think I'll buy some of his song in iTunes right now.

Anonymous said...

Imagine you got married in the state of California. Later on, someone put a measure on the ballot that would annul your marriage. The measure subsequently passes. Wouldn't you be pissed? Wouldn't you think the measure had no business being on the ballot in the first place?

This is precisely what happened to gay couples who got married in California! Don't tell me Prop 8 doesn't take away gay rights or isn't hateful of gays. The state of California accepted payment from gay couples, granted marriage licenses, and then revoked them. Why? Because the couples are gay!

I've personally met Scott. I don't think he meant to harm anyone. But, his support for Prop 8 was stupid, bigoted, and motivated by the desire to impose his religious values on others.

I respect Scott's abilities in theatre. I can also understand why Scott would feel he should resign his position.

There is no witch hunt out to get Scott. But ask yourself, does it make sense to tolerate intolerance? If you do, the intolerance will go unchallenged and would likely grow worse. If you don't, you introduce some intolerance, sure--but only for the purpose of challenging a greater intolerance (i.e. intolerance with a genuine content--like curtailing existing rights of gays).

Perhaps for Scott hindsight is now approaching 20/20. Scott's lack-of-thought, consideration, or whatever you wish to call it, has hurt many members of the theatre community. These same people, in time, will almost certainly fondly recall when Scott performed great services in advancement of musical theatre.

Anonymous said...

to all those who are saying that Eckern is entitled to his religious beliefs, and we should tolerate them , I'm sorry, but no. If your "religious beliefs" interfere with my personal life then I have every right to question them. Do we tolerate the religious beliefs of Islamic fundamentalists? No, because they interfere with ours.

Nick said...

Do you people actually think that over 50% of the people who voted 'yes' on prop 8 were religious? Do you think that everyone who supported yes on prop 8 were religiously motivated? I think not.

I cant imagine if straight people in this world would boycott anything because somebody supported gay marriage. It would be a disaster. On the same side, why even consider boycotting anything Scott is involved in, because he supported the 'Yes' vote?

I sincerely hope Scott can continue his career without being the subject of this witch hunt for a scapegoat.

I also hope people can find the decency in their hearts to continue to support the work of those in the gay and lesbian community.

Anonymous said...

My church and the worldwide Christian organization with which my church is affiliated bless gay and lesbian couples in marriage. It is Mr. Eckern's right to believe differently, in accordance with the teachings of his church.

However, Mr. Eckern's first amendment rights end at creating laws that favor his religious beliefs over mine.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." A law based solely on the religious beliefs of a public majority which denies rights to a minority class is illegal.

Anonymous said...

The point is - Scott is a living example of how straights treat gays. Discriminated against, many times, wrongly and without just cause. It should be a lesson to him. Hate breeds hate.