Group denies homophobia after billboard sparks outrage

Tara Bradbury
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Opera on the Avalon is refuting accusations of homophobia, saying it is an inclusive organization and longtime supporter of the local LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.

Opera on the Avalon’s billboard promoting its upcoming production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was removed Wednesday, after some complained it had a homophobic message.
— Photo by Tara Bradbury/The Telegram

The opera company has been criticized for a billboard advertising its coming production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” featuring the tagline, “Filled with more fairies than St. John’s on Pride Day.” The sign, which was located on Bonaventure Avenue, across from the Re/Max Centre, was taken down Wednesday afternoon.

“It wasn’t meant to be hurtful or harmful,” explained Opera on the Avalon artistic director Cheryl Hickman. “It was supposed to be witty. We are horrified, because it was never our intention to offend anyone, and we apologize to anyone we may have offended.”

Hickman said the organization made the decision to remove the billboard, no matter what the cost, as soon as it received the first complaint about it. She told The Telegram she feels the offence taken at the billboard was likely due to a misunderstanding of the opera art form, which celebrates life and people in big themes, much like pride parades.

“I have read the comments on Facebook and Twitter, and so many of the people who have commented are people who have never been to any of our shows and many of them didn’t even know Newfoundland had an opera company until now,” she said. “We would never make fun of anyone in the gay and lesbian community, and we have been great supporters of the LGBT community. When you look at our track record of employment, you can see that. We are one of the places where people in the gay and lesbian community are safe. When I do a show, as a heterosexual, I really am in the minority.”

St. John’s resident Ryan Crocker, a member of the LGBT community, said he raised an eyebrow at the billboard, but isn’t personally offended, given the intent of the poster.

“It was a little bit of a miss, but given the organization, I knew it was an innocent mistake. It’s not a big deal, and it’s all been sorted out,” he said.

Noah Davis-Power, former president of St. John’s Pride Inc., has an entirely different view, and didn’t make any bones about it. He called the billboard disgusting, and Hickman’s comments in the media embarrassing.

“It’s not the intent that they had behind this sign that’s the issue. It’s the fact that they are apologizing, not saying they understand what they did wrong, but they are apologizing that people are actually taking offence and pointing it out,” he said. “‘Fairy’ is still a bully word. It targets flamboyant gay men, and the last time I checked, I don’t leave a trail of pixie dust when I walk.”

Musician Glenn Nuotio, who says he has listened to opera for more than 20 years — and who was called names as a kid for playing classical music — agreed.

“The suggestion that people who don’t know opera were the ones complaining is an insensitive tone-deaf response when you’re not actually sorry, you just got caught because you suddenly learned it was offensive,” he said in a written statement. “I can take a joke and make even better use of dark humour myself in my own songwriting and performances, but I’m not putting signs on highways or utilizing stereotypes and hurtful words to get noticed by the status quo.

“Without sounding like too much like a dramatic diva myself, I actually teared up a little when I saw that sign, and I don’t care how much of a God damn fairy that makes me, because I’ve been reminded that my love of opera makes me one for life.”

The billboard was taken down Wednesday afternoon and replaced with one advertising Opera on the Avalon’s upcoming production of “La Boheme,” with the message, “Love, despair, poverty, intermission, illness, death.”

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Max Centre, Pride Inc.

Geographic location: Bonaventure Avenue, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Mikes
    April 24, 2014 - 14:57

    As a gay man living in St. John's im more insulted by the over the top reaction by LBGT activist groups.They do not speak for me or any of my gay friends who loved the billboard. Props to the Opera for for its tongue in cheek advertisment and its shout out to gay pride. And the language police AKA DRAMA QUEENS need to chill out.You dont speak for me or any of my gay friends.

  • Lighten Up
    April 24, 2014 - 09:20

    Take it in the context in which it was meant. Tinker Bell wasn't one of Shakespeare’s characters, but she is a fairy. I thought it was hilarious.

    April 24, 2014 - 04:55

    "misunderstanding of the opera art form, which celebrates life and people in big themes, much like pride parades" This is what all 'dog whistlers' say, isn't it all just one huge, ungoing misunderstanding - no offense? Or is it 'God Whistlers'...this is not Wagner or Puccini - it's Bill Shakespear for crissakes! From WIKI: "In England, opera's antecedent was the 17th century jig. This was an afterpiece which came at the end of a play. It was frequently libellous and scandalous and consisted in the main of dialogue set to music arranged from popular tunes." Can't escape the roots of jig-time, eh? "never make fun of anyone in the gay and lesbian community" This is patronizingly shallow and dismissive. You can make fun of someone, with wit (see Mr. Shakespeare), and not be an idiot about it. Ascribing predicates, and reinforcing stereotypes through mainstream broadcasting placards is not ribbing your friends guys, sorry, it just isn't, it's something else entirely."We are one of the places where people in the gay and lesbian community are safe" more whistling from south of dixieland here, as to imply danger lurks everywhere for gays in NL (message?:don't move here?) except within the opera that most people don't even know about, as an art form....(Got elitists?)...conflates those who can afford to go, if only to appear cultured, with those who appreciate the artform? Wonderful predicate to ascribe yourselves. "an innocent mistake" is when you forget to hold the door open for someone. This is beyond FUBAR as far as marketing goes. What about a production of The Merchant of Venice.... you can see where I am going with this......"Hath not Mr. Marshall eyes?" Get your tickets for the big one! A more cagey Shylock than even the tarp on Confederation Hill can coverup. Something offensive like that, would not go over well, but bigoted people would laugh, and suddenly find culture. Let's get our wits about us dingbats. This line of petty cultural ribbing is unconstructive. Please don't turn us into early 90's 'Howard Australia' GROSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!