NO secret was made of the fact that a version of The Nutcracker, staged in Chicago in November, featured a gay couple. Indeed, it was well publicised that the main parents of the main character, Clara, were in a same-sex relationship.
But a woman chaperoning a group of Catholic school pupils from the Notre Dame Academy in Toledo, Ohio, only learned of the fact when she read in the programme of Clara’s gay married parents. Jessica Beaverson immediately took fright and and escorted the students out of The House Theatre.
News that students were told to leave the theatre broke when alum Carly McGoldrick wrote on Facebook:
The chaperone in question (Jessica Beaverson, the new Dean of Students) became concerned and contacted other members of the administration who were not on the trip (Sarah Cullum, the new Principal, and Andrea Zimmerman, Dean of Academics), who then encouraged her to escort the students from the performance, which they payed for. (Or rather, their parents paid for. The trip is not free.)
Other chaperones (as well as students) expressed their extreme reluctance to no avail, and the group of about 30 people marched out of the auditorium approximately 5 minutes before curtain. Obviously, this caused a massive disturbance and resulted in confusion throughout the theater (as well as a jarring clump of empty seats).
In a statement, the President of Notre Dame Academy in Ohio, Kim Grilliot, said the chaperones’ decision to remove students over the inclusion of gay characters was a mistake. Grilliot wrote on Facebook:
We apologize for our decision for 8th graders leave to a performance of The Nutcracker before it began due to casting choices. The mistake is contrary to our inclusive spirit and reminds us our actions should affirm that we are all God’s children.
To clarify what happened, the decision was made for the NDA eighth graders to leave a performance of The Nutcracker before it began because upon arrival they discovered that the producer had chosen to cast two men as the main character’s parents. However, the Spirit of Inclusion statement adopted by the NDA Board of Trustees in 2014 affirms that we in the Notre Dame Academy community welcome all into our Gospel community including but not limited to people of all colors, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender expression, abilities, economic classes and nationalities.We consider the decision to not attend the performance a mistake and sincerely apologize to anyone we offended. The action does not reflect NDA’s true values.
Rest assured we will redouble our efforts to live up to our inclusion statement. Sometimes we teach our children as much from our mistakes as from our successes.
We view this as a chance to teach our students the value of taking ownership of one’s mistakes and to reaffirm that our community is committed to inclusion.
But Patrick Reilly, above,President of the Cardinal Newman Society, which “promotes and defends faithful Catholic education,” called the incident a tragic example of an inclusion statement causing serious harm, despite good intentions.
Bristling with mean-mindedness and intolerance, he trumpeted:
The chaperones did exactly what any Catholic educator should do: removing students from a scandalous situation without discriminating against anyone. The school leadership’s response was shameful and raises serious questions about the authenticity of the formation at this school.
For their part, students painted the school’s “spirit rock” in rainbow colors with the message that “God loves u.”
Nathan Allen, artistic director of Chicago’s House Theatre which produced the The Nutcracker performance, said the school had made a similar apology to the theater company. He commented to the Chicago Tribune:
All in all it was sad, confusing and embarrassing for the students and chaperones. The leadership at the theater at that performance did a wonderful job by encouraging them to talk about it.
The family in ‘The Nutcracker,’ is always a gesture of how we can include all Chicagoans. In the 10th anniversary of the show this year, we were really excited because we have never done this before.
Allen said the show has invited Notre Dame’s eighth graders back to see The Nutcracker.
Robert Shine, of New Ways Ministry, wrote last week:
That invitation is an opportunity for reconciliation where school administrator’s can enact their stated commitment to inclusion and can teach students how to own one’s mistakes and rectify them so justice is done.