Saturday, June 26, 2010

George Bernard Shaw and Gay Rights

George Bernard Shaw was a fierce advocate for human rights. Consider this story from David Staller, founder and artistic director of the Gingold Theatrical Group.

In 1889, London, a man who described himself as a 'conservative minister' was arrested as an accomplice in the operation of a house of male prostitution. A trial was quietly and without notice, carried out. Then a publication called TRUTH broke the story as a sensational cover-up with promises to name names. Various well-known aristocrats were being threatened with penal servitude, blackmail and death-threats. Finally, some names were printed with the expected summons to law. With the solemn understanding that the crime in question involved adults and not children, Shaw recognized this as a violation of basic human rights and wrote to the editor of the threatening newspaper.

"I am sorry to have to ask you to allow me to mention what everybody declares unmentionable. My justification shall be that we may presently be saddled with the moral responsibility for monstrously severe punishments inflicted not only on persons who have corrupted children, but on others whose conduct, however nasty and ridiculous, has been perfectly within their admitted rights as individuals. To a fully occupied person in normal health, with due opportunities for a healthy social enjoyment, the mere idea of the subject of the threatened prosecutions is so expressively disagreeable as to appear unnatural. But everybody does not find it so. There are among us highly respected citizens who have been expelled from public schools for giving effect to the contrary opinion; and there are hundreds of others who might have been expelled on the same ground had they been found out. Greek philosophers, otherwise of unquestioned virtue, have differed with us on the point. So have soldiers, sailors, convicts, and in fact members of all communities deprived of intercourse with women. A whole series of Balzac's novels turns upon attachments formed by galley slaves for one another - attachments which are represented as redeeming them from utter savagery. Women, from Sappho onwards, have shown that this appetite is not confined to one sex. Now, I do not believe myself to be the only man in England acquainted with these facts. And I strongly protest against any journalist writing, as nine out of ten are at this moment dipping their pens to write, as if he had never heard of such things except as vague and sinister rumors concerning the most corrupt phases in the decadence of Babylon, Greece and Rome. I appeal now to the champions of individual rights to join me in a protest against a law by which two adult men can be sentenced to twenty years penal servitude for a private act, freely consented to and desired by both, which concerns themselves alone. There is absolutely no justification for the law except the old theological one of making the secular arm the instrument of God's vengeance. It is a survival from that discarded system with its stonings and burnings; and it survives because it is so unpleasant that men are loath to meddle with it even with the object of getting rid of it, lest they should be suspected of acting in their personal interest. We are now free to face with the evil of our relic of Inquisition law, and of the moral cowardice, which prevents our getting rid of it. For my own part, I protest against the principle of the law under which the warrants have been issued; and I hope that no attempt will be made to enforce its outrageous penalties in the case of adult men."

-- George Bernard Shaw (see COLLECTED LETTERS edited by Dan H. Laurence, p.230)

George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 ~ 2 November 1950) was born in Dublin and moved to London when twenty. His first success was as a music and literary critic, but he was drawn to drama. He decided to write plays, and continued to write them until his death at 94. He was fiercely proud of being a free-thinking humanist, dedicated to presenting the cause of human rights for all.

Project Shaw is the Gingold Theatrical Group's monthly staged reading of the complete works of George Bernard Shaw. Between 2006 and 2009, every sketch, full-length and one-act play was performed using all-star casts. Many of these plays had never before been seen in New York, or anywhere in this country. This constitutes more than 60 of Shaw’s plays, all performed to sold out audiences.

The next Project Shaw performances will be Man and Superman on July 19th, Candida on September 27, Captain Brassbound's Conversion on October 25, How He Lied to Her Husband on November 22, and Heartbreak House on December 20th.

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