High school musicals are being banned and censored due to extreme anti-LGBTQ+ laws

high school theatre

Students across the US are having their school plays cancelled or edited due to growing anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and the introduction of repressive legislation that targets the queer community.

An investigation by The Washington Post found that student plays from James and the Giant Peach to Rent have been cancelled in states across America in 2023, with school boards citing drag-inspired costumes and LGBTQ+ characters as reasons for editing out content – or banning productions entirely.

The Washington Post spoke to students in Ohio who had their production of the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee altered this year due to the school board reportedly objecting to a character who has two dads, swearwords and a song about erections. ohio

Musical director Vanessa Allen claimed she was asked to make more than “two dozen” edits to the musical – 12 edits were eventually made – before the play was allowed to go ahead, thankfully with the LGBTQ+ characters remaining unchanged.

“What we changed were individual words overwhelmingly and we mostly changed variations on the word ‘goddamnit’ or ‘damn it’,” said Rachel Sheinkin, one of the writers of the 2005 Broadway musical, who assisted Allen.

“We of course didn’t change anything to do with the gay dads … We didn’t change anything that affected the story or the characters.”

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The Washington Post highlighted several instances of productions being cancelled in schools across the US, with an Indiana school pulling the plug on a “gender-bending” version of Robin Hood due to its depiction of a same-sex couple and a non-binary character. 

The play, entitled Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood, was reportedly cancelled on the second day of auditions, with parents “upset” about the production’s LGBTQ+ characters. In its place, a parody play based on Harry Potter was staged at the school. 

Meadowe Freeman, an 18-year-old student at Carroll High School told the newspaper: “I think the [LGBTQ+] representation has been lost.

“And that’s sad because we were seeing more of these stories that weren’t told for so long, and now … they’re getting censored.”

Howard Sherman, managing director of the performing arts centre at Baruch College in New York, has been fighting efforts to cancel or edit school plays since 2011, and says anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has become “incredibly onerous” for students.

“You see politicians and officials enacting rules and laws which are incredibly onerous and designed to enforce a very narrow view of what students can see, read, learn or act on stage,” Sherman said.

In Florida, school plays are reportedly being cancelled explicitly due to the state’s Don’t Say Gay law, which restricts the discussion of LGBTQ+ identities in schools.

High school students at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Florida said in January that their performance of a play entitled Indecent, which includes a queer Jewish couple, was cancelled due to Don’t Say Gay.

Madeline Scotti, a student who was set to star in the play, told Teen Vogue: “It’s baffling that a show written about the detrimental effects of censorship is being censored.

“What about love should be censored? How is this impure?”

Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation continues to be introduced in states across the US, with many laws targeting gender-affirming care for young people, alongside attempts to ban drag performances and limit LGBTQ+ education for young people. 

In 2023 alone, the Human Rights Campaign has tracked more than 520 bills targeting the queer community in the US.