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Angel and Collins

Last week I hosted a showing of the Broadway musical Rent for my 11th grade music class. Rent tells the story of eight New Yorkers whose lives become connected during the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s. It addresses several hot-button themes including drug use, homosexuality, homelessness, HIV and gentrification. It’s an OK movie. The students like the drama and I like some of the songs.

For the first hour of the video, the class had been largely sympathetic to the plight of the main characters, even when one of the male characters showed up dressed in a Mrs. Claus costume. But when the two gay characters, Angel and Collins, share their first and only man kiss, an 11th grade boy, who had remained silent for the first hour of the video, shouted “Ohhh! Ohhhhh! That is just wrong!”

The class erupted, some voicing support and others disgust at what they’d just witnessed.

I said: “You live in New York in 2010. You’ll all need to get used to that.”

The boy who spoke out said “A man should not kiss another man!” Upon further pressing he said: “It’s in the Bible. It’s in all the bibles.”

“All the bibles?” I asked.

“Yea. It’s in the Koran, too.”

The class didn’t quiet down. I raised my voice to bring some college-educated focus to the debate: “The bible only forbids homosexuality in one verse of Leviticus. Leviticus also says that disobedient children should be brought to the town square to be stoned. It says that a woman who is raped should be put to death along with her rapist. Do you believe that, too?”

One of the girls got up and slapped me a high five.

The boy said: “Disobedient children should be stoned!”

“And the rape victim?” I replied.

He quieted down.

I said: “If you use part of the bible to defend your belief that homosexuality is an abomination, you can’t just throw out the rest. It’s an ancient text. Leviticus also says eating shellfish is an abomination. Should you go to hell for enjoying a crab cake?”

The class laughed, and he replied “Well, maybe you should.”

Although he was unconvinced, I felt like I scored a small victory for tolerance. After all, I don’t think many teenagers really question what they’re taught by their parents and their peers.

But felt dissatisfied afterwards. By my logical argument, if I am going to use the fucked up parts of Leviticus to defend homosexuality, I should know exactly what I am talking about. I’ve never actually read it; I only know the worst parts of it thanks to my quick reading of The Brick Testament.

And so tonight, I commit to reading Leviticus. The whole thing. Cover to Cover. We’ll see how it goes.