April 2, 2008
ARTS COUNCIL DISORIENTATION
The Arts Council demand to know sexual orientation is dangerous and insulting
The proposal by the Arts Council to ask everyone applying for a grant to reveal - in the name of fostering “diversity” - his or her sexual orientation is grotesque. Little wonder that it has left actors, dancers and painters “speechless”. It beggars belief that a national body, purportedly aiming to increase support for culture and the arts, should have the impertinence to send out a form demanding to know, with bald effrontery, whether an applicant is “bisexual, gay, heterosexual, lesbian” or even, ludicrously, “not known”. It further beggars belief that a body that, more than most, should be sensitive to the complexity of human emotion and behaviour cannot see that such a question is a capricious invasion of privacy and a piece of prurience misguided in its intention and dangerous in its application.
The Arts Council has attempted to defend Question 22 in its application form on the ground that it needs to understand who its audience is and to whom its funding is going. The overall aim, the council argues, is to promote “diversity”, a term that it believes should encompass more than race, ethnicity, faith and disability. If this is the case, there seems to be a lamentable misunderstanding of the concept of diversity. Already the formulaic ticking of boxes to satisfy some notion that every institution must represent a microcosm of Britain's pluralistic society has become a bureaucratic nightmare, as unattainable as it is unenforceable. The aim of “diversity” is to include and celebrate as many strands and communities as appropriate; it is not some rigid quota to be used by every jobsworth vetting an application form. Nor should it be a crowbar to smash reticence or prise open privacy.
In the distant past, when political correctness was based on the supposed aim of protecting the vulnerable from insult or ensuring respect for the excluded, action was sometimes needed to protect gay people, as well as ethnic minorities, from discrimination. That is a very different from insisting that gays must be overtly represented in every social grouping. What on earth could be the aim of the Arts Council question? To ensure that one in every ten plays put on by a grant-supported theatre has a gay theme? Or that homosexual painters and dancers must be identified as such to reassure homosexual viewers and audiences? If so, this betrays a crass understanding of the interaction between society and the arts. What people do in bed has almost no relevance to how they perceive a painting or interpret music. Apart from a few professional activists, homosexuals do not view their lives, values and ideals solely through the prism of sexual orientation. Far from celebrating diversity, such categorisation harks back instead to one-dimensional stereotyping and the crudest form of bigotry.
Only a year ago, James Purnell, then the Culture Secretary, promised to relieve arts organisations of the burden of meeting crude targets as a condition of funding. His department and his successor distanced themselves yesterday from the uproar. They should go farther and tell the Arts Council that its questions are as intrusive and unacceptable as the questions that used to be asked of US visa applicants or by homophobic employers. It is only a matter of time before the lists are leaked and the demagogues campaign against public money for queer culture. Question 22 should be scrapped forthwith.
One would like to think that this wouldn't happen in New Zealand. Perhaps the matter should be raised with Creative New Zealand?