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Op-ed: Public-funded arts and humanities essential, and the LGBTQ community knows it

Published March 22, 2017 4:51 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Last week, the president released his budget, and it's an egregious attack on the poor, the elderly, the arts, the environment, humanities, public broadcasting, museums, libraries and, well, progress in general. While his ideas of what matters most in this country remain horrific, the unity and bipartisan efforts he's catalyzing are truly inspired!

So, as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) sit on the budgetary chopping block, lawmakers across the nation — from the left and the right — are coming together in the fight to keep them safe. And the LGBTQ community is joining the charge.

We're showing up in Washington, D.C., and contacting our lawmakers en masse because we know our movement's incredible pace of change is a result of the diverse, sustained telling of our stories. Famous LGBTQ activist Harvey Milk encouraged us all to come out, because when we share our lives and experiences, we build collective empathy.



But, if only some groups can afford to create art and share their stories, we eliminate an important vehicle through which Americans broaden and deepen their understanding of one another and society. This is why it's of particular importance that funding from the NEA and NEH reaches every state and congressional district in the nation and targets communities of particular need. Forty percent of the NEA's grants are used in high-poverty neighborhoods, with 36 percent helping underserved populations, including veterans, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community.

Take, for example, the NEA-funded play "HIR," which is slated for the 2017-18 season at Salt Lake Acting Company, an NEA-funded local theatre. This comedy about a Marine who returns from his tour of duty to a sister transitioning genders was written by rising star performance artist and playwright Taylor Mac, who was brought to SLC earlier this year by UtahPresents, also a recipient of NEA funding. That means the $40,000 given to support "HIR" will have a local impact on Utah audiences and will increase the visibility of transgender people — right at a time when we find ourselves fighting political and social battles to expand the rights and protections for trans* Utahns.

And then there's the NEH-supported collection called ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, the largest research library dedicated to preserving LGBTQ history. And the Gerber Hart Library and Archives, which ensures that LGBTQ history from the Midwest, in addition to the coastal areas, is preserved.

At their core, these programs exist to ensure that our stories are told and our history is recorded. It is because of these very programs, that we have increased exposure and quickened progress — because more lawmakers in more states have had the chance to understand our lives, our challenges, our uniqueness and, thus, our humanity.

Plus, the kind of thinkers we create in the arts and humanities fuel the innovation of all disciplines and realms of life. These agencies support more than just arts and culture. They support creativity, and creativity is what fuels innovation.

So, it's time, again, friends, for us to rise up. We must fight the fallacy that these programs are too expensive to save, when in fact they cost less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the country's annual federal budget. Yet, their impact is immeasurable undoubtedly fuels positive change.

And beyond being affordable, the arts and humanities, and the agencies created to preserve them, have cultural and economic benefits that positively impact all Americans, in ways more varied and important than we may ever even know.

So, call now, and call often. Together, we can all be part of our community's progress and preservation.

Troy Williams is the executive director of Equality Utah. Raymond Tymas-Jones is a member of the Board of Directors for Equality Utah and the associate vice president for the arts at the University of Utah and the dean of the College of Fine Arts.

 

 

 

 

 

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