December 10, 2023

Ian Donley: Banning ‘Angels in America’ in Temecula

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A drama teacher at Temecula Valley High School was put on administrative leave for assigning Angels in America. Writing for The Progressive, Ian Donley looks into the story.

In May, Greg Bailey, a drama teacher at Temecula Valley High School in Temecula, California, was placed on administrative leave for (allegedly) forcing a student to read Tony Kushner’s Angels in America for a class assignment, which the mother of the student claimed that her child didn’t want to read.

The play explores hard-hitting LGBTQ+ issues from a historical and practical standpoint—subject matter that Bailey insists he explained to the students when making the assignment. Also, Bailey claims Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire were two other plays students were allowed to choose from.

Nevertheless, the Temecula school board, dominated by a recently-elected slate of three conservatives, voted to place Bailey on leave. The same members had made national headlines in July for rejecting a state social studies curriculum for including the slain gay activist Harvey Milk.

Students and parents rallied in support of Bailey, and he was allowed to return to the classroom when classes resumed in the fall. But as a politically centrist LGBTQ+ person, I find that critical issues are getting lost in this polarized debate over school curricula, and students’ interests and their education are being ill-served.

According to Bailey, the student’s mother never talked to him directly about the play. She alleges she emailed Bailey and never received a reply from him nor the school. Bailey, in response, says the mother never reached out to him nor did she ever approach him and just went straight to the school board.

Since Temecula’s new school board took charge in January 2023, the “conservative majority” have entered with a political agenda, making appearances on “Fox and Friends” to discuss critical race theory and its ban in the district. The conservative majority have been backed by the 412 Church, which is run by Pastor Tim Thompson, who labeled Bailey as a “groomer.” This situation falls in line with the conversation on what is appropriate and inappropriate for students to read. It’s important to look at both sides.

Growing up, I found that queer representation was scarce. Any representation I did see was based on stereotypes perpetuated by Hollywood. From the gay cowboys married to women in Brokeback Mountain to the overly feminine twinks of Another Gay Movie, Hollywood only gave us the extremes because that’s what was marketable.

To Tony Kushner’s credit, Angels in America goes beyond this. The characters are well-rounded and don’t solely rely on an outdated monolith. Kushner’s character development alone is enough for educators to assign students to analyze the play. But, for me personally,  it feels redundant to have most LGBTQ+ students experience with LGBTQ+ material in school be a play that doesn’t given them a modern perspective.

Read the full piece here. 

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