Promoting a Sexuality: Law and Lesbian and Gay Visual Culture in America
This essay examines the relationship between lesbian and gay cultural representations and state funding of the production of culture in America. In particular, it looks at how, in the late 1980s, culture became a flashpoint of political and legal controversy centring upon the representation of sexual minorities. Arguments over the merits of particular cultural artifacts have occurred throughout the era of public funding. In recent years, though, the attacks on funding have become far more vigorous and sustained. As a consequence, cultural funding has been placed squarely on the political agenda. The debates surrounding funding have focused primarily on photography, performance art, comic strips and written description. What links these different media is that the content in question was read within dominant culture as ‘homosexual’ and, therefore, as obscene and indecent. The public funding context is particularly interesting because the discourses that surround the production of culture and constraints on its funding are not framed simply in terms of libertarian conceptions of free speech versus state censorship of expression. Rather, critics of public funding argue in favour of the public’s right to oversee the expenditure of tax dollars and to make determinations of how revenue is spent. The central claim is that the public has a right to refuse to fund the creation of cultural representations which the vast majority view as offensive, obscene and indecent. At the same time, a second argument is made that emphasizes the rights of a religious minority of fundamentalist Christians to not be required to pay for cultural production which runs counter to the tenets of their faith. Furthermore, it is argued that government must make decisions all the time on what projects are worthy of its support, given that resources are necessarily limited. Is it not reasonable to discriminate on the basis of what the general public finds objectionable? Should taxpayers be forced to pay for culture that ‘mocks’ them, holds them in contempt, and discriminates against them based upon their religious beliefs? Of course, the makers of these arguments also claim to represent the voice of ‘middle America’ confronting the perceived elites-the urban art establishment, intellectuals and gay politicos.