Controversy over the “exclusively gay moment” in the live-action musical remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast offers a glimpse of what many gay people experience growing up in church, leaders of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists commented March 16 in an open letter addressed to a character in the fairytale classic.
“We want you to know that we love you and support you as you are!” leaders of the network of more than 100 congregations that fully include members regardless of sexual orientation told LeFou. The character is the bumbling sidekick to the villainous Gaston and is described as “Disney’s first, unambiguously gay character” prior to today’s release of the film in 4,210 theaters across the country.
Director Bill Condon says LeFou has an “exclusively gay moment” in the PG-rated movie.
“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Condon told the gay magazine Attitude. “He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings.”
AWAB Executive Director Catherine Chapman, board chair-elect David Key and Baptist minister Bojangles Blanchard said LeFou isn’t alone.
“Determining your sexual orientation and/or gender identity can be challenging in even the most supportive circumstances,” the trio said in their open letter. “Navigating through that process in front of millions of others including your boss or bosses influencing how you should act and other religious groups condemning and shaming you makes it even more complicated and painful for you.”
Disney isn’t giving away what the “gay moment” is, but family movie critic Ted Baehr described “gratuitous politically correct homosexual references that are on the nose, out of place and in your face.”
Evangelist Franklin Graham said Disney is “trying to push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children.”
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., called it a “shocking” case of “entertainment with an agenda … to reach eyes and ears and hearts and minds directed at children.”
Ninety-five percent of respondents to an online poll by Faith Driven Consumer said they are less likely to see Beauty and the Beast because of Disney’s decision to include a gay scene.
One Million Moms, a division of the American Family Association, launched an online petition pledging to “not support Disney unless they produce family-friendly entertainment.”
AWAB leaders said people “being persecuted before their identity is even confirmed” need a mentor to guide them through the process. They recommended a forthcoming book, A Brief Guide to Ministry with LGBTQIA Youth, by Cody Sanders, pastor of Old Cambridge Baptist Church and American Baptist chaplain at Harvard University.
“Whoever you are — cisgender, gay, queer or transgender — we will love you!” AWAB leaders said at the end of the letter. “If you are not Baptist, we can even connect you with welcoming and affirming leaders in other denominations and faiths. As you move forward, LeFou, know that God loves you for who you are and that we do as well!”
The Southern Baptist Convention boycotted Disney in a 1997 resolution, mainly because of the entertainment company’s decision to give benefits to companions of gay and lesbian employees. The boycott ended in 2005, with a resolution saying the effort had “communicated effectively our displeasure concerning products and policies that violate moral righteousness and traditional family values.”
The complete text of the AWAB leaders’ letter follows:
We want you to know that we love you and support you as you are!
Determining your sexual orientation and/or gender identity can be challenging in even the most supportive circumstances. Navigating through that process in front of millions of others including your boss or bosses influencing how you should act and other religious groups condemning and shaming you makes it even more complicated and painful for you.
We want to offer you a compassionate space to reflect on who you are with experienced mentors who have been where you are. Reverend Cody Sanders is the author of the forthcoming book A Brief Guide to Ministry with LGBTQIA Youth. Reverend Bojangles Blanchard is an advocate for the LGBTQ community especially those like you who are being persecuted before their identity is even confirmed and was part of the landmark Supreme Court decision ensuring marriage equality.
LeFou, as a welcoming and affirming community of faith, we want to give you a copy of Reverend Sanders’ book and the opportunity to work with a compassionate and understanding minister from one of our churches to help you move through this journey. Like Cinderella and her slipper or Goldilocks and her bed, we know that finding the right mentor takes time and patience, and we are willing to find you that mentor from among countless possibilities.
Whoever you are — cisgender, gay, queer, or transgender — we will love you! If you are not Baptist, we can even connect you with welcoming and affirming leaders in other denominations and faiths. As you move forward LeFou, know that God loves you for who you are and that we do as well!
In Christ’s Love,
Rev. Bojangles Blanchard, Itinerant Baptist Minister, Creator/Leader True Colors Ministry
Rev. Dr. David W. Key, Sr., Chair-Elect, AWAB Board of Directors
Catherine Chapman, Executive Director, AWAB