My heart is sore. It may sound dramatic, but it’s true. It hurts because it feels like theatre is under attack from within – from one of our own. Or at least, one who should have been an ally.
At the weekend, a story about actor Seyi Omooba ran in the Mail on Sunday, which outlined her intention to start legal proceedings against Curve in Leicester following her removal from a production of The Color Purple for homophobic comments she made on Facebook.
That she had chosen the Mail, of all places, to share her story spoke volumes about how she was looking to frame the story. And the vile comments of support underneath highlighted who this spoke to. As I read the piece, about how she had been maligned and mistreated, my anger surged.
It started with the uproar earlier this year, after a historic post from performer and devout Christian Omooba surfaced in which she said she did not believe homosexuality is right. That people aren’t born gay. That instead it’s a choice people make – like following a religion, for example.
Understandably it sparked fury, not just from the LGBT+ community within theatre, but from their friends, employers and audiences. They wondered how this actor could share those beliefs publicly but still feel justified in accepting a role in which she would be portraying a lesbian in The Color Purple.
It felt downright hypocritical, and for an industry that supports and employs a large amount of LGBT+ people, it felt like a betrayal. So in light of the backlash, and placed into an extremely difficult position – co-producers Curve in Leicester and Birmingham Hippodrome – recast the role.
For a while, there was relief, a sense that some sort of justice had been served. But it didn’t last long.
Omooba, backed by her father’s Christian Concern organisation, has this week announced her intention to launch legal action against Curve, citing a breach of contract and anti-Christian discrimination.
I haven’t seen her contract, so am not in any position to comment on that. But the idea she has been discriminated against, that she is the victim, is laughable to me.
Surely it can’t be lost on her that through her Facebook post – one which she continues to stand by, despite having the opportunity to apologise for it or to retract it completely – she has discriminated against an entire community of people: the very people who were her colleagues, the people she had performed alongside, as well as people who had employed her and people who had paid to come and watch her in shows.
Freedom of speech – especially in theatre – needs to be upheld, it’s true. But when something is so hypocritical, so obviously in direct conflict with a role someone has committed to portraying and from which they stand to make a decent sum of money, it’s hard to swallow.
And it hurts. It really does. Speaking as a gay man, I’ve lost count of the homophobic incidents I’ve experienced. From the man who told my partner and me he was going to kill us at a tube station, to the men who called us “faggots” as we walked along during a weekend break, LGBT+ people live their lives wondering where the next attack will come from, who will be next to turn against them. And the world feels more volatile than ever right now. More unsafe.
In the past few years, my partner and I have been through the adoption process, and have welcomed our daughter into our lives. I want to do all I can to protect her, to make her safe, and to know that being raised by two gay men isn’t something to be ashamed of.
So while people like Omooba continue to spout such blinkered, bigoted views, it’s more important than ever that we come together to fight against homophobia, especially when it finds its way into an industry that is known for its tolerance and acceptance.
I feel deep sympathy with those LGBT+ performers who were sharing a stage with her and were aware of her views – even before the wider public were. They work in an industry where difference and acceptance is celebrated. They should not be the ones to be made to feel like they are outsiders. The outsider here is the person who harbours such dangerous and intolerant views.
On a personal level, I will be supporting Curve and its managers through the challenging times that undoubtedly lie ahead. And for the future of the industry, I’d say it’s on us all to do so.
Matthew Hemley is news editor of The Stage