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BOOKS & THE CULTURE A Center Called Hope The Culture War Against Esperanza BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN OUT AT THE MOVIES: Seventh Annual Festival of Lesbian & Gay Films. September 23-26. Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, San Antonio. 6 w 6 e each must follow our own path,” insists A-lan, a young writer detained in a vice raid on the public toilets in a Beijing park. In East Palace, West Palace, he recounts the path that led him into the arms of a homophobic gendarme. The film \(which takes its name from local cruisers’ slang for the men’s rooms on either side of the Forbidden City in the Chiinto cinematic art. Infatuated with his interrogator, A-lan spends a single, intense night in police custody that mixes degradation and desire. In the subtle sadomasochism of prisoner and guard, it becomes difficult to determine which is the sadist, which the masochist. Advertised as the first gay feature from mainland China, East Palace, West Palace was an official selection for the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. But Zhang Yuan, a leading figure in the Sixth Generation of Chinese directors following the generation of Zhang Yimou \(Raise the and Chen Kaige \(Farewell did not accompany his film to France, because his passport had been confiscated. He dares to work outside sanctioned channels, on subjects that do not impress a repressive regime. Yet he told an interviewer in Beijing, “I love my country, and I love the Party, just as A-lan in my film loves that policeman.” East Palace, West Palace is one of the highlights of Out at the Movies, the seventh annual festival of lesbian and gay films, screened in San Antonio at the Guadalupe Theater September 23-26. Sponsored by the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and the San Antonio Lesbian & Gay Media Project, the festival is as beloved by the San Antonio City Council as is Zhang by the Beijing censors. On September 11, 1997, with no public discussion, the Council voted unanimously to eliminate all funding for the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and to reduce arts funding to all other organizations by 15 percent. Out at the Movies was probably a factor behind the special generosity extended Esperanza. But Council members were mute at the time and inconsistent later. Councilmember Robert Marbut, a champion of extending government support to professional sports and slashing it from the arts, told the San Antonio Express -News, “Esperanza’s problem is a lack of tourists. Any group that is not producing any tourists should not get any money.” Mayor Howard Peak complained to The New York Times that Esperanza, founded in 1987 to help create “a world where everyone has civil rights and economic justice, where the environment is cared for, where cultures are honored and communities are safe,” is too abrasive: “That group flaunts what it does it is an in-your-face organization. They are doing this to themselves.” What the Center did to Peak and the rest of City Council on August 4 was file suit against them in federal district court. Esperanza’s brief charges that the discriminatory elimination of funding infringes both the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It claims that Council’s actions violate Esperanza’s freedom of artistic and political expression, that they were taken without rational basis, out of prejudice and animus, and that the meeting itself violated the Texas Open Meetings Act. And it petitions the court to reinstate the $76,559 grant that was denied. Official reaction to the suit came September 3: on the advice of Assistant City Attorney Tom Bailey, a recommendation \(by the Coun be allocated $20,733 from the new budget was rescinded on the dubious grounds that the city cannot fund an agency currently litigating against it. If you are convinced that government is the concoction of socialists and satanists and that public spending on anything but missiles and missals is immoral, you naturally seek an end to state support of art. But it does not do to take on orchestras and museums first. Folks invest their civic pride and some tax dollars in organizations that call themselves the San Antonio Museum of Art and the San Antonio Symphony, and annual attendance at arts events exceeds even that for sports. Constituent loyalty to local institutions persuaded even conservative members of Congress to reauthorize the N.E.A. But the scrawny, spunky Esperanzitos are vulnerable. For all the optimism with which this center named for hope adopted a strategic plan “to provide programming which generates multi-issue multicultural community organizing while providing resources and space where the creation and presentation of the arts reflect the cultures of people in struggle,” it has itself been forced to struggle. Through talk shows, letters to the editor, and appearances before City Council, citizens who identify themselves as Christian and right have waged an effective campaign to smear and weaken Esperanza. “The Lord told me to speak to this body,” proclaimed Charles Labatt to City Council on August 31. “I oppose spending money on the Esperanza Center or any other group that supports the homosexual agenda.” Live from inside Council chambers, Christian broadcaster Adam McManus was urging radio listeners to come pack the room and oppose the “homosexual, liberal world view.” The proposal to fund Esperanza “is an item of great importance to those protecting family values!” warned a leaflet 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 25, 1998