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Vandal Defaces LGBTQ Center's Mural in Tulsa, Oklahoma

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday July 24, 2019

A vandal with a spray can struck in the middle of the night, defacing a recently-painted mural of gay playwright Lynn Riggs on the wall of the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, reports local ABC affiliate KJRH.

The building houses Oklahomans for Equality, an organization that offers a number of LGBTQ resources, events, and other forms of community support.

The vandal spray-painted crisscrossing lines across the mouth of Riggs' image, as if to silence the playwright, and scrawled the word "abomination" across the mural's rainbow-hued backdrop.

The word is an apparent reference to the biblical Book of Leviticus, an Old Testament book that contains several directives intended for ancient followers of the Jewish faith. Among the book's proscriptions are the wearing of blended fabrics, the cooking of meat and dairy items in the same dish (cheeseburgers would qualify), and the eating of shellfish (such as crab, shrimp, or lobster).

But it is the passage that seems to condemn sex between men that anti-gay religious people most frequently point to. The passage — a mistranslation of the original language — says that sex between men is an "abomination," and calls for men who have sex with men to be put to death, assuring readers that "their blood will be upon them" — an early example of blaming the victim.

Biblical scholars, however, dispute that the passage as intended as a ban on gay sex for all men everywhere, and posit that the meaning of the original word would be better translated as "taboo," meaning a proscription limited to members of the faith.

Scholars also say that it is not any morality around sexual act that is the point of the passage, but rather a way of defining the conduct of the faith tradition's adherents; ancient religions used to include sex rites at their temples, and the proscription, scholars suggest, was intended to clarify and codify differences between the Jewish faith (an early monotheistic religion) and pagan rites of the time.

The act of willful defilement of art (and property damage) was documented in a June 23 Facebook post by Oklahomans for Equality.

"On Monday, July 22nd, at 11:14 p.m. the Lynn Riggs Memorial Mural at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, the home of Oklahomans for Equality, was vandalized and under Oklahoma law, this is not a hate crime," the post noted.

"Lynn Riggs, a celebrated, gay playwright, was not silenced during his lifetime and we will not be silenced during ours," the post continues. "This is why we continue to fight and speak up against hate."

A subsequent post included surveillance footage that clearly shows the perpetrator engaged in defacing the mural.

"This is the video footage taken from our security cameras of last night's vandalism.," the July 23 follow-up post reads. "It is clear that this is meant to scare and silence our community.

"What happened last night would be considered a hate crime in thirty-one states, but not Oklahoma," the post reiterates.

Media reports said that the surveillance footage indicated the attack took place at about 11:15 on the evening of July 22.

Local ABD affiliate Chanel 8 reported that the timing of the mural's completion had been aligned with this year's Pride celebrations.

Watch the surveillance footage of the hate crime taking place below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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