Moderator: Ray Anne Lockard, Frick Fine Arts Library, University of Pittsburgh
Sponsors: Gay and Lesbian Interests Round Table and the Diversity Committee
Censorship continues to plague artists, bookstore owners, librarians
and the public. Such cases have mounted in both number and vigor since
the rise of the conservative religious right movement in the United States
and the Butler Decision in Canada. The censorship issue usually involves
sexually explicit images and the debate about "aesthetic value" and/or
It is no coincidence that many of the censored materials are also expressive of lesbian/gay sex.
The first speaker was Janine Fuller, manager of Little Sisters Art and
Book Emporium. She gave a history of the store which opened in 1983 featuring
lesbian and gay material. The three owners initially had no censorship
problem, however, in 1985 the first seizure occurred at Christmas time.
1986 marked the first court case over "The Advocate" all copies of which
Canadian Customs had incinerated after seizing. In 1990 the BC Civil Liberties Assoc. took on the Customs in a court case which saw three delays in four years. The Butler Law which redefined pornography was cited by BC lawyers as reasons for dismissal. In 1994 there was finally a court hearing and in 1996 a judge ruled in favor of the bookstore. The BC Court of
Appeal decided in 1998 that people had the right to read what they want and in 1999 the bookstore was given the right to go to the Supreme Court. The hypocrisy of Customs was that a regular bookstore brought in the same titles such as Forbidden Passages, an anthology, and Anal Pleasure & Health, which has information on AIDS. Two of the most banned authors are John Preston and Pat Califia. The bookstore has spent thousands of dollars on defending themselves and the right of people to read what they want. Janine ended by reading two passages from banned books.
Dr. Becki Ross, Professor of Womens Studies and Sociology, University
of British Columbia, was the second speaker. The title of her talk was
"Whose Arousal? Whose Fantasy? Whose Sexual Citizenship: Witnessing the
Adjudication of Desire." She has testified at many trials including the
Little Sisters trials. Her focus was on the censorship of the lesbian S
& M magazine Bad Attitudes which featured photos of women in bondage.
Throughout the talk, images of from Madonna's book Sex and Bad Attitudes
Dr. Ross stressed nine points in her talk:
1. Lawyers need to work with expert witnesses and social scientists in order to show the difference between porn and harm to women. There must be empirical evidence of homosexuality and community acceptance.
2. Departments of sociology and law need to implement courses on being an expert witness.
3. Community support needs to be visible in a courtroom- sheer numbers must be there - they must be packed with sympathizers.
4. Defense of artists or literary merit is limited- art vs smut, high vs low culture.
5. Librarians, curators and archivists have a responsibility to buy and preserve pornographic materials - acquisition would make it available and legitimize it.
6. Each one of us needs to begin investigating our own ideas of want, shame & arousal.
7. Lawyers need to be knowledgeable about S & M fantasy and play.
8. More sophisticated critiques of racism and sexism in porn.
9. Legal and cultural defense of porn needs to be made along with defense of sex workers.
Dr. Ross stresses that lesbians and gays stand outside the public; that
we don't fully belong and that we need to fight for the right to produce
sexual material. We need to strive for a place where quality rules
the day and where
hate has no place.
The last speakers were a lesbian art collective/performance artists
"Kiss and Tell" composed of Persimmon Blackridge, Lizard Jones and Susan
Stewart from Vancouver. They did a narrative piece titled "Borderline (and
Disorderly)" which focused on issues of censorship in bondage photos of
Lizard and the seizure by Customs officials who were white males.
were expressed by the participants on their various roles in the activities, specific sexual desires and the need for fantasy role-playing. The entire performance was videotaped by Paul Cowan, filmmaker with the National Film Board of Canada. Parts of the performance may be used in his three-part documentary series entitled "Sex and Censorship: Desire and Fear in the Twentieth Century." The filming was a first for ARLIS/NA !