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ACLU Reaches Settlement with National Endowment for the Arts;
Funding for Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals is Restored
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, August 25, 1993
The National Endowment for the Arts has reversed a 1992 decision
denying funding to three gay and lesbian film festivals after resolving a
lawsuit threatened by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU had
charged that the NEA's actions were based on improper political
considerations that constituted viewpoint censorship.
Under the terms of the settlement signed today, Ana Steele, Acting
Senior Deputy Chairperson of the NEA, agreed to give the three film
festivals the $17,500 they would have received in 1992. Release of the
funds will settle all claims against the NEA by the gay and lesbian film
"We believe that the NEA's actions in this case were
unconstitutionally based on the gay content of the film festivals," said
William B. Rubenstein, Director of the ACLU's National Lesbian and Gay
Rights Project. "We are therefore pleased that the NEA has recognized its
past errors. We will remain vigilant to instances of discrimination by
government against lesbians and gay men."
Of the 53 media arts organizations recommended for funding in 1992 by
the National Alliance of Media Arts Centers (NAMAC), an NEA subgrantor,
only the three that focussed on lesbian and gay themes were denied grants
by the NEA.
The three not-for-profit gay and lesbian film festivals were: New
Festival, Inc., an annual New York film festival; Lesbian and Gay Film
Festival of Pittsburgh, Inc.; and Gay & Lesbian Media Coalition, Inc., a
Los Angeles-based film festival.
In late 1991 and early 1992, the three film festivals applied to
NAMAC for NEA subgrants along with 165 other media organizations. After
considering the artistic merit of each application, NAMAC included the
three film festivals among its recommendations to the NEA. The NEA then
singled out the three film festivals, rejecting their grants. Anne-Imelda
Radice, former Acting Chairperson of the NEA, issued a news release
stating that the three film festivals had been denied funding because they
lacked sufficient artistic merit, though a peer review panel had
previously found that the festivals possessed such merit.
The ACLU took up the case, filing an appeal of the funding veto in
late 1992. The appeal was granted by the NEA and the funds will be
released to the film festivals.
"It was specious for the NEA to suggest that artistic merit was in
question when the issue was clearly the NEA's own fear of political
backlash due to the gay and lesbian themes of the artistic expression,"
said Julian Low, Director of NAMAC.
"The government may not use its grant-making power to discriminate
against speech based on the viewpoint expressed in that speech," added
Marjorie Heins, Director of the ACLU's national Arts Censorship Project.
"The NEA may not sacrifice the First Amendment in pursuit of a political
The settlement was negotiated by the ACLU's national Lesbian and Gay
Rights Project and Arts Censorship Project, along with Gary E. Crawford,
Robert C. La Mont and Richard T. Bernardo of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher
and Flom of New York City.
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