Keeper of the Plans

Derided for exposing students to ‘evil,’ university cancels LGBTQ art exhibition

Promotional material for “Rainbow in Reverse: Queer Kansas History,” which was canceled Tuesday afternoon.
Promotional material for “Rainbow in Reverse: Queer Kansas History,” which was canceled Tuesday afternoon. Screenshot

Responding to “community concerns,” Newman University on Tuesday canceled its January Final Friday exhibition, “Rainbow in Reverse: Queer Kansas History.”

Genevieve Waller, a Wichita native now living in Denver, was scheduled to present the show – which features the lives of LGBTQ Kansans through sculptures, photography and installation art – at the university’s Steckline Gallery.

In a statement, the university said it “understands that diverse perspectives, in an atmosphere in which the human dignity of each person is respected, are key to learning,” yet “we thought it was best to make this decision,” Newman Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly McDowall Long was quoted as saying.

The statement references “some confusion regarding the purpose and content of this particular exhibit.”

The exhibition was not scheduled to arrive at the gallery until next week – not even the Steckline Gallery’s director had seen the artwork as of Monday.

Waller, the artist, said her exhibition was intended to showcase the contributions LGBTQ Kansans have made in the fields of dance, film, literature, theater and politics.

“I would like the exhibit to spark curiosity about LGBTQ history in Kansas and help pave the way for LGBTQ Kansans’ stories to become part of official state histories,” she said in an emailed statement Tuesday night.

On Wednesday afternoon, Harvester Arts announced it would step in to host Waller’s Final Friday show. That gallery is at 215 N. Washington.

“I would like Newman University students and Wichita audiences to have the opportunity to see my work and research,” Waller wrote.

In an interview with Denver arts website Westword, Waller said she considers herself a queer historian with a passion for making the history of her home state known.

“Gilbert Baker, the artist who created the rainbow flag – an internationally-known symbol for LGBTQ+ rights and equality – was born in Chanute, Kansas and grew up in the state,” she said in an emailed statement to the Eagle. “I think he and other LGBTQ Kansans should be better-known and celebrated in their home state.”

Over the weekend, an email with the subject line, “Newman University sponsors LGBTQ event -- Your action is needed!” circulated among local religious circles.

In the email, Jean Heimann – a local Catholic writer and speaker – writes: “First of all, why is it necessary to expose students to evil? Why do students need to be encouraged to learn more about a sickness in our society?”

Later in the email, Heimann asked, “Why don’t they have someone who has overcome the temptations of this lifestyle discuss their redemption? Perhaps someone who has been active in Courage? Why instead don’t they have an exhibition of holy and beautiful artwork, which represents the treasures of the Church?”

The email asked those concerned about the exhibition to contact both Newman and diocesan officials to express their thoughts.

No exhibition is scheduled to replace Waller’s, and the Steckline Gallery will not open this Final Friday.

Newman University is a Catholic college sponsored by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ religious order. It has a LGBTQ student club as of last year, though that group has occasionally been at odds with its administration, according to Newman’s student newspaper, The Vantage.

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt