One Girl's Fight For Acceptance

Caitlin Johnson
August 27, 2001

Samantha Gellar was 17 when her play, Life Versus the Paperback Romance, was picked as one of five winners of the 1999 Charlotte Young Playwright's Festival. Surprising as this announcement was, the next bit of news was even more startling for Gellar—her play was not going to be produced with the others.

The reason? Her play's central characters are two women who fall in love and, in one scene, share a kiss. The board of directors of the Children's Theater of Charlotte, North Carolina, which sponsored the contest, felt the material was inappropriate for middle and high school audiences.

Gellar refused a request to rewrite the play—to do so, she felt, would remove the dramatic conflict at its heart. Instead, she contacted Time Out Youth, a local organization that supports and advocates for gay, lesbian and transgender youth. Soon, cries of censorship were making headlines, and a campaign—and an activist—were born.

This summer, a short film documenting Gellar's struggle, produced by In the Life TV, was named a winner of the Media That Matters Online Film Festival 2001. It chronicles Gellar's activism and the artists—among them award-winning writer Dorothy Allison and performance artist Holly Hughes—who joined forces to support her.

Although the Festival judges never reversed their ruling, Hughes and others were successful in producing an un-edited version both in Charlotte and at the Public Theater in New York City. (You can watch the 7-minute film online.) Please note that if the video is temporarily unavailable, please check this site again soon.

Writing to Educate
The media coverage has quieted in the years since, and it has given Gellar, now 19, a chance to reflect on the issues at the center of the struggle. "It wasn't hard [to refuse to rewrite the play], because I follow my feelings and what I think is right," she says.

Much harder was her sudden status as a spokesperson for gay youth. "[As soon as] I said, 'This is wrong,' that tossed me into a gray area. All of a sudden, I was speaking for other people. ... I did worry that I'd say the wrong things for the people I was representing. I can't represent every gay youth."

Despite the celebrities and artists who spoke out on her behalf, Gellar says she was not always sure how many of her classmates were backing her. "I'd say some parts of community and certain people at [high] school were supportive" of her sexual identity and her struggle, she says. The high school principal and many of the teachers encouraged her—but not without difficulty. "A lot of times they couldn't be vocally supportive because they'd be harangued or maybe even fired. But there were never any hard feelings. ? Their silence was necessary."

The experience taught her about advocacy, a skill she plans to use in becoming, not a playwright, but a police officer when she finishes college.

Her fight to get Life Versus the Paperback Romance performed has strengthened her belief in the power of speaking up and taking action. "I try to get young people to go out and do stuff," she says. "Whenever someone asks me why I haven't written for a career, I say, 'I'm following my own path, but you have just as much power.' I don't consider myself a better speaker or writer than anyone else, I was lucky to have press at that time, but everyone has that power."

What advice does Gellar have for people who want to speak out against what they perceive to be injustices or hatred?

First: educate. "I believe in using education to attack ignorance. You have to know what the other side's opinion is, know where they're coming from and whether they've been educated, " says Gellar. "If not, flood them with information. If I'm sitting with someone on the school board, I'll give them a summary of how hard it was as youth to be out, how I dealt with negative messages at school, how I didn't see myself represented. I'll also give them information on books and numbers they can call."

"Once you've done that, if they don't listen," she says, "that's when you make a fuss."

Screen the Movie Online
Visit and watch the movie (select Samantha Gellar)! It features Samantha Gellar, Dorothy Allison, Holly Hughes and Mary-Louise Parker. Running time: 7 minutes. Please note that if the video is temporarily unavailable, please check this site again soon.


Caitlin Johnson is staff writer at Connect for Kids.