Homophobic material nixed from Kennywood dive show

The park's stage show, "Pirates of Kenny Cove," included a segment which one local mother found homophobic.

| May 31, 2007

When Mary Hawk took her 5-year-old son to Kennywood earlier this month, she expected to be shaken up. She just thought it would happen on a roller coaster, not during the stage show.

She was watching a production called "Pirates of Kenny Cove" on Fri., May 11, a show that included material Hawk felt was homophobic.

One scene depicts a crew member in need of CPR, but all members on the pirate ship are reluctant to perform the procedure. Finally, a crew member with a limp wrist and a lisp comes on the scene and proclaims, "I'll do it, sweetie." His actions are quickly reprimanded by the master of ceremonies, who says, "We'll have none of that here," and the play continues.

Hawk was disturbed.

"As a parent I look to talk to my children about diversity, but they still pick up from the general public that being gay is not all right," she said. "You think you can parent them out of social stigmas, but experiences like this challenge the values I'm trying to impress on them."

Hawk filed a complaint with Kennywood on May 14. She called again the following Wednesday and got a response two days later from Kennywood general manager Jerome Gibas.

"He told me that I was the only one who expressed concern over the content and that he didn't think it was offensive," she said. "At that time he told me they weren't going to remove the content."

She refused to give up, however. She e-mailed 25 friends and co-workers the same day Gibas called her. She asked them to pass around her story and to pressure Kennywood to remove the offensive dialogue.

Hawk's e-mail circulated so quickly, she says, that a friend later told her she received it from eight different people in a matter of hours.

"Lots of other people were doing the same thing I was, sending it out to their friends and coworkers and anyone who'd listen," Hawk says. "Many of my friends told me they'd contacted Kennywood -- gay and straight, old and young."

Gibas called Hawk 24 hours later and told her the content was removed.

"Ultimately, he did the right thing," she said. "The fact that it was removed so quickly shows the ability of people on both sides to get the right thing done."

Ehrrin Keenan was one of the friends who received Hawk's e-mail.

"It's this everyday homophobia that creates the environment that allows for discrimination and hate and violence to exist and go unchecked in our society," she said.

Mary Lou Rosemeyer, a spokeswoman for Kennywood, said the park received a "very, very low number of complaints." She remarked that more people called to complain that Kennywood was closed on Mother's Day.

"People's view of what is offensive is very different, and some people don't pick up on things others do," she said. "No one here was sensitive enough to pick up on it, but we responded and it was an easy thing to change."

Hawk and Keenan are happy that e-mail recipients responded so quickly.

"As Pittsburghers, we love Kennywood," Keenan said. "We have memories of it as a wonderful place, too. And, we just want them to be true to their mission of being a fun place for everyone."

Comments (34)

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Mary Hawk......Thank you!

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Posted by Bob Poropatich on 05/31/2007 at 3:35 AM

way to ruin kennywood forever.. mary

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Posted by Tyler on 05/31/2007 at 6:25 AM

I was one of the 'very few people' that emailed Mr. Gibas regarding the homophobic content. It makes me very happy to know that you truely can make a difference in the world, however small it may be. I thank everyone else involved for thier time and patience and for not backing down on something they believe in.

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Posted by Nicole on 05/31/2007 at 6:34 AM

Way to go Mary...

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Posted by Kenia on 05/31/2007 at 6:35 AM

It never ceases to amaze me how backward segments of Pittsburgh can be (i.e. Tyler Tyler)…If making Kennywood a more well-rounded and politically-correct environment for all “ruins it forever” and, the writer doesn’t patronize the park any more – that will make it all the better for me, my SUPER sister-in-law and her family. That way there will be one less guest at the park to expose us to their underlying homophobia. Sadly, I – and others like me – have given up on “changing” Pittsburgh for the better…it was easier to contribute to the brain and cultural-drain of the region by simply moving to a major metro (I suggest you research cities attempting to draw a “creative class” to them and you will inherently see a mention of GLBT populations as amongst the “most wanted” to rehabilitate stalling economies). Granted, in major metros, we deal with an inflated cost of living and congestion…but, also enjoy the freedom of knowing we have less of the challenges caused by daily subversive ignorance and discrimination in housing, employment and general every day living (like a Dive Show at a local amusement park).

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Posted by Tim Hawk on 05/31/2007 at 7:35 AM

Just to play Devil's Advocate here, would you have started an e-mail campaign if they'd mocked Christian values? What if it had a "men are dumb" joke? What if it had been a black comedian telling another "white folks can't dance" joke? Just how thin skinned do you expect folks to be? What ever happened to "being able to take a joke"? Where is the P.C. line drawn? Now, please DO NOT take my devil's advocacy here as a sign that I agree with the content of the play, or that I disagree with you that it was the right thing to do to have it removed. It's a purely academic curiousity on my part. I'll be sure to ask the two gay men in my D&D group of their opinions on this subject as well.

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Posted by Eric Kiefer on 05/31/2007 at 7:58 AM

Tim from DC, You're a complete moron. What happened at Kennywood was unquestionably wrong, BUT IT COULD HAVE HAPPENED ANYWHERE...YES...ANYWHERE. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Pittsburgh. I lived in the unofficial gay capital of the U.S. (West Hollywood, CA) and I saw homophobic incidents even there. It happens EVERYWHERE. But I want to Thank You for taking your narrow-minded, anti-Pittsburgh, sweeping generalizations out of town! Now can you please stop polluting our message boards?

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Posted by Dave Moser on 05/31/2007 at 12:58 PM

Johnny Positive: I, too, have experienced homophobia here in DC…but, never witnessed it written into scripts for public performance! PS. When did the “unofficial gay capital of the U.S.” migrate from San Fran to West Hollywood?

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Posted by Tim Hawk on 05/31/2007 at 1:12 PM

Just to answer the "Devil's Advocate"... I ask, why do you have to make fun of others to entertain? If a writer is That lazy and talentless that they are unable to think of humorous content that doesn't rely on stereotypes and childish name calling, then the writer should reconsider their career choice. Plain and simple. Humor is to make people laugh. Do that without degrading or promoting stereotypes and you have your answer, and MUCH Better entertainment!

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Posted by American Socrates on 05/31/2007 at 1:18 PM

I agree with Tim. It COULD happen anywhere (JP) but growing up there I found it to have a homophobic attitude. Maybe cause its population is older?

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Posted by Jeffrey on 05/31/2007 at 2:05 PM

PittRepub, I have to agree with AmericanSocrates that humor that hurts groups of people is cheap and shows lack of talent. In answer to your quetion...certainly we all have issues that push our buttons, and the comments in the Pirates show pushed mine. I probably would not have called the park if there had been "men are dumb" or anti-Christian humor, but not because I think that is any funnier -- I don't. However, I believe that when you belong to a majority population, (white, male, middle class, Christian, etc.) it's easier to speak out against that which you find inappropriate, and certainly much easier to find acceptance around whatever ticks you off. In the article, Kennywood management pretty much said that's why the anti-gay humor was thought to be acceptable, and why I'm willing to bet anti-Christian content will never appear in the show. Finally, please ask all of the people in your D&D group what they think, not just the gay guys...don't assume this issue only matters to those who are gay. I happen to be straight myself, and you know where I stand.

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Posted by Mary Hawk on 05/31/2007 at 5:30 PM

Mary, PLEASE! What are you teaching your children about diversity, tolerence and compromise? If something is distasteful to you, it is not necessarily distasteful to others. By getting all of your friends to browbeat the staff at Kennywood, all you taught your child was to do whatever it takes to GET WHAT YOU WAMT! I find your "crusade" ridiculous, selfish, and a perfect example of the hypocritic "liberal" facade of the type of people who are ruining disciplined society. Take your child to Idewild next time, unless Storybook forest is too risque for you.

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Posted by Denise on 06/01/2007 at 6:31 AM

AmericanSocrates, I never said anyone HAD to make fun of someone for humor, but I do see plenty of comedians on cable doing fat jokes, Bush is a dumb redneck jokes, blondes are sluts jokes, etc, that it does not appear to be going away any time soon. Stereotypes do exist for a reason. Take for example the character of Jack on Will & Grace. While I'm not a stereotypical Republican i.e. the Pat Robinson Fundamentalist Christian crowd, I've met plenty of Republicans who are. (I'm more of an economic/Constitionalist type.) I've also met the stereotypical short hair cut flannel wearing dyke, the limp wristed lispy gayman, the overly perky aerobics instructor, the over zealous body builder who works out umpteen hours a day, the smelly hippie who doesn't believe in deodorant, the Yellow Dog Democrat (a phrase that comes from the fact that they'd rather vote for a Yellow Dog than a Republican and has nothing to do with bravery and which yes, I have had to explain several times), the born-again preachy Christian passing out Jack Chick tracts, etc, etc. My point is, stereotypes exist for a reason. There are a lot of folks out who are like that, and it's neither a good nor a bad thing. So now, rather than one of the sailors being gay (even if he is a stereotype), we now have a completely straight show at Kennywood. Are you completely sure that's better? Maybe what should have been removed as the announcer's "we'll have none of that here" comment, and the sailor in need of mouth to mouth could have turned out to be gay too? Wouldn't that be more diverse? What happened to the Great American Melting Pot? mhawk, obviously it was pretty easy for the minority to speak out in this case. It took what, a couple of e-mails and a few phone calls, and a day to get the show changed? Frankly, with the internet, the minority gets to speak out pretty darn loudly (and that's a good thing, yay First Amendment!). Did you think to ask the actors if any of them are gay and if they were offended by the humor? Why wouldn't a few words to the child that being gay isn't a bad thing, it's a personal choice, and isn't wonderful to see gays being represented in the show? But now, thanks to a knee jerk reaction by (probable) liberal, we're gay free in the Kennywood shows. I have to go back wouldn't it have been better to have the sick sailor turn out to be gay too and to show it as normal rather than removing all mention of gayness from the show? Wouldn't that teach tolerance better? I don't have to promote the gay lifestyle to tolerate it anymore than I have to promote the born again Christian lifestyle to tolerate them. I don't sign in often on the weekends, but I'm looking forward to the civil responses (like Socarate's and mhawk's) and dialog on Monday.

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Posted by Eric Kiefer on 06/01/2007 at 9:08 AM

PittRepublican... I think we may agree. It isn't the stereotypes themselves that are necessarily the problem, because the parody humor lies in the rediculousness of it. It is the NEGATIVE portrayal of others that is the real issue here. And like you said, if the Captain turned out to be gay and instead of using the weak "We'll have none of that here!" Line, then you would have an even funnier skit and at the same time CELEBRATE the fact that Humans are all unique and great in their own way. America is great because of the dynamic environment created in our diversity, our free market economy, and our freedom to express ideas in an open forum. When only ONE person has the loudspeaker such as during this skit, then others have to speak up and be heard like Mary Hawk did so we can improve on the messages and ideas that are being broadcast.

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Posted by American Socrates on 06/01/2007 at 9:36 AM

So one person was offended out of how many who have seen the show and they decide to remove it...great. I have not seen the show and cannot comment on it, but if only 1 person contacted Kennywood to complain, then it couldn't have been that bad/noticeable. So she got 25 of her friends who didn't see the show to write in as well. I am sure they didn't go out to Kennywood to see if it offended them at all, but instead took their friend's word for it. It would be nice if people weren't seals and actually had a mind of their own.

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Posted by Matthew Knupp on 06/01/2007 at 10:22 AM

Knuppster: I don't need to see the discrimination (or oppression - if that word makes you more comfortable) to know it for what it is. The same way I don't need to be hit by a bat to know it hurts.

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Posted by Jack on 06/01/2007 at 10:45 AM

It's nice to see that Kennywood was sensitive enough to take action. The quantity of complaints is irrelevant. When you're selling quality family entertainment, you should question the impact of your material. Intolerance in any form has no place in our media, especially not that created for children. I would also like to comment that the use of this quote boggles my mind: "She remarked that more people called to complain that Kennywood was closed on Mother's Day." What's your point? Everybody has a mother. Not everybody is gay.

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Posted by Jessica on 06/01/2007 at 10:50 AM

ActionJackson...all I am saying is that one person out of how many was offended and for that reason they changed it. I don't condone discrimination, but seriously when hundreds or thousands of people see the show and don't say anything, but one person does, you should not change your product just because of the one person. I get sick and tired of reading about people (businesses and govt.) bending over backwards for such a small portion of the population. I would understand if it was blatantly offensive, but in this case nobody else seemed to even notice the homophobia that was occurring in the show.

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Posted by Matthew Knupp on 06/01/2007 at 1:53 PM

Knuppster: AND, with that one commentary you have just touched upon what I see to be the demise of society - a total lack of concern for anyone else's sensitivities, feelings - or concerns. Me, Me, Me...I...I...I! "Mary" doesn't even fit into the category being disparaged...and, she was thoughtful enough to look out for another group (and their feelings) to do something about it. G-O-N-E are the days of common courtesy, compassion or thoughtfulness. Look around you – people are SHOCKED when someone is nice – it was once the other way around. In your case it sounds like you see ‘inclusiveness’ as pandering! Which it clearly is not.

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Posted by Jack on 06/01/2007 at 2:40 PM

AJ.....Dude if we change something every time one person was upset we wouldn't have anything to enjoy. I am all for people having a right to voice their opinion, but the super minority should never set the agenda for the majority. If enough people were offended, fine then get rid of it. Like I said I haven't seen it, so I cannot comment on the specifics of the skit. If only ONE person complains, then that person should buck up and deal with it.

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Posted by Matthew Knupp on 06/01/2007 at 3:53 PM

Kudos, Mary & company for standing up for change. It's not okay to make fun of people and can be hard to be the one(s) to say that. My family & I are more inclined to visit Kennywood this summer knowing that they have removed that mean content. If they hadn't, I can definitely say that we would have never returned. Thanks a million to you all!!!

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Posted by Kathy Dressler on 06/02/2007 at 11:05 AM

Change has to start somewhere; sometimes with one person. Mary was brave enough to stand and point out the derogatory content. I can't imagine changing this one aspect of a show would ruin or detract from anyone's enjoyment of the show or the rest of the park for that matter. And, just because Mary was the only one who called in a complaint, doesn't equate to Mary being the only one who was offended...

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Posted by Kathy Dressler on 06/02/2007 at 11:37 AM

Well done Mary Hawk and Friends! Little things like the underline message in this play) do make a difference. There was evidence at a trial here in the UK that small messages accepting homophobia, like the one in this show, are linked to homophobic violence. The Bomber who set off a nail bombs in London in Brick Lane in East London, Brixton in South London and in the Admiral Duncan Pub in Soho killing several people and injuring many, was a member of a far right group who hated people from the black, asian, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersexed communities. At his trial it was evident that he had growen up in a culture very close to that of many white middle class young men, he had followed the undertone of these messeges to an appauling conclusion. I applaude you Mary Hawk and your friends for not sitting on the fence and accepting this as just another joke at the expence of the LGBTI community, like I applaude anyone who highlights homophobic and any intolerant undertone in the media which includes the entertainment media.

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Posted by Antony Chuter on 06/03/2007 at 4:22 AM

I see a few statements with different versions of "Gone are the days". Are you serious? Can you please go back and watch some TV from the black and white days? African americans and women seemed to be the target of many stereotype jokes. The "N" word had it's place in comedy on somewhat family shows. If those where the good days than this is one more step to leaving them behind us.

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Posted by Dan on 06/04/2007 at 7:24 AM

i think it's sad that even at kennywood people can't take a joke. the whole political correctness thing is pretty much a slap in the face to freedom of speech. It's a shame we are teaching our children to be offended rather than having a sense of humor about life, no wonder there are so many angry and unhappy people in the world today.

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Posted by Barbianne Davis on 06/04/2007 at 12:17 PM
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