The National Endowment for the Arts will restore $ 17,500 in grants to three gay- and lesbian-themed film festivals, including one sponsored by the Gay & Lesbian Media Coalition in Los Angeles. The move reverses a 1992 decision by former NEA chair Anne-Imelda Radice to deny the grants.
The National Alliance for Media Arts & Culture and the American Civil Liberties Union had appealed Radice’s decision.
On Wednesday, arts advocates and the ACLU — which had threatened to take the matter to court if the NEA had not reversed itself — hailed the reversal as a clear victory on behalf of gay and lesbian artists, whom they felt were being discriminated against.
“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 & 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.”
Yet the NEA said its decision to reinstate the grant money had nothing to do with artistic merit orpolitics.
Instead, the agency said its decision was based solely on the fact that it had waited too long to advise the three festivals that their grants were being turned down.
“There was an abuse of process in the 1992 decision, which unfairly affected the recommended applicants,” an NEA statement said. “The (in-house NEA) review determined that there was an unjustifiably lengthy delay in making the decision, notwithstanding the fact that NAMAC was itself in compliance with then-existing guidelines. Specifically, the deadline for notifying applicants of awards had passed and the festivals had concluded before Ms. Radice notified the granting organization of the rejections.”
In fact, the fests learned of Radice’s decision five months after notification that they had been approved for grants. The three festivals were the only ones out of 53 festival grants that Radice nixed.
“We had assumed we were getting the money, so we spent it on our film festival, which happened in July (1992),” said Larry Horne, director of the Gay & Lesbian Media Coalition. “Then we found out a month later that we were not getting the money.”
That org’s Los Angeles festival received the lion’s share of the grant, $ 8, 500. The other two festivals were the Lesbian & Gay Film Festival of Pittsburgh and the New Festival in New York.
The grant money is to be used for management and educational purposes, according to NEA-set limitations.
When asked Wednesday how the money would be used, Horne said the grant will go toward paying debts.
“We had to go into debt to do the festival last year,” he said. “And now we have to pay back our lender.”