It’s Okay to be Offended

Posted in Community

A world in which everyone agrees with each other doesn’t exist. And if it did, life would be pretty damn boring.

During the week of December 20, 2015 a large art installation by sophomore Kyla Dullum, hanging in the first floor hallway was hard to miss. At first glance it simply looked like a lesbian couple sharing an intimate kiss. But closer inspection revealed the background of the silhouettes to be pages of the Mormon Bible.

According to Assistant Principal Kevin Goines, by the end of the first day he had gotten numerous complaints about the display, worried that the “ripped” pages of the Bible would offend Christian students. However, when he discussed the matter with student leadership, the only complaints that he mentioned were those from people that weren’t offended, but from people who were worried it would be offensive.

One read-through of the artist’s statements to the side of the painting would affirm Dullum’s true intentions of her piece: “to convey a union between religion and sexuality.”

However, when students returned to school the following week after Winter Break, the art piece was gone.

I will start off my commentary with the fact that I am not criticizing the Administration’s actions: the Education Code in California State law protects the safety of its students, and subjecting students unwillingly to an “offensive” installation can be seen as harmful.

But I think that Dullum’s art piece is anything but harmful. School is supposed to nurture the prospects of debate, variety of thought, and creativity — not break it down.

Did Dullum’s art piece offend people? Possibly. Does that give reason to take it down? No.

I’m not saying that because I’m cold-hearted or insensitive. I’m saying that because school is supposed to prepare students for the real world, a world in which homogenous thought doesn’t exist. We shouldn’t be pretending that differing opinions don’t exist, but rather encouraging passionate debate.

You don’t have to be a student in Karen Dehart’s AP Art History class to know that art often has a meaning. It’s easy to look at Dullum’s art piece and instinctively observe a conflict between religion and sexuality. The Bible preaches against same-sex marriage, so the artist must be making a hateful statement towards religion, right? Quite the opposite.

“It actually symbolizes a union between the two communities,” Dullum explained. “I grew up in the Mormon Church, and certain parts of the doctrine teach that homosexuality is a sin against God. I was about 13 when I came out as pansexual, and I feel a strong sense of responsibility for defending my community.”

Personal and thought-provoking, Dullum’s art piece is the opposite of hateful: it purely represents her idea of love. “I am no longer a member of the church, I don’t need to be where I’m not wanted. But there are others who desire to be there and can’t and that is something that I hope will change. Nobody should be discriminated against because of who they love,” Dullum continued.

Many people were upset because she had “ripped” out pages of the Bible for her piece. “First of all I did not ‘rip’ out pages of the Bible. I selectively removed pages of the Bible that had meaning to me, particularly the verses condemning homosexuality,” said Dullum.

“I used Bible pages to convey the idea of religion as well as homosexuality in the hope that it would inspire people to think more consciously about the problems that exist there,” Dullum clarified.

As an artist, Dullum had to find a way to express the conflict that exists, and the use of Bible pages was the most logical medium to use. “The Bible encourages the making of this piece, and that’s what I did,” she said.

I find it interesting to compare the ideas presented in Dullum’s art with the myriad other installations found in Albany High hallways. For example, consider the inspiring signs made by Amnesty International that said, “Abortion is not a crime.” Or the poignant chalk drawing of a fetus in the woman’s bathroom. One could easily argue that both of these go against one’s belief system and personal opinions surrounding abortion. But there is one vital difference: neither of these involve explicit reference to the Bible. Once someone offends religion, personal expression becomes inexcusable.

But why? Why are someone’s religious beliefs put on a pedestal, and somehow more important than one’s moral, personal or ethical beliefs? Why are opinions surrounding abortion, gay rights, politics allowed to be voiced, but opinions surrounding religion not?

Sorry, but religious belief is not more important than any other belief system. Yes, it’s important and should be recognized. And religious students have every right to be offended by a piece that goes against their religion.

But you can’t eliminate everything that disagrees with you. Welcome to the real world.

As Larry Winget, an American motivational speaker said, “You don’t need safe-zones to protect your fragile ego. You need big, new, scary ideas that challenge your beliefs and expand your thinking. You need ideas that will offend you, hurt your feelings, stomp on your toes, and make you mad. This is necessary for growth and learning. So stop being offended by everything. Stop being a victim. Grow up.”

Guest contributor Anna Tingley is a senior at Albany High School.