Encore performance prompts LGBT conversation on campus
Each spring semester, AU invites students to bring their younger siblings to campus for Lil’ Sibs Weekend where they can attend events such as Encore, a musical event hosted by the Avanti Boosters Club.
“We knew that the lights were going to black out,” said Yost. “We decided in that moment, after the lights had blacked out, and we didn’t think anybody would see it. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t meant to make a statement and it wasn’t meant to hurt anybody.”
This semester, the 2000s themed event featured Katy Perry’s pop hit “I Kissed A Girl,” performed by musical theatre majors Isabelle Yost and Jamie Valentine. Their first performance at 7 p.m. ran smoothly, but at the end of their 10 p.m. performance, the lights were dimmed, and they shared what they thought was a private, celebratory kiss.
Lost in the magic of an on-stage performance, Yost had forgotten that there were younger siblings in the audience.
“We definitely weren’t mindful, and I think we should have been of the fact that it was Lil’ Sibs Weekend,” she said. “I think that same-sex couples should be normal for younger generations. Even though it should be normal, it’s not. That’s what frustrates me.”
Yost has noticed that students who have negative things to say have hidden behind the mask of social media.
“I’ve had people come to me personally with positive things, but no one has confronted me negatively to my face,” she said.
In the week following Encore, the Raven app became a platform for students to discuss their frustrations with Yost and Valentine’s performance.
“Nobody has actually really talked to me in a negative way, but they’ve obviously talked about me on the Raven app,” said Yost. “For almost a whole week there was non-stop posting and arguments in the comments. No one ever actually talked to us. They just talked about us right there.”
The most stressful thing for Yost has been reading the assumptions people have been making about her online.
“People were making so many assumptions about both of us,” she said. “That’s been the worst thing. There have been so many assumptions made about who I am when no one on campus really knows who I am. Until this point, I’ve done a really good job of being a nobody musical theatre major.”
Despite the negative reactions online, Yost has received positive feedback from students on campus who were willing to approach her.
“I’ve also received a lot of positive comments from people in the LGBTQ+ community,” she said. “People have been thanking me for opening up the dialogue about certain issues on campus, whether we meant to or not.”
Yost and Valentine both met with Dean Chris Confer about their performance.
“The big thing is that we were told that we’ve lost the trust of the campus,” said Yost. “They told us that we somehow needed to gain that trust back. We were asked to write an apology to Boosters, which we agreed to do. If they had wanted us to make some sort of public apology, I would not have been willing to do that.”
On February 8, six days after the “All 2000s” Encore, the Avanti Boosters sent a formal apology to the student body. The email apologized for “the events that occured at Booster’s Encore on February 2,” but did not mention any specific incidence or performance.
“I feel bad that Boosters had to apologize at all, because I don’t think the song was particularly bad,” said Yost. “They said that it was because of lyrics that had to do with alcohol, but the only lyric I can think of is ‘drink in hand,’ and that could honestly be anything. It doesn’t reference anything in particular.”
In addition to supposed references to drinking in their song and their on stage kiss, issues have been taken up with Yost and Valentine’s wardrobe choices.
“There was a lot of uproar about what we wore as well,” said Valentine. “They were upset by our outfits even though we got permission. I was just shocked because I felt like we took all the right steps in order to get the permission to be ourselves on stage.”
Like Yost, Valentine has had to deal with negative reactions that were posted online by her peers.
“There was so much negativity that blew up on the Raven app,” said Valentine. “There were comments about how we needed to go and read the Bible and about how we were terrible people and sinners who needed to find Jesus again because of what we did.”
Though she received criticism and backlash online, no one has confronted Valentine verbally.
“No one was ever brave enough to come up and actually speak to my face that they had a problem with what we did,” she said.
Of her meeting with Confer, Valentine says, “The university’s reaction was to keep it under wraps, sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen.”
In all of this, Valentine feels that the purpose of Encore and their performance has been lost.
“We feel like people are missing the point of the performance,” she said. “The point of the performance was to have fun, show love and support for everybody and be ourselves on stage at Encore. Instead we received this awful reaction.”
Adrian Matzke was the productions officer for Encore. However, after the events that transpired at the most recent show, the Avanti Boosters removed Matzke from his position at the request of AU administrative staff.
“While I can’t speak to the specifics of what took place in the conversation that I had with the men of Boosters, what I can say is that there were many things about the show and the process of producing the show that were called into accountability,” said Confer. “The club took full responsibility and have made preparations to ensure that the show runs much more smoothly going forward.”
Confer says “AU has a tradition of welcoming all students to this campus,” and believes that the next step is to begin dicussions with students in the LGBTQ community.
“In meeting this last week with members of the LGBTQ community on our campus, a request for further dialogue has been made,” he said. “I, as well as other administrators, are open to the dialogue and believe that we need to continue this conversation in the weeks to come.”