Protest Planned After Church Owned St. Louis Theater, Long a LGBTQ+ Haven, Says It Will No Longer Show Queer Movies
Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 5 MIN.
Former patrons of the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis, which was once a nexus of LGBTQ+ culture in the city, are speaking out against the new owner, a church, no longer showing queer films at the space.
Riverfront Times reported that "the Tivoli Theater was a special place" for years for the city's LGBTQ+ residents, showing gay movies, including periodic screenings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." More recently, the venue had become "one of a dwindling number of safe spaces to be openly queer."
But no more.
RFT recalled that "the theater's then-owner, Joe Edwards, sold the building to a church in 2021." That church – called One Family Church – is planning to bring movies back to the Tivoli... but nothing gay will be on the schedule. The local community is speaking out on the loss, as well as seeing LGBTQ+ culture swept into the shadows.
"Angelo Ossessivo, co-founder and lead coordinator of Tower Grove Pride, tells the RFT he felt 'cautious dismay' when he learned of One Family Church's purchase of the Tivoli," the outlet relayed. Ossessivo has kept on the issue, but the answers he's gotten have only grown more disheartening.
"In 2021, when the church's intent to buy the Tivoli was announced, he says the church refused to give anything other than vague responses to his questions on whether the church fully accepted queer people for their identities," RFT recounted.
Meanwhile, Ossessivo and others have organized a rally on October 6 and have called for a boycott of the theater. They have taken to social media to spread the word.
We are asking for a public boycott of the Tivoli until commitments to equality are made by the church if they're going to open to the public," the rally's Facebook post declares.
"We are asking the local media to stop promoting the Tivoli and the Church's developments, investigate their homophobia, transphobia, and ask them the same questions they're ignoring from us."
On Facebook they wrote: "We want to raise awareness that the anti-LGBTQ+ One Family Church has taken over the Tivoli and has made it an unwelcoming place for the LGTBQ+ community. The refuse to screen any LGBTQ+ themed movie due to their interpretation of homosexuality and non-cis-gendered identity being sins.
"We are asking for a public boycott of the Tivoli until commitments to equality are made by the church if they're going to open to the public.
We are asking the local media to stop promoting the Tivoli and the Church's developments, investigate their homophobia, transphobia, and ask them the same questions they're ignoring from us."
The protest is conjunction with an upcoming stage production of "Rocky Horror Drag Show"," being presented by the St. Louis theatrical drag company Prismatic Events. It plays for eight performances over two weekends. On Fridays October 13 and 20, the performances are at 7 and 10pm; On Sundays, October 15 and 20, performances are at 1:30 and 6pm. The venue is Tropical Liqueurs, 4104 Manchester Avenue St. Louis, MO 63110, for more information, follow this link.
This past July, Ossessivo won a meeting with the church's pastor, Brent Roam, and finally secured some clear-cut answers. Ossessivo "says he was told that all people are welcome in the church, where there are out LGBTQ+ members who reconcile with the church's stances in various ways, but that the Tivoli would not screen anything related to LGBTQ+ representation, no matter the rating," RTF detailed.
The church provided the news outlet with a statement that drew on what its website already told visitors: "Like many of our brothers and sisters around the globe from nearly every Christian tradition, we wholeheartedly embrace the New Testament's teachings about every aspect of our lives: prayer, worship, work, rest, money , sex, service, relationships and more."
Though Jesus never addressed LGTBQ+ people or same-sex relationships in his teachings, the New Testament contains passages that are currently interpreted by some as excluding same-sex relationships. Some theologians disagree with those interpretations, and the New Testament has far more to say about divorce, which it quite clearly condemns, than it does same-sex relationships. Still, churches that are not affirming to LGBTQ+ people tend to boil the issue down not to relationships, commitment, or love, but solely to sexual activity.
It was from that perspective that Roam seemed to address the subject in responding to RTF in an email, in which he stated that the church believes in the sharing of human sexuality only "within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."
Roam added, "Obviously, sexuality is a deeply intimate and personal matter, which is best discussed in person within a community... But for the sake of clarity, this statement best describes One Family Church's teachings on this topic."
"Queer-identifying people and their advocates who spoke to the RFT acknowledge One Grace Church has a right to do and believe what it wants," the outlet noted, and Ossessivo took note of the church's "mission to use all profits generated from so-called First Fridays to fund its nonprofit aimed at eliminating race as a factor to homeownership in St. Louis," RTF noted.
"The nonprofit, called Fair Access to Mortgages, provides down payments and closing costs to prospective homeowners who've been affected by St. Louis' history of housing discrimination, according to One Family Church's website.
Still, there's a need, expressed by the local community, for the church to be clear about just how accepting it is of LGBTQ+ people, apart from questions about sexual activity, and lingering questions about why movies that acknowledge LGBTQ+ people should face a blanket ban at the theater.
"If this is what you believe, that's fine, but don't hide it," Grace United Methodist Church's Rv. Katie Nix told RTF about the church. "Make it clear so we can make a decision about whether this is truly a safe space for us or not."
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.