The Stranger

Ubiquitous Shen Yun ads spin off Twitter memes and profiles on Falun Gong

Ubiquitous Shen Yun ads spin off Twitter memes and profiles on Falun Gong

If it’s spring it must be time to see Shen Yun, the mysterious Chinese dance troupe that charges a small fortune for its performances in top culture venues around the country.

Their ads are so widespread, there’s a Twitter discussion about how their billboards can be found even on Mars.

Few people know that Shen Yun represents a quasi-Buddhist group known as Falun Gong and that the Chinese government seems to persecute its followers even more than they hate Christians and Muslims. Which, considering the Nazi-style internment camps for Muslims in western China and the government’s crusade to destroy Christian churches, is saying a lot.

Fortunately, there’s been a few articles out about the group, including one by the Seattle-based The Stranger that calls the dance spectacles “dissident art.” There’s also one that came out last month in the San Francisco Chronicle that begins thus:

Unless you live under a rock, you've probably seen a billboard or heard dozens of ads for Shen Yun Performing Arts.

In the Bay Area, people are so used to seeing the ads on TV and on the sides of buses come December, people even joke winter should be renamed "Shen Yun season." Since I started writing this article about two minutes ago, I've already seen a Shen Yun spot run on KTVU…

Shen Yun bills itself as "the world's premier classical Chinese dance and music company." They have performances in 93 cities around the country, from Billings, Mont., to Little Rock, Ark., to three Bay Area locations. The dress code suggests you might want to wear a tuxedo or evening gown since you're "in for a special treat." If you buy a ticket to a show (which run from $80 to $400 in San Francisco), you can expect two hours of traditional Chinese dance accompanied by a live orchestra.

And yes, it’s here in Seattle from April 2-7.

And if you're to believe Shen Yun's own advertisements, you'll get so much more. The hyperbolic 2018 ad promises the performance will "move you to tears" and change how you see the world…

Some people who go to the show complain they didn't know what they were in for. Because nowhere in the effusive advertisements is it mentioned that Shen Yun has a political bent. Shen Yun translates to "divine rhythm," and according to the show's website, the artists who put on Shen Yun practice Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, a belief system that encompasses meditation, tai chi-type exercises, and "strict morality" (smoking, alcohol, and extramarital or same-sex sexual relations go against the teachings).

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Clueless in Seattle: Gay lawyer's lawsuit prompts no serious questions for reporters

Clueless in Seattle: Gay lawyer's lawsuit prompts no serious questions for reporters

Union Gospel Mission is probably Seattle’s most venerable charity. Starting with the Great Depression, it has an 85-year history with the Emerald City especially in terms of its help with the homeless and the addicted.

Also known as UGM, the mission has done the dirty week of patrolling the streets, helping clear homeless encampments and serving a city where homelessness grew by 7.3 percent last year. Seattle is third in the nation (behind New York and Los Angeles) in numbers of homeless even though it’s the 20th largest city in the country.

But no one seemed to figure out until recently that the “Gospel” in Union Gospel Mission meant the organization may have religious and moral standards for its employees. That is, until a gay lawyer tried to get a job there.

I’ll start with the Seattle Times account of what happened next, partly because it’s fairly long and it’s written by Christine Willmsen, who was one of the young reporters I oversaw as city editor of the Daily Times in Farmington, N.M. more than 20 years ago.

A bisexual Christian man is suing Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission after it refused to hire him because of his sexual orientation.
Union Gospel Mission, which has provided addiction recovery, one-on-one counseling, emergency shelter and legal support services for homeless people in King County since 1932, says employees must live by a “Biblical moral code.”
When a staff attorney position opened in October 2016 for the nonprofit, religion-based organization, mission volunteer Matthew Woods was encouraged to apply, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in King County Superior Court.
But as he started the application process, he disclosed he was in a same-sex relationship. David Mace, Union Gospel Mission’s managing attorney, told Woods, “sorry you won’t be able to apply,” because the Employee Code of Conduct prohibits homosexuality, the lawsuit says.

But Woods didn’t give up, deciding that a state law prohibiting job discrimination because of sexual orientation was more than enough ground to base a lawsuit on. Seattlepi.com explained how Union Gospel’s requirements for the job automatically excluded him.

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Back to the Washington state florist: Was Stutzman seeking right to shun all gay customers?

Back to the Washington state florist: Was Stutzman seeking right to shun all gay customers?

To no one’s huge surprise, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled against Baronelle Stutzman for refusing to provide flowers for a gay friend’s wedding. Also to no one’s surprise, she (that is, her lawyers) immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may get a new justice soon.

So what is the key question in this story for journalists striving to cover the actual arguments in the case? Once again, the small print in this story is that that Stutzman wasn’t refusing to serve gay people in all instances, like the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights era. Instead, she was claiming the right to refuse to provide flowers in one doctrinally defined situation -- a marriage rite.

But did mainstream news reporters make that crucial distinction?

In almost all cases the answer is "no." We’ll start with what the Seattle Times said:

A Richland florist who refused to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding violated anti-discrimination law, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court ruled unanimously that Barronelle Stutzman discriminated against longtime customers Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed when she refused to do the flowers for their 2013 wedding because of her religious opposition to same-sex marriage. Instead, Stutzman suggested several other florists in the area who would help them.
“We’re thrilled that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in our favor. The court affirmed that we are on the right side of the law and the right side of history,” Ingersoll and Freed said in a statement.
Stutzman and her attorneys said they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. They also held out hope that President Donald Trump would issue an executive order protecting religious freedom, which was a campaign pledge.

The article went on to rehearse the facts of the case and then quote several people (the state attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union attorney for the gay couple) who were at a Seattle news conference. This went on for a number of paragraphs.

The Seattle Times gave two paragraphs to a press release from Stutzman’s attorneys.

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Transgender, God and grovel: The Seattle Times outs a popular chef

Transgender, God and grovel: The Seattle Times outs a popular chef

Covering the transgender bathroom/showers debates has created a few conundrums for the folks here at GetReligion in that we tend to comment on pieces in which religion is a factor or there’s a “ghost;” where religion should be a factor but the reporter –- or editors –- have left it out.

A lot of folks involved in these debates do so for religious reasons, but those reasons aren't often spelled out and instead, as my colleague Bobby Ross has reported, the debate devolves into journalists simply labeling folks "anti-LBGT.".

One side of the debate does seem to get demonized. This case study concerns a Seattle Times food critic who outed a local chef who happens to be providing some of the stadium food available during Seattle Seahawks games.

The chef, known as the “steak king of Seattle,” apparently had a hidden weakness, in that he held unorthodox -- to the new normal -- beliefs on a controversial issue in the public square. Here’s what the Times reporter ran on Wednesday:

Seahawks stadium chef John Howie donated $1,000 to the Washington anti-transgender bathroom group Just Want Privacy in May, and Howie says he also signed a petition opposing transgender bathrooms.
This puts Howie on the opposite side of the issue from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. On Monday, it was reported that Wilson and singer Ciara moved their wedding out of North Carolina due to that state’s anti-transgender bathroom law. Asked about the report today, Wilson said, “I just believe that Jesus loves all people. That’s honestly what I believe.”
Howie says he’s opposed to transgender bathrooms due to concerns about who could gain access to them. “I think that there’s a chance that the law could be abused by somebody,” he says. “I think somebody who is not transgender, a sex offender, could abuse the law -- somebody who is just out to put themselves into a women’s, or a boys’, bathroom, for that matter.

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Transgendered people in public bathrooms? North Carolina coverage shows one side only

Transgendered people in public bathrooms? North Carolina coverage shows one side only

There are certain topics that anger the New York Times so much that the newspaper's editors drop all pretension of covering the story with any sense of accuracy and balance. Usually, media outlets have at least one dissenting voice explaining the minority point of view, but when it comes to anything to do with LGBT issues -- plus the perception of a law being passed without public scrutiny -- the Times erupts in righteous anger.

The first incident I’m about to describe occurred in North Carolina, a fairly conservative state. But there is a second, much lesser-known incident that occurred in Washington state that was the mirror opposite of what happened in Tar Heel land. 

About the first: There was a lot of indignation in several media outlets covering the North Carolina governor’s decision to sign a bill banning transgendered people from bathrooms that don’t match their birth gender and eliminating some anti-discrimination protections for homosexuals. Here is how the Times framed it:

A day after Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina signed a sweeping law eliminating anti-discrimination protections for all lesbians, gays and bisexuals and barring transgender people from using bathrooms that do not match the gender they were born with, the battle lines were clear in a bitterly divided state.
On social media and in public rallies, civil rights groups, businesses and politicians expressed dismay at the law, which was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by the governor within just 12 hours during a hasty special session on Wednesday.
American Airlines, which employs 14,000 people in the state and has its second largest hub in Charlotte, along with other companies with operations in the state, including Apple, Dow Chemical, PayPal, Red Hat and Biogen, all issued statements critical of the new law.

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