Homophobia row opera to go ahead

The cast of Billy Elliot the Musical Hall's acclaimed musical Billy Elliot featured gay characters

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An opera by Billy Elliot creator Lee Hall, which was at the centre of a row over a gay character, is to go ahead after Hall removed the word "queer".

The writer agreed to change the word to "gay" after a primary school removed 300 children from the community show.

The cancellation sparked accusations of homophobia but Bay Primary school has now said it is happy with the language.

Beached, commissioned by Opera North, will take place, as planned, in Bridlington on 15 July.

The school had complained about the lines: "Of course I'm queer/That's why I left here/So if you infer/That I prefer/A lad to a lass/And I'm working class/I'd have to concur."

Hall told BBC News: "I agreed to change "queer" to "gay" as to me they are synonymous. I would have done this months ago if asked."

The contested lines have now been changed to: "Of course I'm gay/That's why I went away/So if you infer/That I prefer/A lad to a lass/And him working class/I'd have to concur."

'Intense negotiations'

In a joint statement, East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Bay Primary said the school would take part now that the libretto was "an age appropriate text".

They said they were "delighted" that the author had "addressed the points raised by the school".

The council, the school and Opera North all denied being motivated by homophobia.

They said they had never "expressed any concern over the inclusion of a gay character, only some of the language and tone around the character's identity", the statement said.

Writer Lee Hall and Opera North director Richard Mantle discussed the controversy on BBC Breakfast

"The writer has now addressed this," it added.

But in his own statement, Hall said the school had "backed down".

"This is a real victory for people speaking up against discrimination.

"It had been an intractable situation for weeks and the school and Opera North were given no other option but to take a U-turn on their discriminatory position.

"It's clearly a victory for good sense. We cannot silence gay people or any minorities. It's a real victory for collective action."

"They tried to censor me and they failed," he added.

Beached tells the story of a single father trying and failing to have a quiet day at Bridlington beach.

Opera North, which has had a two-year residency in the town, said "intense negotiations" had been taking place since the performance was called off on Friday.

"We have been at pains to work closely with the writers at all times, and have supported their rights of artistic expression throughout," a statement from the Leeds-based company said.

"We have also worked equally hard to ensure that the schools and community groups involved in the project have positive feelings of ownership and identity within the production."

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