Corpus Christi protester becomes right-wing poster boy

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 21 2001 1:00 AM ET

A Temple University student who says he was carted off to a psychiatric ward for protesting the staging of the play Corpus Christi on campus has become a hero to conservative Christians, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Michael Marcavage maintains that he was sent to a hospital for observation after he complained to university officials about the play by Tony award winner Terrence McNally, which depicts Jesus and his followers as young gay men. Marcavage says that he felt the play, which was staged for two days in 1999, was filled with “hate speech” toward Christians. Marcavage asked William Bergman, university vice president for operations, to build an outdoor stage so that he could stage his own play about Jesus, titled Final Destiny. Bergman originally agreed to the request, Marcavage says, but then reneged. When Bergman told him he wouldn’t have the stage built, Marcavage says he locked himself in a bathroom outside Bergman’s office for five minutes “just to pray and collect my thoughts." When he emerged, Marcavage maintains, he was held by Bergman and a security officer until a school psychologist and campus police could arrive. The psychologist, Denise Walton, concluded that Marcavage was a threat to himself and had him involuntarily committed for observation. Marcavage has filed a federal lawsuit against the school for violating his rights. University officials dispute Marcavage’s account, saying that he asked for a 70-foot stage only one day before meeting with Bergman. They say the student arrived in an “agitated state” and that when Bergman told him the stage was impractical, he cried, “It’s over!” and fled to the bathroom. Officials said Marcavage was there for 15 minutes and that they had to send for a locksmith. “He came out [of the bathroom] sort of staggering,” one university official said. “We didn’t know if he had taken something.” Marcavage was released after 3 1/2 hours. The doctor who examined him said he was “calm and cooperative.” Conservative Christian groups have taken up Marcavage’s cause, prompting a deluge of mail to Temple. “What happened to Michael Marcavage should shock all Americans,” the American Family Association of Tupelo, Miss., declared in its February newsletter. “It is nothing less than an outrageous attempt to intimidate, silence, and belittle Christians.” AFA head Donald Wildmon has asked for money to help Marcavage’s lawsuit. Marcavage is being defended by the AFA’s Center for Law and Policy. His attorney, Brian Fahling, said that he expects to seek damages of $750,000.