Creative Team Presents Findings of LGBT Survey at Museum of Motherhood


Mothers of gay, lesbian, and bisexual children from all over the United States spoke out at the Museum of Motherhood in New York City, without ever leaving their homes. Their opinions on learning that their children were gay were given voice by the creative team of Maura McGurk and Mia Grottola, who conducted an anonymous survey over several months and presented the survey’s findings at the Museum’s conference on Evolutionary Motherhood.

The presentation was entitled Listen to Your Mother: Mothers Respond When Their Children Come Out As Gay.

The mothers’ responses uncovered a range of feelings and reactions to the moment when their children “came out”, or identified themselves as gay, to their mothers. The responses revealed a vulnerability and honesty on the part of the mothers, many of whom did not know their children were gay before the announcement. One swore out loud; one wished she had a fishing pole to reel back her son’s words; one felt shame for having made anti-gay comments in front of her child; another was relieved that she had inadvertently solved the “pesky daughter-in-law problem”.

McGurk and Grottola analyzed over 100 survey responses, culled representative quotes, and presented them verbatim in a dramatic reading. The audience, many of them academics and mothers of young children, alternately laughed and cried during the presentation.

McGurk said that the inspiration for the survey came from her own, and Grottola’s, experiences coming out to their mothers, who had a hard time with the news. Subsequently, McGurk and Grottola had a genuine interest in trying to understand their mothers’ thoughts and fears, which led to this project.

McGurk said, “Mia and I were adult children when we came out, but that didn’t necessarily make it any easier on our moms, or on us. We planned for the moment, how we were going to say it, where, when. It seems like it should be easier nowadays than it’s ever been, but it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and you hope for the best.”


To attempt to ensure maximum honesty, McGurk and Grottola created an anonymous online survey. Ten questions prompted mothers’ thoughts on everything from their first reaction to the news, to its effect on family relationships, to thoughts on their parenting styles. Each question had unlimited space to answer in narrative form. McGurk and Grottola publicized the survey mostly through word-of-mouth among their gay friends, and through PFLAG (Parents of Lesbians and Gays) support groups.

Both women realize that their admittedly unscientific methods must have affected the survey results, though they are not sure exactly how. Because the survey was conducted online, it necessarily required internet access and a degree of technical savvy. Since many of the survey participants were likely located through PFLAG, that could indicate a tendency to be more open to dealing with their fears surrounding their children’s sexuality, which in turn could make them more likely to plumb the depths of their feelings at a stranger’s request. McGurk wonders whether the mothers are involved with PFLAG because they enthusiastically support their children, or because they need assistance coming to terms with their negative feelings.

“It’s hard to say,” McGurk says. “We saw one mother who said she was literally on the edge, hanging on for dear life, crying while she was typing, because she couldn’t accept her son. We felt terrible reading this, because our instinct would be to reach out and help her somehow, but we don’t know who she is. And of course we feel awful for her son; we understand his perspective. On the other hand, there was a mother who said she didn’t like our tone, that one of our questions made it sound as if there was something wrong with being gay and her son is perfect just the way he is,” McGurk chuckles. “Mom, we’re gay too! We don’t think there’s anything wrong with it either! But there’s a mother who is fiercely in support of her child. We saw quite a bit of mama bear instincts throughout the responses”.

The survey, though it may not be representative of all LGBT children, found that most come out to their mothers in their late teens or twenties, though seven mothers said their children were twelve years old or younger. One child was four years old when he casually came out before school one day.

The survey did not ask when the coming-out conversation took place, but indirect references in the mothers’ responses show that some of the coming-out stories were from as far back as the 1970s, with some of the mothers now near 80 years old, with adult children in mid-life.

Some excerpts from the presentation, including mothers’ quotes, can be read here.

Maura McGurk Named Artist of the Week by theStudio4Art


TheStudio4Art named Maura McGurk “Artist of the Week” for her paintings in response to gay bullying, and recognized her for her work with various charities that stand behind LGBT youth.

In bestowing this honor, theStudio praises the paintings and mixed media work that not only display “a magnificent use of color and texture”, but also have the ability to emotionally resonate and move hearts and minds. TheStudio states that McGurk’s artwork “promotes love, acceptance and tolerance and supports LGBT youth by taking a stand against the bully epidemic. If there was ever a time to believe that art has the power to change the world this would be a start.”

Mapping a Memorable Man

Pittsburgh, PA by Jennifer Carland

I just funded my first Kickstarter campaign.

What is Kickstarter you ask? It’s an online source of funding for (mostly) creative projects that might never get made otherwise. The way it works (ideally) is that lots of people give small amounts of money to invest in a project, for example, the filming of a movie, or the recording of an album, or the exhibition of artworks. Because it’s difficult to find a few backers willing to fund a large proportion of a project, and perhaps even more difficult to find backers who will resist the temptation to influence the creative process, many of these projects might not get made without Kickstarter. The idea is to provide autonomy to the artist, while allowing many people to share in the satisfaction of putting something creative into the world, and if the project doesn’t reach the funding goal, no money is taken at all, from anyone. That’s important: Kickstarter is all-or-nothing.

The campaign I funded is called Mapping A Memorable Man by Jennifer Carland. The Memorable Man of the title is Jenn’s brother, Justin, who died unexpectedly in a motorcycle accident in April 2012. The project will create map-based artwork of specific cities that were important in Justin’s life, and exhibit the 20-40 artworks together, near Justin’s hometown.

Jenn has chosen to channel her grief over Justin’s death into creating artwork about his “incredible fun-loving” life. Why maps? In Jenn’s words:

My idea is that if I create abstracted maps…of the locations where my brother spent his life, it will tell his story in a unique way…people have a strong identity with a particular location and have an emotional and/or psychological connection to a particular place- somewhere where they currently live, where they grew up, where they went on vacation, or another memorable location.

Jenn and Justin Carland

On the Kickstarter campaign site, Jenn provides a list of cities she’d like to map through this project, places where Justin played hockey, worked, met friends and so on. While these cities are personal to Justin and to Jenn, many of them hold strong memories for me too. Jenn says:

The cool thing about this is that these cities not only hold [Justin’s] stories, but many more memories and stories for lots of other people.  I would love to have the opportunity to make prints for people, who may or may not have known Justin, but want to have a print of a city that has meaning to them. This way I can keep Justin’s memories alive…but at the same time, bookmark memories for other people.

Even though I never met Justin, I also feel connected to New Bedford, Niagara Falls, and San Francisco, to name just a few locations on Jenn’s list. My memories, of course, aren’t Justin’s memories, but discovering this interpersonal connection makes me feel a little richer. Doesn’t that at least partly explain Facebook?

I like Kickstarter because, to quote Jenn again, it shows “the impact one person has on the world”. This means Justin, it means each individual backer, it means the artist behind each project.

Another nice thing about Kickstarter is that you can be a part of the action for as low as $1.00, and each level of this campaign comes with rewards. You can receive PDFs, prints of artwork, personal thank-yous, and more; it’s worth checking out.

Remember, the project has to be backed 100% in order for Jenn to receive any funds for art supplies, exhibition of the original works, shipping of artwork, etc.

Check out Mapping A Memorable Man, support the arts, memorialize a great person, make a connection, and possibly obtain your own unique piece of artwork.

Good luck to Jennifer Carland and Mapping a Memorable Man!

55 Galleries in One Day!

While walking in Chinatown today, I stopped to help a man who had just dropped his Rollerblades on the sidewalk. As I bent down and picked one up, I recognized the man; he leads art tours every Saturday afternoon in New York City. We started chatting, and he showed me his notes from his afternoon of tours — 55 galleries (out of 132) in SoHo and the Lower East Side!

These notes, ratings, and two-word synopses of each exhibition will eventually be honed into a 4-6 gallery tour by Saturday. A nice look at the inside of this operation; one of my favorite parts is that about once a month, an LGBT-themed art tour is given. Check out NYC Gallery Tours for more information.

Listen to Your Mother Survey: Some Excerpts

Video by John Roberts. This video encapsulates many of the responses Mia and I received to our anonymous online survey of mothers of gay children.

At this point in history, it could be argued that it’s never been easier to tell your parents you’re gay. But Mia and I can tell you from personal experience that coming out to our parents wasn’t easy. We planned for the announcement, carefully choosing the words, timing, and setting, and hoping for the best possible reaction.

Our mothers especially had a difficult time with the news. Our genuine interest in trying to understand their reactions has led us to consider other mothers’ responses to their own children’s coming out announcements.

We created a survey of 10 questions, with unlimited space to answer in narrative form. We received responses from over 100 mothers. In a presentation at the Museum of Motherhood, entitled Listen to Your Mother: Mothers Respond When Their Children Come Out As Gay, we included some analysis of responses and quotes from real mothers of gay children. We are considering additional ways to present this information to the public in the future. Stay tuned.

Below are excerpts from the MOM presentation:

Regarding the age at which children came out to their mothers, most were in their late teens or twenties. Seven were 12 years old or younger.

When we asked about the first thing the mother thought of when her child came out to her, these were some of the responses:

  • “shit.”
  • “I remember thinking that I wished I had a fishing pole, and could reel his words back in, so they wouldn’t be out in the open. Then, I thought my heart would break to think that he went through this process alone.”
  • “Well, that solves that pesky daughter-in-law problem.”
  • “What would our friends and family think and say. Shame on me….”
  • “All of the things I’d said and done inadvertently to hurt him. (Don’t buy that shirt, it looks gay)”
  • “That I had lost him forever”

Mothers’ fears included the following:

  • “Was very uneducated on the topic so worried about internet predators and increased susceptibility to drugs/alcohol/depression.”
  • “I was mostly afraid that he would be “shunned”, that people would be cruel, and that he wouldn’t find love. I was afraid his father would reject him, worried how friends/community would react. and felt sorry that I probably wouldn’t have grandchildren.”
  • “My only fear for myself was that I had let her down by not making it safe for her to tell me earlier. For my child, fears that her very traditional extended family would reject her (one side did, the other did not).”

Regarding whether coming out affected any family relationships:

  • “Once the news settled in, I realized that my child would be treated by people the same way “I” treated her. So, I really made an effort to touch her, hug her, in public–to let EVERYONE know that I loved my child.”
  • “it has affected my relationship with him. still have a hard time understanding it after 12 years of knowing”
  • “no, but I did feel guilty that I was so dim and not able to offer support during his teen years when he must have needed it.”

We asked if and how mothers shared the information with family and friends:

  • “I have found that I am most comfortable if I share as much as possible. It helps me find out who is really going to be an asset to my son and from whom we need a little separation. I don’t have any tolerance for negative energy around this topic–my son will get enough of this out in the world, so he needs to be completely safe from it at home. I want him to expect to be respected.”

Did mothers see their children’s gay sexuality as a reflection on their parenting?

  • “I must admit that I did wonder if I was too liberal in my parenting. As parents of boys, we encouraged art, baby dolls and cooking, and discouraged rough behavior. We were able to ignore the comments of other parents (especially fathers) when they were young, because we were certain we were raising balanced children. My son being gay seemed to validate my critics.”

We asked mothers how their child came out:

  • “I came home from work early one day. She and her girlfriend were cuddled up on the sofa and were very surprised to see me. Don’t remember how I got the girlfriend out of the house, it was all her fault you know, but I started screaming at my child. She went across the street to a neighbor and stayed for some time but when she came home the confrontation continued. The girlfriend had seduced her, etc! It was probably the worst day of our lives.”
  • “Thank you for doing this. When My Son told me, he was very hesitant as if worried what My response would be. I told him that I already knew. I had always known. And I told him that it didn’t make any difference to me, I love him just as much, I love him just the same, and he is My Son, nothing changes my love for him, not being Gay or not, just as it wouldn’t change how I felt if he was a good kid vs. a bad kid, or if he was outgoing vs. shy. He is My Son. I Love him with all my heart! I don’t understand how some Parents can turn their children away when they tell their Parents. That’s when your child needs you the most in their life. How could I have reacted any other way? I am so very Proud of My Son! I remember him telling me that he hears all these stories from his friends about the horrible way some of them were treated by their PArents because they are Gay, and I will never forget him telling me that he had no way to understand how that felt because he didn’t experience that at all with me when he told me. That is something I will always carry with me. Just something as simple as my reaction made his journey easier. That is what a Mom should be able to do for her Son.”
  • “he called on the phone 2 weeks before we wre going up to see him perform in a play. I’m glad he told me on the phone, so i could fall apart privately, and I had 2 weeks to prepare so I could face him and hide my tears.”
  • “She arrived home from school & told me she finally met someone she had a crush on. She was stunned when I said “I hope she’s a good student.””

Did having a gay child impact the mother’s identity?

  • “No. I think I have become more vocal about my love for all my kids. It bothered me that he had to question how I would react. I want them to know my love is unconditional.”
  • “I consider it a positive impact on my parenting that he could tell me. I also know that he never heard negative comments about homosexuals in our house or in our church which comforts me”
  • “Yes, I was sure it was my fault, and that the fact that I had kicked his father out had coused it. No matter what, it never changed my love for him. I feel like it did change my thoughts and beliefs about gay people.”

We asked how mothers handle negative comments about gay people.

  • “I would always have spoken up when someone made an offensive comment. Now that it is personal, however, I feel I am better able to make offenders aware of how hurtful they are. Saying, “I disagree with your statement” just isn’t as powerful as saying, “someone I love is gay, and your words are very hurtful to me.” Making them aware of my pain makes them think. Fortunately, it just hasn’t come up for me very often.”

We asked whether mothers were concerned about their children’s future partners, specifically, if they were concerned about any masculinity in the women, or femininity in the men:

  • “No… long as my son is happy, that is all that matters. He has a wonderful partner whom I consider my “other son””
  • “No. It may have been different were she male. It has been difficult for me to take uber-feminine gay men seriously (can’t imagine them as attorneys or accountants, for example). I have had to challenge my thinking on this, and it has been difficult. I am not proud of this.”
  • “No my daughter has always been masculine and hasn’t dated anyone yet that I know. Whomever she likes or falls in love with won’t matter as long as they treat each other with love and respect. I’m concerned with how outsiders will treat my child because of her masculinity let alone with a girlfriend.”
  • “I’m quite conventional in my behavior. And I’m relieved that my daughter chooses partners who don’t appear ‘gay.’ If she did, then I’d have some work to do on myself to accept this and I know I’d be able to.”

We asked for advice for mothers whose children have just come out.

  • “Take your time dealing with your emotions. And no emotion is off limits. You are entitled to all of them. It can be a long process getting comfortable with your new reality, but you will get there and it will be worth it. And some day, you will look back and be amazed at how far you have come. I would also add that finding out we had a gay son opened up our world in the most amazing ways. I would not change one thing about the journey we have been on. And I certainly would not change one thing about my son.”

Hurricane Sandy: Art and Recovery

Times Square Pour, Molly Dilworth. Benefit Edition for Hurricane Sandy Recovery Efforts

Governor Cuomo observed this week, “We have a 100-year flood every two years now.” Hurricane Sandy has made the relationship between the natural and built environment painfully clear, it is critical that we build for the future with this knowledge in mind.
— Molly Dilworth

I’m a believer in the power of art to help, heal, to change the world. I have often donated artwork or proceeds from sales to various causes that are important to me. In a move that’s close to my heart, artist Molly Dilworth and ArtWeLove have teamed to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated so much of New York City.

This is the email I received today from ArtWeLove. Good work, good cause; consider checking it out.

As you all know, Superstorm Sandy has left a terrible path of destruction on the East Coast of the United States as well as Haiti and Cuba. As a company made in New York, our team and many of our artists are in recovery mode, many of them still without power, and for some, having lost their workspace and most of their art.

We want to do our bit to help rebuild our great city and support everyone affected by the storm, in New York but also beyond. The great Brooklyn-based artist Molly Dilworth has pitched in one of her ArtWeLove editions, Times Square Pour.

Especially for this benefit, we’ve created a 16 x 20 inches version of this popular print and effective immediately all sales of all sizes of Times Square Pour will all go to benefit the American Red Cross’s Sandy relief efforts.

Times Square Pour is a particularly relevant choice. Molly is a land artist who has always been concerned with the environment and we’ve worked together before to create benefit editions for the Global Earth Project with

Times Square Pour is based on her site-specific installation “Cool Water, Hot Island” in New York’s Times Square and the winning proposal for the 2010 reNEWable Times Square Design Competition. This edition is a representation of NASA’s infrared satellite data of Manhattan. When painted on the streets of Times Square, the artwork’s color and movement suggest rivers and natural forms, juxtaposing against their built surroundings and alluding to the early days of New York City. Superstorm Sandy came in last week as a powerful reminder of New York’s complex relation between the built environment and the natural.

We chose to donate to the Red Cross, an apolitical and trusted organization that provides shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to those affected by disasters like Hurricane Sandy, as well as countless crises at home and around the world. You can also donate directly to Red Cross.

Thanks for helping support the effort to recover.

ArtWeLove team.

Another New Digital Collage


Doesn’t have a title yet, but still thinking about Sor Juana, the nun from the 17th century, who wrote love poetry to other women. Remarkable that despite that, she is on the 200-peso Mexican bill, and lauded as one of the most important–and first–of the truly “Mexican” writers (in the days when it was still a colony of Spain).

The Abe Lincoln Debacle: Ethics Commission Rules It Was, In Fact, a “Debacle”

What would Abe say?
By popular demand, I’ll close out the saga of the Abe Lincoln paintings which were refused exhibition by the Slater Museum, against its own contest rules.

The Ethics Commission of the City of Norwich convened hearings to hear testimony against defendant Vivian Zoe, Director of the Slater Museum, and sponsor of the contest to replace Norwich’s stolen Lincoln portrait. I and several other artists supplied testimony for these hearings, which boiled down to two main points:

1) Zoe refused to exhibit all paintings as guaranteed by the contest rules, and

2) Zoe did not allow the judges, as promised and as is standard in art contests, to make the selections for the paintings which were exhibited. She made the selections herself, and only later did she show the judges 24 of the 33 rejected paintings.

For the record, only 29 of 62 submitted paintings were exhibited in the space and time frame promised by Zoe and the Slater Museum; 33 were excluded against contest rules.

The Ethics Commission issued a final report which left no doubt as to what they think of Zoe and her conduct. The report repeats numerous times that Zoe failed to appear at the hearing, leaving the Commission with unanswered questions. The report refers to her “neglect” over the issuance of contest rules, points out her flippancy in her communications with rejected artists, and calls the contest a “debacle”. The report states that “we are convinced, that there were serious errors in the conduct of the contest.”

With that being said, the Commission ruled that they have no official jurisdiction over Zoe, since she is not an employee of the City, but was only acting as an agent of the City for this particular project. Although she spent thousands of dollars in City funds, the Commission was not able to hold her officially accountable. A reading between the lines makes it clear that they would have liked to, however.

The report concludes with two recommendations to the City Council and City Manager:

1) that the City Manager not enter into informal arrangements like this in the future, without arrangement for adherence to the Code of Ethics, and

2) that the City apologize to all 33 artists who were treated unfairly by Zoe and the Slater Museum.

I don’t know whether the first recommendation was followed, but the second was not. No letter of apology has been received by this artist.

A gracious apology would have gone a very long way; as Lincoln said: “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” I think most artists would have been willing to test that theory, but shame on Zoe and Company, once again, for failing to make this right.

The full text of the Ethics Commission report is below.

City of Norwich, CT
Ethics Commission
Ruling, Cases 2011-2 and 2011-4

History of the Complaints

Complaint 2011-2 , submitted by Mary Susan Sabol,was received by the City Clerk on May 16, 2011. Complaint 2011-4, submitted by Margery Chase, was received by the City Clerk on June 1, 2011. Both complaints dealt with the conduct of a contest to replace a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, painted by John Denison Crocker, which was stolen from City Hall in 1994. The contest was funded by a grant from the Sachem Fund to the Norwich City Manager’s office. The prize money was city money, the contest judges were paid by the city, and the winning portrait is now the property of the city and hangs in City Hall. The contest was conceived as a partnership between the city and the Slater Memorial Museum of Norwich Free Academy. However, the contest was actually run and administered by Vivian Zoe, the director of Slater.

Both complaints named Ms. Zoe and another respondent. On June 13, the Commission voted to combine the two complaints and establish a subcommittee to conduct a probable cause investigation. On July 14, the investigating subcommittee questioned respondent Zoe. On July 15, the investigating subcommittee questioned the second respondent. On July 25, the Commission found probable cause to believe that respondent Vivian Zoe had violated the Code of Ethics. The Commission found no probable cause to believe that the other respondent had violated the Code of Ethics and in accordance with the Code, the second respondent is not identified in this ruling.

Commission chairman Charles Arian named a hearing panel consisting of Commissioners Robert Davidson, Joseph Sastre, Tamara Lanier, and Marcia Marien, with himself as chair. A hearing date was set for August 15, and the respondent and complainants were notified in accordance with the Ethics Code and the Commission’s Rules and Procedures.

On August 1, respondent Zoe notified the Chairman via e-mail that a prior commitment prevented her from attending the August 15 hearing. A special meeting of the Ethics Commission on August 4 decided to convene the hearing as scheduled on August 15 without hearing testimony, and to offer August 16 and 17 as possible dates to reconvene so that respondent Zoe could be present. Later that same evening, respondent Zoe confirmed by e-mail her availability to appear on August 16.

Both complainants notified the chair that they were unable to attend. Three additional artists contacted the chair asking to submit testimony. The commission rules permit written testimony if it will expedite the hearing, if it will not substantially prejudice the interests of the parties, and if it is sworn. The hearing panel voted to accept written testimony from the complainants and from artists Maura McGurk and Richard Conover. The chair ruled that written testimony from artist Laura Levine must be excluded as her name did not appear on the list of witnesses given to the respondent. The hearing panel heard oral testimony from City Manager Alan Bergren on August 16.

Respondent Zoe did not appear for the hearing. On August 12 she sent a letter to the Chairman referencing her previous notice that a schedule conflict prevented her from appearing on August 15, and the Chairman’s acknowledgment of that notice. She did not refer to her August 4 e-mail stating that she was available to appear at the hearing on August 16. She closed her letter by stating that she does not believe that the Code of Ethics or the Ethics Commission have jurisdiction in this case.

Since the respondent failed to appear for the hearing, we were unable to question her. In the absence of Ms. Zoe’s oral testimony, the hearing panel voted to admit into evidence her previous written responses to the complaints, her testimony before the investigating panel, and subsequent e-mail correspondence with the Commission.

Substance of the Complaints

The basic facts of the case are relatively straightforward and not disputed by the respondent. It is the significance of those facts which the Commission is called upon to adjudicate.

In late 2010, respondent Zoe began publicizing the Lincoln Portrait Contest. An article with her byline appeared in the Bridgeport Banner dated Nov. 16, 2010. The article instructed artists who were interested in participating in the contest to contact the Slater Museum to purchase a CD-ROM with contest rules and prospectus, as well as images of other Crocker portraits. Both the article and the “Submission Standards and Rules” included on the CD-ROM stated that the exhibit held in conjunction with the contest would be held at the Norwich Arts Council gallery and that all submitted paintings would be displayed. The rules additionally stated that artists who did not win the prize award could offer their paintings for sale from the exhibition.

When the artists brought their paintings to the NAC Gallery on April 15, they were asked to sign a drop-off form which stated that not all paintings would necessarily be displayed and that Slater reserved the right not to display a particular painting for any reason. The written testimony from Ms. McGurk states that she was later told by a reporter that Ms. Zoe said that the drop-off form had been posted at some point before April 15 on the Slater website. We were unable to ask Ms. Zoe if this was indeed the case and if so, when and why this was done, because she failed to appear to testify as scheduled.

At some point before the exhibition was mounted, Ms. Zoe decided to display only 29 of the 62 submitted paintings. She acknowledged in her written response and reaffirmed in her July 14 testimony to the investigating subcommittee that she decided on her own, based on her evaluations of their quality and adherence to the guidelines, which of the paintings to drop from the contest and exhibition. Subsequent to this, and after rejection e-mails had already gone out, Ms. Zoe states that 24 of the 33 rejected paintings were seen by the jurors and they agreed that none were contenders for the award. Before the judges saw this group, nine of the rejected paintings had already been reclaimed by the artists.

Those artists whose paintings were not chosen were instructed to pick up their paintings or to contact the promoters of a different, unaffiliated exhibit to see if the paintings might be displayed there. In addition, “10 lucky painters on a first-come, first-served basis” (Vivian Zoe e-mail to Maura McGurk, April 20) were offered the opportunity to display their painting in a downtown shop window.

Complainants and their supporting witnesses allege that Ms. Zoe acted unethically by changing the rules of the contest after they were promulgated, both in terms of the failure to display all entered portraits and by virtue of the fact that the rejected portraits were culled by Ms. Zoe rather than the judges.

Artists entering the contest did so relying on the Slater Museum’s promise that all entered paintings would be displayed and offered for sale; and that all would be evaluated by the judges of the contest. Both complainants in their written testimony explicitly state that their complaints are not about not winning the contest. Their complaints deal rather with the fact that their paintings were not displayed as promised and that additionally, the decision not to display them was made by Ms. Zoe and not the judges.

The artists who submitted paintings expended a great deal of effort as well as money. Ms. McGurk testifies that her direct out-of-pocket expenditure for materials and the cost of getting her painting to Norwich and back was $688. The enticement to invest the time and money was not merely the possibility of winning the $8000 purchase award. It was also the guarantee of having a painting displayed at an exhibition sponsored by the well-regarded Slater Museum.

There were actions which we believe Ms. Zoe could and should have taken which would have prevented this debacle from ever arising. Ms. Zoe notes in her written response to the charges that the rules were originally written with the assumption that the exhibition would take place in a gallery in Slater Museum. It was only later that the exhibition site needed to be moved to the NAC gallery due to construction in Slater, something over which Ms. Zoe clearly had no control.

Nevertheless, it must be noted that however late in the process Ms. Zoe was faced with the need to move the exhibition from Slater to NAC, that change in plans occurred prior to the announcement of the contest and promulgation of the rules. We believe that this is significant. Ms. Zoe in her written response devotes quite a lot of space to the fact that the move from Slater to NAC was not something that she either wanted or was responsible for. But she also notes that she had concluded by September that she would be unable to hold the exhibition in Slater. The November Bridgeport Banner article, and the rules themselves, both state that the exhibition will be at the NAC gallery and that all paintings will be displayed. Ms. Zoe in her written response states that when she had to move the site she “neglected the need to change language regarding the exhibition.” Why did this neglect occur? We don’t know, because Ms. Zoe did not appear to testify as scheduled. But it is this very neglect which created this entire problem.

At what point did Ms. Zoe realize that she had a potential problem and that she might not, in fact, be able to display all submitted portraits as promised? At what point, if ever, did she measure the NAC gallery to determine how many portraits could be displayed? (It should be noted that all submitted portraits were required to be exactly the same size so it would have been relatively simple to ascertain how many portraits could be hung in the available space.) Again, we don’t know the answer to these questions, because Ms. Zoe did not appear to testify as scheduled.

Had the rules which were promulgated not promised that all submitted paintings would be displayed, there would be no issue. We can assume that Ms. Zoe’s original failure to change the written rules before promulgating them was a legitimate oversight, but at some point between January (when Ms. McGurk’s purchased CD was postmarked) and April, if not before, we believe Ms. Zoe should have realized that she had a potential problem on her hands.

While it is certainly the case that Ms. Zoe did not know in advance precisely how many portraits would be submitted on drop-off day, she knew how many artists had purchased the Crocker CD-ROM from Slater, which she directs, and she had their names and addresses. We believe that she could have mitigated her problem when she realized that she might not have room for all submitted portraits by contacting all the artists who had purchased CDs and letting them know that the rules had been changed. Chances are that every artist who submitted a painting had purchased the Crocker CD-ROM beforehand. We don’t know this for a fact, since Ms. Zoe did not appear to testify as scheduled.

The artists in their complaints state that the NAC gallery could have accommodated all the submitted paintings if they had been “stacked,” i.e. displayed in two rows rather than one. Ms. Zoe did not dispute this in her written response to the complaints. Why didn’t Ms. Zoe choose to “stack” the paintings so that all could be displayed in accordance with the rules as promulgated? We don’t know, because Ms. Zoe did not appear to testify as scheduled.

Whether or not there exists clear and convincing evidence that Ms. Zoe violated the Norwich municipal Code of Ethics, we believe that it is clear ,and we are convinced, that there were serious errors in the conduct of the contest. These errors left many artists angry, feeling that they had expended time and money to enter a contest under one set of rules only to find that the contest was conducted under another set of rules. We agree with the artists that this is not just a case of sour grapes. The artists were offered a quid pro quo: paint a Lincoln portrait meeting the criteria promulgated in the contest rules, bring it to Norwich on April 15, and it will be displayed at the NAC gallery. Sixty-two artists followed the rules but only 29 of them had their portraits displayed. The size of the paintings and the size of the gallery were both known well in advance. We believe that the rules could and should have been written in a way that did not guarantee that all paintings would be displayed. We believe that even after the rules went out, Ms. Zoe could and should have contacted the artists who purchased the Crocker CD-ROMs, informing them of the problem, and letting them know as soon as she realized her acknowledged neglect. Ms. Zoe writes in her written response that the project “alienated them (the artists) and caused distress and frustration.” We agree.

The Question of Jurisdiction

The Norwich Code of Ethics applies to “officials and employees” and further defines these categories as “Members of all departments, boards, commissions, committees or other agencies of the City of Norwich, including the City Council, whether they be elected or appointed, paid or unpaid, full or part time, and all classified and unclassified employees of the City of Norwich.”

In order to violate the Code of Ethics, one must of necessity be subject to the Code of Ethics. One who is not subject to the code cannot violate it, regardless of how reprehensible his or her acts may be.

The question of jurisdiction was first raised by Ms. Zoe in a letter to the Chairman dated August 12 and received at City Hall on August 15, the date the hearing was convened. In that letter Ms. Zoe states “I do not believe that the City of Norwich Code of Ethics, nor the Ethics Commission have jurisdiction in this case.”

Ms. Zoe does not state in her letter why she believes that the Commission lacks jurisdiction. We were not able to question her on this point, nor did she present her reasoning, due to her unilateral failure to appear. The issue of jurisdiction was not raised by Ms. Zoe in her initial written response, nor did she raise it when she met with the investigative subcommittee on July 14. At all points prior to the Commission’s finding of probable cause, Ms. Zoe acted in all ways as someone who believed that the Commission had jurisdiction. Her written response to the charges was lengthy and detailed, and her testimony before the investigative subcommittee was responsive to the questions asked.

Ms. Zoe did, in an e-mail to the Chair on August 4, say that she had never been informed that she was subject to the Code of Ethics, nor been given a copy of it, and that she had cooperated with the Commission “to this point, out of respect for the City, the process and the artists.” But even in that e-mail, she never raised the question of the Commission’s jurisdiction.

The Commission in its probable cause investigation found sufficient cause to advance the complaints to a hearing. However, the threshold for finding “probable cause” is much lower than the threshold for finding a violation. Having found probable cause, the Commission then becomes obligated to receive testimony and investigate more fully.

Although Ms. Zoe did not raise the issue of jurisdiction until the business day before the commencement of the hearing, as a matter of law the failure to raise the issue earlier in the process does not preclude her from raising the issue at any time prior to the issuance of a ruling. A defendant or respondent, by law, retains the right to raise the issue at any point in the process.

Courts or commissions do not, as a rule, consider the question of jurisdiction unless and until a defendant or respondent raises it. At no point prior to her letter of August 12 did Ms. Zoe assert that she was not bound by the Code of Ethics. Indeed, we noted this in our formal statement of probable cause. With Ms. Zoe having raised the issue, the Commission is now obligated to consider the question of jurisdiction. Had the issue been raised earlier in the process, we would have thoroughly dealt with it earlier in the process.

As we have already noted, Ms. Zoe in her letter dated August 12 does not state why she believes the Commission lacks jurisdiction. But it is reasonable to assume that her belief is rooted in the fact that as an employee of the Norwich Free Academy, she is not an employee of the City of Norwich. While the status of NFA is somewhat ambiguous — it describes itself as an independent school while the State of Connecticut calls it a public school — it is at any rate not a part of the Norwich Public Schools system and its faculty and staff are clearly not City employees.

If NFA were part of the Norwich Public Schools there is no question in our eyes that we would have jurisdiction. Similarly, if the actions which Ms. Zoe acknowledges had been committed by the City Manager himself, rather than by Ms. Zoe, there would be no question that the Commission would have jurisdiction. The question of jurisdiction only arises because NFA is not part of the Norwich Public Schools.

The complainants seemed to believe that Ms. Zoe is a city employee, since most people who are not from the Norwich area assume that NFA is part of the Norwich Public Schools system. The Commission of course knew from the beginning that Ms. Zoe is not a city employee. Why then, did we not dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction, rather than find probable cause?

The nexus for consideration of the complaint arises out of the fact that the City Manager’s office was so deeply involved in the contest. Several thousands of dollars of city money were expended and the winning portrait became the property of the city. Had the contest been produced solely by the Slater Museum, without city involvement, the Commission would have immediately declined to act because of lack of jurisdiction.

City Manager Alan Bergren’s testimony before the Commission on August 16 demonstrates quite clearly that Ms. Zoe was acting on behalf of the city in conducting the contest. She had discretionary authority to set the rules and to manage the contest. Based on her decisions, city monies were spent and property (the painting) purchased.

Ms. Zoe was not acting as a city employee in her role because she is not, in fact, a city employee. However, the Ethics Code does not apply only to employees. There are dozens of elected and appointed members of boards, commissions, and authorities. With the exception of the Mayor and City Council, none of these are paid yet all are subject to the Code of Ethics.

The Code of Ethics includes both employees and officials — which it then defines as “members of all departments, boards, commissions, committees, or other agencies of the City of Norwich.” Ms. Zoe was acting as an agent of the City but that does not make her a member of a department, board, commission, committee or agency.

The statutes which created the various boards and commissions contain different methods of appointment. However, in all such cases there is a formal process of appointment, which could involve a vote of the City Council or some similar mechanism. Here, there was no such formal appointment, merely an informal agreement between the City Manager and a staff member of a local, though non-municipal, school and its museum.


We do not believe that the City Council when passing the Code of Ethics, contemplated an informal arrangement made by the City Manager as being under the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission. Accordingly, we agree with Ms. Zoe that we lack jurisdiction and decline to rule on these two complaints.

Since we lack jurisdiction over Ms. Zoe, we cannot make recommendations to the City Council and City Manager concerning her. However, in the wake of our investigation we would like to make the following recommendations to the City Council and City Manager:

Discretionary authority should not be given to non-employees or those who are not officials or officers of the city without appropriate safeguards to insure that the norms of the Code of Ethics are followed.

Our second recommendation is that the city write letters of apology to the 33 artists. They had a reasonable expectation that the written rules would be followed. The artists devoted months of time, effort, and expense to their paintings. We cannot compensate them for their time, effort, or lost opportunity, but the city can at least express regret for the errors and the outcome.

I Saw You, Sor Juana


I Saw You - Need More Be Said?
Digital collage

This digital collage was recently exhibited at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, in a show called Queer Art and the Church.

It was inspired by a quote by Sor Juana de la Cruz, a Catholic nun in New Spain (now Mexico) in the 17th century. She’s considered the first Mexican writer, as well as an early feminist for her support of education for females.

I studied her writings in college, but recently, I learned about another dimension to Sor Juana. She wrote love poems to other women and may have had a relationship with Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes, the vicereine of Mexico.

This news dropped on me like a bomb: a delicious, rebellious water-balloon of a bomb. Like many who were raised Catholic, I heard my share of stories about nuns’ cruelty toward their students. (It was for this reason that I gratefully attended public school). I was also on the receiving end of the Catholic church’s intolerance, having been dragged down a hallway at age 11 by my shirt collar and tossed into the priest’s office on suspicion of being gay (bless those CCD teachers for knowing before I did!).

These formative experiences, as well as a devotion to camp, have ensured a life-long fascination with nuns. Sor Juana’s lesbian poetry and crushes spoke to me on many levels: for her clear rebellion against Church teachings and determination to live her own life (go girl!), her adamant declarations of love for women, and her sense of the romantic. There is no whiff of shame or even hesitation in her poems. “I saw you — need more be said?”, a line from My Divine Lysis and the title of my digital collage, sums up her directness.

This collage playfully examines some dichotomies related to Sor Juana’s outward fame versus her private life. By collaging fragments of her manuscripts and her image on the Mexican 200-peso bill, I acknowledge the respect she is accorded, while tapping into the campiness of nuns and lesbians through pulp images.

Viva Sor Juana!

Living. In a Digital World


I made a very New York decision, and by that, I mean that the size of my apartment has dictated a new approach in my art.

If you’re not familiar with the stereotypical “shoebox” apartment, allow me to describe my second-to-last apartment, in Greenwich Village. I could sit at the kitchen table, and with my left arm, open the fridge. With my right arm, I could open the front door. That was it, the whole kitchen. And by the way, both of us slept in a twin bed–the same twin bed. That was my apartment, and I loved it. But it can make you do crazy things. People keep books in the oven, for example, because the apartment is too small for a bookshelf, and they’re New Yorkers who eat out all the time anyway, so that makes the oven wasted space. Unless, of course, you can turn it into a book storage unit. Only in New York, as they say.

In our current apartment, our walls and storage and nooks and crannies are filled. I’ve temporarily run out of room for the kind of paintings I enjoy making. So, I decided to make art that doesn’t take up much space. My laptop has become my new studio.

Here’s a new digital collage. Stay tuned!

She’s a Nice Girl


This digital collage and the following statement are on exhibit right now at Idaho State University, in a show called Mama Said: Art and Artifacts of Wise Women.

“She’s a Nice Girl”

These were the words my mother said to me, twenty minutes or more after I had finally gotten up the courage to tell her that I was dating a woman.

In those long twenty minutes, there were silences, interspersed with a bit of light conversation on other topics, to the point where I wondered if she had heard me.

She did.

Finally, she quietly said, “She’s a nice girl”. It wasn’t an easy thing for her to say.  And it didn’t mean everything was immediately all right.  But, unlike some mothers who disown their gay kids, mine was going to stand behind me.