When Mary Hawk took her 5-year-old son to Kennywood earlier this month, she expected to be shaken up. She just thought it would happen on a roller coaster, not during the stage show.
She was watching a production called "Pirates of Kenny Cove" on Fri., May 11, a show that included material Hawk felt was homophobic.
One scene depicts a crew member in need of CPR, but all members on the pirate ship are reluctant to perform the procedure. Finally, a crew member with a limp wrist and a lisp comes on the scene and proclaims, "I'll do it, sweetie." His actions are quickly reprimanded by the master of ceremonies, who says, "We'll have none of that here," and the play continues.
Hawk was disturbed.
"As a parent I look to talk to my children about diversity, but they still pick up from the general public that being gay is not all right," she said. "You think you can parent them out of social stigmas, but experiences like this challenge the values I'm trying to impress on them."
Hawk filed a complaint with Kennywood on May 14. She called again the following Wednesday and got a response two days later from Kennywood general manager Jerome Gibas.
"He told me that I was the only one who expressed concern over the content and that he didn't think it was offensive," she said. "At that time he told me they weren't going to remove the content."
She refused to give up, however. She e-mailed 25 friends and co-workers the same day Gibas called her. She asked them to pass around her story and to pressure Kennywood to remove the offensive dialogue.
Hawk's e-mail circulated so quickly, she says, that a friend later told her she received it from eight different people in a matter of hours.
"Lots of other people were doing the same thing I was, sending it out to their friends and coworkers and anyone who'd listen," Hawk says. "Many of my friends told me they'd contacted Kennywood -- gay and straight, old and young."
Gibas called Hawk 24 hours later and told her the content was removed.
"Ultimately, he did the right thing," she said. "The fact that it was removed so quickly shows the ability of people on both sides to get the right thing done."
Ehrrin Keenan was one of the friends who received Hawk's e-mail.
"It's this everyday homophobia that creates the environment that allows for discrimination and hate and violence to exist and go unchecked in our society," she said.
Mary Lou Rosemeyer, a spokeswoman for Kennywood, said the park received a "very, very low number of complaints." She remarked that more people called to complain that Kennywood was closed on Mother's Day.
"People's view of what is offensive is very different, and some people don't pick up on things others do," she said. "No one here was sensitive enough to pick up on it, but we responded and it was an easy thing to change."
Hawk and Keenan are happy that e-mail recipients responded so quickly.
"As Pittsburghers, we love Kennywood," Keenan said. "We have memories of it as a wonderful place, too. And, we just want them to be true to their mission of being a fun place for everyone."