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Krishna Controversy over Gay Magazine

By Lisa Tsering

India-West, April 28, 2000

The portrayal of Krishna on the cover of Genre, a popular gay magazine, has sparked anonymous death threats against the magazine’s editor and publisher.

“They said, ‘There are no gays in India,’ they called us foul names, and they made threats against our company and our lives,” Genre publisher Doug Shingleton told India-West from the magazine’s New York office.

The cover of Genre’s May issue features openly gay actor Alexis Arquette (The Wedding Singer, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Pulp Fiction) in bright blue full body paint and ornate makeup.

“Ultimately, whether people like it or don’t like it, it will make them think of Lord Krishna,” makeup artist Manjari told India-West. Arquette, who is the brother of actors David and Patricia Arquette, often appears in drag and even has a glamorous alter ego named “Eva Destruction.”

In the picture, Arquette is adorned in a flower garland, a jewelled head-dress and a golden dhoti, and has a glittering silver tilak painted on his forehead. Surrounded by greenery, a peacock and a baby deer, he holds a golden tasselled flute in his right hand.

“Was Jesus Gay?” says the headline of the magazine’s second annual issue specially devoted to spirituality. Inside, 30 faiths are profiled, and the section devoted to Hinduism provides links to the Hindu Temple Society and HinduNet.org.

The photo is shot by famed portrait photographer Greg Gorman, whose subjects include Richard Gere, Elton John, Johnny Depp and Alec Baldwin, and was the brainchild of Genre’s creative director, Ric Ferrari.

Manjari is a Los Angeles-based makeup artist and Odissi dancer who performed with Madonna at the MTV Music Video Awards in 1998. “I thought Genre was a New Age magazine,” Manjari told India-West. “I had no idea until we were halfway through the shoot what kind of magazine it was.”

The artist, who had also done the makeup for comedian Mike Myers for his controversial Vanity Fair photo last year (that shot was a spoof of the current trendiness of religion, she maintains), is a lifelong Krishna devotee.

“Krishna is my God. My whole life is centered around Krishna,” she said. At the photo shoot, she played devotional music, posted pictures of Krishna, brought garlands to the crew, and even invited them to the Hare Krishna Temple in West Los Angeles. “It was a very sacred atmosphere.”

After much soul-searching and talking to other devotees, she decided that the important thing was to get the image across to as many people as possible, she said. “Krishna belongs to everybody.”

“I came to peace with it,” she said of the whole affair, adding that they could have hired any makeup artist, but she was glad that it was she who ended up doing the makeup for the shoot, since “I wanted to be sure they did Krishna justice. I was concerned about the authenticity.” Manjari was shocked to hear about the death threats to Genre. “I didn’t know about them,” she said. She, however, praised the magazine for its efforts in depicting the Hindu god in the most authentic way possible.

The threats, which Shingleton claimed came from “angry Hindu bookstore owners,” were phoned in using Caller I.D.-restricted numbers. The magazine received four threatening calls on the day the May issue hit New York newstands April 17.

“In no way were we poking fun at Krishna,” Genre’s editor in chief, Morris Weissinger, told India-West from the magazine’s headquarters in Los Angeles.

“We are not saying Krishna is gay ... Those people have a narrow view of Krishna; gods are transcendent, and they go beyond male and female,” he continued. “He goes beyond modern man’s sensibilities.”

Weissinger has traveled to India and lived at the Dhyan Yog Ashram, the Adhyatmic Sadhana Sang, in New Delhi, and has a guru, Swami Yogiraj Nanak, he said.

According to Shingleton, there are no plans to remove the magazine from newsstands, although at least one newsstand owner said he was throwing away all of his copies of Genre.

“We wanted to do something different for our Spirituality Issue,” said Shingleton. “We wanted to show more tolerance. What we got in return was death threats.”

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Lisa Tsering

ltsering@aol.com
India-West, 933 MacArthur Blvd.
San Leandro, CA 94577
Tel. (510) 383-1146, Cell (510) 205-5968
United States