I have wanted to write about last Thursday’s screening of Out in the Silence, but the time just got away from me. If you follow me on Facebook however, I added some comments about the evening to several different wall posts, but it is time to pull some of that thinking together here, in a real blog post.
Only one protester was witnessed demonstrating for a few minutes across the street from the library approximately 15 minutes before the documentary began. However, he soon gave up and left.
The big “News” for the evening, was perhaps, that there was no real protest or problem. This might be seen as not being news at all, but placed in the context of the coverage leading up to the event, it deserves some words. In the days leading up to the screening, several reports were published in an on-line news source called the Kittanning Paper,published two short articles that raised some alarms. I’ve been told that the paper is run by a pastor and has a “family values” bent, although I haven’t myself either looked for that or seen it. But it did seem as if a few posts were made to the papers blog, that might have been there for the purpose of stoking concern and intimidating people from attending. Â Even I was a bit alarmed as I read about a slew of tires slashed the night before the screening. But no matter what the blog site’s motives, a few things had happened:
- There were threats made against the library and staff.
- The police hadn’t shown any willingness to care about these threats.
You don’t have to look very far into the past to find lots of examples of horrific hate-based crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgenders. Maybe that is why threats, and a lack of police action seem so bothering. It isn’t that in and of themselves these things are so scary, but rather the potential loss and violence can be staggering, and is worth taking seriously.Â But my resolve to attend wasn’t daunted. I’ve lived in a few small towns in Ohio, and my experience has been that while they can be oppressive for gay people, it is also true that there is often a “live and let live” attitude present. And gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans people are everywhere. What I didn’t know: would there be only 4 or 5 people there, and several of them from Pittsburgh, because the threats had worked, or would the local people be there for what this film had to offer?Â What I don’t know (maybe why the fear tactics work so well) is what is the fine line between “live and let live” and “we don’t want your kind around here.” This ambiguity I suspect keeps people silent and often times, hidden.
No to Gay Marriage!
I was intrigued that the lone protestor’s sign seemed to be an anti-gay marriage sign. I don’t really grasp that connection between the subject of the film- gays and lesbians living in small towns, and the circumstances they face, and the big issue of marriage equality. In fact the documentary is far more specific than gays in small towns, and highlights the lives of a few people in one small town in Western PA, Oil City. The two ideas: being out as a gay person, and same-sex marriage are not at all the same issue, yet a vast amount of the negativity shown against gays and lesbians seems to be based entirely on the notion that traditional marriage must be protected at al costs. This is the basis of everything done by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), run by a woman who has been divorced several times and whose current husband has never been seen. This is also the main focus of the American Family Association of PA(AFAPA), Diane Gramley’s effort to harm gays and lesbians. For her, any protections open a slippery slope to gay marriage, so it is better to keep gays and lesbians, discriminated against and treated badly, to protect marriage.
If you haven’t seen, Out in the Silence, the primary story int he film, is about CJ a teen, who after he comes out as gay, must leave his school. Even Gramley can admit that no one should be treated like that, but she still refuses to say that discrimination like this should end. In other words, it is better that youth like CJ are treated horrifically. How little respect she has for human being and their happiness.
Dialogue Leads to Change
One of the big take home messages of the film, in my opinion, is that when you open yourself up to dialogue, attitudes can change. The filmmakers, Joe and Dean, start a dialogue with one of the men, a minister, who has been outspoken against gays. Through the course of the film, we see this dialogue grow, and mutual respect emerge. To me, this is the payload! This is what it is all about! When people who have differing ideas begin to hear each other, and share in a process of opening the lines of communication. This too, is the value for screening the films in that fashion- in a public library with a discussion following. It is a shame that lone protestor didn’t come in, watch the film and participate in the dialogue.
But it is also a true statement that a failure to be open can fall on either side. A good illustration was how a lesbian from Pittsburgh, commented during the discussion about the need to confront and protest. She used the example of a doughnut shop owner in Pittsburgh, where a “kiss in” was staged. Â I truly agree that there is a place for confrontation, but this misses the point. This approach focuses entirely on the notion that full acceptance of lesbians and gays is the only acceptable starting point. The film’s message (and one I want to mirror) is that we are all at whatever point, we start at, and the way to create change is to be in dialogue, building mutual respect, while never being forced to let go of your own integrity.
There were amazing and powerful stories told during the post-screening dialogue! A comment that has been in my head ever since, was made by a young man, who is now a poet. He talked about the need to be patient with folks in small towns. Those there, who are not accepting of gays and lesbians are the products of their culture, even as they perpetuate it. Their close-minded attitudes are a result just as much as the fear, and the need to remain closeted is a result. And the solution is dialogue and a willingness to allow a process of change.
I’ve always thought of this in this way: everyone- those who are gay and lesbian as well as those who are not, have a coming out process. The default assumption is that gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans folk come out and everyone else is supposed to just accept them. What if we saw the coming out process as bigger than that? What if we allowed the person who learns that someone is gay, also has a coming out process to move through? (Of course, we may wish they would move through it a bit faster, right?) Still, is a mutually open dialogue based on the building of respect and a willingness to listen to another, a way to change the “closet” mentailty of those living in small towns?