Tuesday, December 28, 2010



This has been a remarkable 'five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes' for the OUT IN THE SILENCE Campaign. While the struggling young artists and musicians of RENT measured their years in sunsets, midnights, cups of coffee, laughter and strife, we'll remember 2010 for the thousands of miles traveled, small towns visited, friends made, and hearts and minds changed.

Here are a few of our 'moments so dear' ...


Seth Walsh, a gentle thirteen-year old boy living in the rural Kern River Valley of central California, was one of at least a half dozen LGBT teens who took their own lives this year because of homophobic harassment and bullying. In response to this tragic epidemic, OITS made a special effort to support youth by:

- Holding "End the Silence" events at nearly 200 high schools in 31 states in collaboration with the GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) National Day of Silence

- Making the film and resources available at no-charge to all interested schools

- Facilitating the formation of new gay-straight alliance groups in small towns and rural communities across the country

- Promoting safe school and anti-bullying policies and legislation at the local, state and federal levels

These efforts have had real impact, including in Seth's home town where an OITS screening coordinated by courageous local residents catalyzed the formation of a new Kern River Valley community group that is now working with school authorities and town officials to forcibly address school bullying, harassment and discrimination.


At the heart of the OITS Campaign is our dedication to the idea that small acts of LGBT visibility in places where they are rare and unexpected help to raise awareness and open-up dialogue in profound new ways and create ripple effects and opportunities to organize for change that go far and wide. In 2010, this included:

- More than 300 community events in public libraries, town halls, church basements, book shops, colleges, and universities

- Groundbreaking rural tours across Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Pennsylvania

- Partnerships with over 50 organizations including chapters of the ACLU, Equality Federation, PFLAG, and GLSEN, in addition to Equality Partners of Western PA, Community Safe Zone Project of the Persad Center, Rural Organizing Project, Community of Welcoming Congregations, Freedom To Marry, and dozens of local human dignity groups across the country

- Support for efforts to enact local non-discrimination policies and other activities to make communities more welcoming and inclusive. One of many highlights was a proclamation by the Mayor and City Council that Sept. 13 is OUT IN THE SILENCE Day in Oil City, the beautiful small Pennsylvania town where OITS started and where the stories in the film take place.


We were honored and humbled by several kudos from the film and television world this year, including:

- Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Mid Atlantic Chapter
- Premiere at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
at Lincoln Center followed by screenings at the Tribeca Doc Series, Outfest, Frameline and more than 50 other festivals around the world
- Festival awards including special jury prize for Bravery in Storytelling from Nashville, Social Significance from South Dakota, and Best Documentary from Outtakes New Zealand
- Rave reviews in the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Village Voice, Variety, Advocate, Christianity Today, and dozens of local newspapers
- PBS broadcast to over 80% of the national market


In a recent Newsweek article, It Gets Better Project founder Dan Savage declared that "the culture war is over" and that LGBT people have now achieved full acceptance in the U.S. Apparently Dan has never visited Coudersport, PA, where local fundamentalist ministers and Tea Party activists threatened to defund the public library and fire the librarian simply for hosting a screening of OITS. When those efforts failed, they held their own "Bible Believing Christian Response to OITS" a month later in the same library, expressing their violent views toward LGBT people quite clearly.

Such attacks are still all-too-common. The good news in this case is that the blatant hatred and hostility inspired other local residents, with the help of Equality Partners of Western Pennsylvania, to form a community group that is working with town authorities and mainstream church members to move Couderpsort toward becoming a more welcoming and inclusive community for all.

Such stories, which are still happening in communities across the country, are why we must continue our efforts to make it better for everyone, everywhere, now!


As 2010 comes to a close, we're making even bigger plans for 2011. Already in the works are rural tours in Arizona, Maine, Maryland and California, legislative efforts around employment nondiscrimination, safe schools, and marriage equality, and a dynamic new outreach effort with LGBT youth.

None of this work is possible without your support.


For More Information Visit:


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Yo Dan Savage, We Love You But, It Hasn't Gotten Better For Everyone Yet, So ...

Please stop saying (as you did most recently in a NEWSWEEK interview) that “the culture war is over and done” and that all we need to do is focus on legislative progress simply because we have Glee and Ellen, and now, at least, the repeal of DADT.

Despite tremendous gains in the pursuit of justice and equality, and major shifts in beliefs about and attitudes toward LGBT people, over the past several decades, far too many of us, particularly younger people and particularly in smaller cities, towns and rural communities, continue to live in the shadows, unable to live openly or speak out for fear of losing our families, friends, jobs, livelihoods, personal safety, and sometimes our very lives.

Each and every time we do a community screening of OUT IN THE SILENCE somewhere in the American heartland, we see and hear about this reality. And each and every time we see and hear about this reality, it is shocking, devastating, infuriating, etc., etc., etc. ...

Perhaps you'll be able to join us at one of these events sometime, where courageous local folks are rising up to share their stories, and powerful grassroots organizations are working with them to develop creative strategies to promote understanding, justice and equality for all in what are still very challenging environments.

As your important campaign implies, it does get better, but only when we do the work together to help make it better.

Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer

Thursday, December 16, 2010

To Our Oregon Friends ...

And all those involved with the Rural Organizing Project, Basic Rights Oregon, PFLAG Oregon, Community of Welcoming Congregations, and dozens of community-based human dignity groups across the state:

This is a long-overdue thank you for all that you set out to do, all that you accomplished, and all that you shared with us during our recent tour of beautiful rural Oregon with the OUT IN THE SILENCE Campaign.

At each stop along the way we were overwhelmed by your warmth and hospitality, fired up by your enthusiasm and hunger for justice and equality for all, and inspired more than words could ever convey by your fearless dedication to the hard work of organizing for profound and sustainable social change.

In what has often been a dark and lonely journey through other parts of the country, you reminded us of the goodness and light that is possible when people and communities come together to build upon what they have in common rather than what sets them apart.

We will carry your example of collaboration and your message of hope for a more just and humane world with us for a long, long time and share them with everyone we encounter everywhere we go!

Yours in gratitude & solidarity,

Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer


Wednesday, November 24, 2010


This past August, Coudersport, PA resident Robert Wagner convened a “Bible Believing Christian” forum at the Coudersport Public Library at which he threatened to violently attack transgender individuals with a baseball bat.

Forum “special guest” Diane Gramley, whose Venango County-based American Family Association of Pennsylvania regularly plants seeds of suspicion about the dangers posed by “men who think they are women,” Gramley's disparaging term for transgender females, condoned Wagner's incitement without a word of protest.

(The American Family Association, parent organization of the AFAofPA, was recently designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization.)

A video of this verbal assault, which attracted national media attention, can be viewed here:

Each November, the world commemorates the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a time to mourn and honor the many transgender lives tragically cut short by hatred, fear, and violence.

We are writing this open letter to call on Wagner and Gramley to take responsibility for the consequences of their rhetoric, publicly apologize for their remarks, and denounce anti-transgender bullying, discrimination and violence.

We also urge readers to raise their voices with others in the community to express support for the right of all people to live free of fear and discrimination, with dignity and respect, regardless of their actual or perceived gender identity and expression.

Please let your voice be heard by writing a letter-to-the-editor of your local paper and sharing news of your action here on the Out In The Silence blog or the Out In The Silence website.

Thank You,

Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer

Monday, November 15, 2010

Will You Speak Out In The Silence To End Bigotry, Bullying & Discrimination?

Will You Join Us to Speak OUT IN THE SILENCE
to End Bigotry, Bullying & Discrimination?
Award-winning documentary to be shown
at Teaneck International Film Festival
to help build bridges on gay issues, bullying and teen suicides

Teaneck NJ – OUT IN THE SILENCE, an Emmy award-winning documentary about religious attitudes toward same-sex unions and the struggles faced by gay teens, will be the closing film at the Teaneck International Film Festival. It will be shown at the Puffin Cultural Forum, 20 Puffin Way, Sunday, November 21, at 8:15 p.m. Tickets are $5 if purchased in advance (at Teaneckfilmfestival.org, or at local stores: Animations, Brier Rose Books, and Teaneck General Store) and $7 at the door.

The screening is being held in response to a controversy over a same-sex wedding announcement appearing in the New Jersey Jewish Standard newspaper and the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, says Jeremy Lentz, the festival's executive director.

"The purpose of this screening is to expand public awareness about the difficulties lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people face in suburbia and small town America," continued Lentz.

Filmmakers Joe Wilson and New Jersey native Dean Hamer will follow the screening of their “stunning documentary” (Philadelphia Inquirer) with a Q & A session about inclusion, fairness, and equality for LGBT people. Rabbi Steven Sirbu, of Teaneck’s Temple Emeth, State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), and Jeremy Lentz, Executive Director of TIFF, will participate in the post-film discussion which will be moderated by Sandi Klein (1010WINS).

OUT IN THE SILENCE touches on one of the most urgent human and civil rights concerns of our time, particularly in this area, where the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, recent hate crimes against gays, and the debate over marriage equality which began with an announcement in a local newspaper, have been making headlines and sparking discussion and debate. “We’re hopeful that the inclusion of the film in the Teaneck festival will open up dialogue and civil engagement on this topic throughout the region,” said Wilson.

The film, produced in association with the Sundance Institute, premiered in the 2010 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at New York’s Lincoln Center and has won kudos at film festivals nationwide, as well as a Mid-Atlantic Emmy award for outstanding achievement in documentary. But Wilson and Hamer are most interested in using it as part of a grassroots campaign to raise LGBT visibility, build bridges across identity lines and morally charged religious divides, and advocate for safe schools.

Wilson and Hamer did not set out to make a documentary about LGBT issues, but after the couple announced their wedding in Wilson’s small hometown newspaper, there was a firestorm of controversy initiated by the head of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, who happened to live in the town.

“In Pennsylvania, as in suburban New Jersey, there are people who try to use religion as a wedge issue to divide communities,” said Wilson. “But as we documented the controversy over three years, it became apparent that many more people wanted to have a civil dialogue and close the gaps that have divided families, friends, and neighbors for far too long.”

Two key figures in the documentary are an Evangelical preacher and his wife who start off as vehement opponents of same-sex unions. After getting to know Wilson and Hamer over several years of filming, and meeting other LGBT people in their community, they have a change of heart and become close friends.

“It was a remarkable journey for all of us,” said Hamer. “It just goes to show the type of transformation that is possible when people on opposite sides of an issue lay down their swords and get to know one another.”

The film also documents the harrowing, and ultimately successful, journey of CJ, a gay teen whose mother contacted Wilson after her son was brutally gay-bashed at high school. Their efforts to hold the school administrators accountable lead to anti-bullying measures being introduced in the school system.

“The recent rash of teen suicides due to anti-LGBT bigotry, bullying, and harassment is a tragic reminder of how far we have to go to counter the intolerance and homophobia that are claiming young lives,” commented Wilson. “We need the sort of courage demonstrated by CJ translated into a national movement for safe schools for all students everywhere.”

The OUT IN THE SILENCE community engagement campaign has so far conducted more than 200 town-hall-style screenings across the country. The film has special appeal and relevance for youth, who often identify with the spirited gay teen who is a central character in the documentary. The campaign has provided free DVDs and outreach materials to over 200 LGBT student groups across the country.


The filmmakers are available for interviews.

For more information and to view a trailer please visit http//:OutintheSilence.com

Press Contacts:

Jeremy Lentz, TIFF Executive Director, 917-607-4470, jeremylentz@msn.com

Joe Wilson, OUT IN THE SILENCE Co-Director, 202-320-4172, QwavesJoe@yahoo.com

Dean Hamer, OUT IN THE SILENCE Co-Director, 301-326-8355, Deanhamer@aol.com

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hate Rears Its Head On Rural Oregon Community College Campus

On the first day of the OUT IN THE SILENCE Campaign's Rural Oregon Tour, aimed at helping to raise lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) visibility and support the efforts of state and local groups building the movement for fairness and equality for all, the Linn-Benton Community College campus was plastered with inflammatory fliers even as the audience was watching the film.

The fliers used the words “JIZZFEST” and “CUMTASTIC” to ridicule and stigmatize LGBT people as nothing more than sexual deviants. They also purposely listed the contact information for the head of the college's new Diversity Achievement Center, which hosted the screening, to send a message that any attempts to promote equality and inclusiveness will be met with resistance.

While the shock, fear and pain caused by the incident was palpable in the room as it came to the audience's attention, the act also brought into stark relief the very real and immediate challenges still faced by LGBT people on a daily basis right there in the community, and helped to quickly move the post-screening conversation to the work that needs to be done to address such problems in a meaningful and systemic way.

In addition to an investigation and response by law enforcement and the college administration, LBCC Diversity Center staff and allies will be working hard in the days ahead to demonstrate that the campus is a welcoming, safe, inclusive and culturally respectful place for all and that it is no place for hate.

They will undoubtedly be joined by members of the groups that organized this OITS rural tour and have been working hard to build the movement for social and economic justice for all in Oregon for the past two decades. These groups include the Rural Organizing Project, Basic Rights Oregon, Community of Welcoming Congregations, Oregon PFLAG, and dozens of local human dignity groups around the state.

Please support the important work these groups are doing on behalf of justice and equality for all by joining us at, or helping to spread word about, the upcoming tour events in communities across Oregon.

More information about the tour can be found HERE.

Thanks for your support and solidarity.

To contact filmmakers Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer, see OutintheSilence.com

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Close To Home

The comments delivered by Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns in response to the recent rash of suicides by LGBT youth apply very fittingly to Venango County as well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bridging The Gaps In A Small Community

Below is a reflection on an OUT IN THE SILENCE Screening & Community Dialogue sponsored by the White River Valley PFLAG in Spencer, IN. This is what the building of the movement for inclusion, fairness and equality for all in rural and small town America looks like. Beautiful and Inspiring!

Film Screening, Dinner, Dessert, Dialogue – and Drab Carpeting?

by Jonathan Balash, President of Spencer Pride:

Last night, I found myself staring at a patch of bland carpeting in the middle of a crowded room. Around me, people discussed important issues affecting the LGBTQI community – a community to which I and my husband Jacob are proud members. And yet I stared at the floor.

Let me step back for a moment and set the stage for you.

We were at the Presbyterian Church Cornerstone Hall in our small Midwestern town of Spencer, Indiana. Spencer is a rural community with a population of approximately 2500. It is situated in Owen Valley along the west fork of the White River, and sandwiched between miles of soybeans, corn, and fields of livestock. The crowd that filled the large open room had come out to attend White River Valley PFLAG’s Out in the Silence Film Screening and Community Dialogue.

I am the secretary of our chapter. Alongside our chapter president Judi Epp and a few core PFLAG members, I had spent a significant amount of time over the past two months planning for the event. We kicked off the evening with a member of the Presbyterian Church who said a short welcome and prayer. Then, Judi and I introduced ourselves, PFLAG, and finally the film itself. After I pressed play and adjusted the volume accordingly, I stood back with other PFLAG members to take in the impressive crowd. We had planned on 25 people attending the event, but we all secretly had hoped for 50 people. I counted more than 50 in attendance and shared a few excited glances with Judi.

But that wasn’t it. The door opened and members of the church’s youth group filed in. Now we were at 55. Wait – again the door opened. 59. 60. 63. And so on, the door kept opening until our crowd reached 77 people! I was beside myself that our community could fill a large room for an event focused on gay and lesbian issues! Young and old, church-goers and secularists, students and teachers, the room filled with diversity. Our members quietly scrambled to add more chairs as each new couple or group entered the lowly lit room where the film was playing.

Quickly we doubled our food order from the local Pizza Hut.

As you may already be aware, Out in the Silence is a critically-acclaimed documentary that focuses on the issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals who live, work, and love in a small rural community in Pennsylvania. Ever since we had been introduced to the film several months ago through an e-mail from our field coordinator, Brooke Smith, our chapter had wanted to hold the film screening and community dialogue. There are so many parallels between the film and our own local community.

The film stirred up a lot of emotion among the attendees. At moments there were tears, while at other times the sound of laughter filled the room. Most of the audience kept their eyes focused on the screen as the various story lines unfolded. I kept pinching myself that we had such a great turnout! Our PFLAG members scrambled to cut ice cream cakes that had been donated by our local Dairy Queen.

The movie ended and after a brief break where we served food and refreshments, the crowd returned to their seats as I introduced Mary L. Gray, a distinguished Indiana University Professor of Communication and Culture and author of the recently published book Out in the Country. Mary’s research about rural LGBTQI youth is well-known to us and we had met her at a previous event. She was also recommended by the filmmakers of Out in the Silence, so we were excited and honored to have her participate in our event. First, Mary laid the ground rules – use “I” statements, respect one another, etc. – then she had us all move our chairs in to a large circle. She then began to facilitate the dialogue.

Dialogue topics ranged from the film itself to teen suicide to religious perspectives on homosexuality. The crowd represented both sides of nearly every topic, with the passions of one person often leading to the unease of another.

Hence the carpeting. And my shoes. I realized how I should have given them a fresh coat of polish before I came to the church.

I am an out – and very outspoken – man. Yet something as simple as talking about an issue so close to my heart can be difficult to do. Quotes from the Bible were read and it was made quite clear by several attendees that surely no good would ever come from my identity as a homosexual man. I know better than to believe these things, of course, but it doesn’t make them any easier to hear.

I was playing a good host, smiling and looking attentively around the room during the conversations that were comfortable to me. Yet the moment that the Bible was quoted, my eyes trailed back to the floor. Was this to hide weakness? Insecurity?

As the dialogue continued, I realized how difficult it must have been for the conservative Christians to attend this event, surrounded by mostly LGBTQI affirming individuals as well as a whole assortment of LGBTQI-identifying people. I admired their bravery at coming to our event. I doubt I would have been willing to do the same had the situation been reversed.

I began to be more conscious of my view, and I started to keep my head up regardless of the topic. It was wonderful to hear so many people who were willing to stand up for their gay sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and friends.

Judi spoke from her heart near the end of the discussion. “Some people – like myself – choose to live the truth. Some people choose to live a lie. And some people can’t choose either. So they can’t live at all. That’s just unacceptable.”

Her words sent a message deep inside of me. As she said them, I looked around the room and saw the nodding heads of a few people who still clenched bibles in their hands. Although all we could agree on was that discrimination and violence toward youth was unacceptable in our community, I knew that would be a great place to start.

It was important for us all to have taken part in the event. For those individuals who were already affirming, it was important for them to see what challenges still exist in our community. For those individuals who were “against the very premise of the event” (direct quote), it was important for them to see that we aren’t just hiding in the shadows. We have supporters. And for those of us who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, it was important to see and understand both of those things.

The discussion ended after 45 minutes when Mary brought it to a close and thanked everyone for coming out to participate. “I was struck by the level of commitment from everyone in the room to continue the conversation, even when it was clear that there was disagreement,” Gray explained to me after the event. “I believe conversations like the one we had tonight bring us one step closer to better supporting LGBT and questioning youth because these discussions help us see the genuine concern we have for each other and our community members. It's inspiring.”

Judi, our chapter president, had the following to say about the dialogue: "Our intention was to start a conversation about being gay or lesbian in the rural Midwest and we certainly did that! The attendees represented a wonderful cross section of the local community and thanks to our facilitator everyone who wanted to speak was given an opportunity to do so.”

Once the dialogue finished the hall began clearing out. Approximately 20 people remained and continued the discussion in smaller groups. My husband was in one of these groups, being questioned by several conservative Christians that he had known in years past. I had checked on him to make sure that he was ok (which he was) and then I went back to standing near our PFLAG informational table answering questions that were posed to us by the departing crowd. Within half an hour the crowd had dwindled to only our members who cleaned up, debriefed, and then went home for a long night’s rest after a fruitful evening that had taken us months to organize.

I reflected on the experience out loud with Jacob on the way home, and then again silently to myself in the time since then.

“We hope this is the beginning of a continuing conversation with this community,” Judi told me today, with determination in her voice. “Our November meeting of the White River Valley PFLAG will be the next opportunity to continue the important conversation that began last night.” The November meeting’s theme will be “Continuing the Conversation: Reflections of Being Lesbian or Gay in A Small Midwestern Town.”

I hope that we have a nice turnout at our meeting now that we’ve gotten good publicity from the film screening. I even hope that a few people show up who were among those bible-quoters from last night’s event. I think we can all learn from one another. At least we have a place to start.

And I promise that I won’t be looking down next month. I’ll be looking forward to the next steps in bridging the gaps within our small community. Spencer doesn’t have a GLBT center or any cute bookstores with gay pride flags flying out front, but it does have people who are willing to communicate with one another about challenging issues.

What more could I ask for?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Prayers Go Unanswered at OUT IN THE SILENCE Screening in Altoona

September 28, 2010 - By Scott Muska

Joe Wilson and his partner Dean Hamer have been traveling all over Pennsylvania for the past year showing "Out in the Silence," a documentary they made to expand public awareness about the difficulties that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people face in rural and small town America.

Their goal is to have at least one showing - followed by a question and answer session - in each of the state's 67 counties, and their first in Blair County at Penn State Altoona's Slep Student Center Monday night. About 50 people attended.

"We're trying to show this at any place where we can promote dialogue and mutual understanding," said Wilson, adding the majority of the reaction to the documentary has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. "I think we were able to demonstrate some of the problems gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender [GLBT] people face in their communities and have had a lot of people come together to discuss them and what kinds of solutions there are."

Yolanda Avent, the school's director of institutional equity and diversity, and Frank Chumbiray, sophomore and president of the school's Gay Straight Alliance, teamed up to bring Wilson and Hamer to the school after they saw the documentary earlier this year.

Avent said she hoped the showing and subsequent discussion would help lessen the ambiguity that sometimes surrounds the GLBT lifestyle.

"If you don't put a face on something, you can make a monster of it," Avent said. " I hope we can break down some of the barriers and borders that sometimes exist."

The film focuses very heavily on the problems a 16-year-old boy faces in a rural town in western Pennsylvania, something Chumbiray hopes may help others come out confidently in the future.

"In past years, in my high school, it was something you couldn't really talk about, and I hope his story helps another 16-year-old come out and maybe have not as many issues," he said.

A prayer service held by members of the Faith Baptist Church of Altoona and led by Pastor Gary Dull (pictured, right) outside the Slep Center prior to the showing was one of only three similar occurrences in more than 80 showings, according to Hamer.

About 15 members gathered around a picnic table and prayed that "nobody at all" would show up to the event and referred to any act of homosexuality as "wicked and sinful." They also prayed that a mishap like the projector failing to work would prevent anyone from seeing the documentary and also that the film's footage would be replaced by the "gospel appearing on the screen."

Dull said one purpose of the peaceful prayer vigil was to pray for people to realize that real happiness is found in accepting Jesus Christ, and not in illicit sex.

After speaking briefly on camera with Wilson and Hamer, Dull and the others left before the showing, something Wilson had hoped they wouldn't do.

"The fact that they can't even be open to discussion and that people misuse religion to promote that mentality is to me shocking and painful," Wilson said. "I think since they wouldn't even listen to what we have to say, that just shows what they're really about."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oil City Council Proclaims Day of Recognition for "Fair and Equal Treatment for All People"


Fairness and Equality Proclamation Signed by Oil City Council

City council members signed a proclamation Monday night that designated the day (Sept. 13) as Joe Wilson Day. The tribute refers to former Oil City resident Joe Wilson who with his partner Dean Hamer, directed and produced the award winning film “Out in the Silence.”

The film celebrates diverse lifestyles and was shot in Oil City and the surrounding area.

“Joe Wilson’s film shows Oil City to the rest of the country as a town capable of positive change and documents progress in fair and equal treatment for all people in this community,” notes the proclamation.

Council was asked in June by local resident George Cooley to adopt a formal human rights policy and to embrace Wilson’s film on tolerance in small towns. The documentary tells the story of a gay high school student and explores small-town reaction to same-sex marriage.

"Many important topics were discussed at last night's City Council meeting," said Cooley, "but we were proud to see the Oil City Council sign the proclamation. This is a first step in a marketing attitude toward our city. It is also a step towards a progressive Human Rights Initiative."

"A Special Blend of People"

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Bible Believing Response" to OUT IN THE SILENCE Promotes Anti-Transgender Violence

Dispatch from Coudersport:

by Joe Wilson, August, 31, 2010:

Diane Gramley sat peacefully behind Robert Wagner in the Coudersport Public Library as the retired physician shared his views on transgender individuals with the assembled audience. “I'm gonna put a ball bat in my car,” he said, “and if I ever see a guy [Wagner refuses to use proper pronouns] coming out of a bathroom that my granddaughter's in, I'm gonna use the ball bat on him.” Moments later he added: “In the good old days, before 'she-males' existed, they just called such people perverts.”

Gramley is no stranger to such ideas. As President of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Family Association, a 'traditional family values' organization based in Mississippi, she spends much of her time planting similar seeds of suspicion about the dangers posed by “men who think they are women,” her disparaging term for transgender females. She also crusades relentlessly against what she and the AFA call the “homosexual agenda” and the type of legal protections that her and Dr. Wagner's threatening rhetoric suggests are needed for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Gramley was in Coudersport, a small town of 2,600 residents in the sparsely populated north-central part of the state known as the Pennsylvania Wilds, as a special guest of Dr. Wagner for what he titled “A Bible Believing Christian's Response to OUT IN THE SILENCE,” my documentary film about the quest for inclusion, fairness and equality for LGBT people in the small town where I was born and raised, Oil City, PA, just a two-hour drive from Coudersport.

Gramley, who also happens to call the Oil City area home, plays a central role in OUT IN THE SILENCE as a result of the firestorm of controversy she helped to ignite in opposition to the publication of my same-sex marriage announcement in the local paper. It was that controversy that compelled my partner, Dean Hamer, and I to go back to my hometown with our cameras to document what life is like there for LGBT people, and to show hopeful and inspiring stories about the growing movement for equality.

The film was produced in partnership with Penn State Public Broadcasting, received support from the Sundance Institute, premiered at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, screened in Tribeca Cinemas Doc Series, and has been broadcast on PBS stations around the country. We're now using it as an educational tool in a grassroots campaign to help raise LGBT visibility and to bring people together in small towns like Oil City and Coudersport to begin building bridges across the gaps that have divided families, friends, and entire communities on these issues for far too long.

As part of this campaign, OUT IN THE SILENCE had screened just a month earlier for a standing-room-only crowd in the Coudersport Public Library despite vehement opposition from Dr. Wagner and the efforts of the local Tea Party and a small group of fundamentalist preachers to shut the event down and have the library 'de-funded' for making its space available for such a program.

Wagner's “Bible Believing Response,” he told the crowd of approximately 60 local church people, “was intended to expose the filmmakers’ real agenda and to question the directors’ assertion that the community should tolerate alternative lifestyles.”

During the two hour program, Wagner asked special guest Gramley a few questions about her experiences as a minor subject of the film, but he used her more as a prop, seated silently behind him, providing an odd sort of legitimacy as he put forth offensive theories and mischaracterizations about LGBT people, including that “AIDS is the gay plague” and “gays can't have families.”

Dean and I were in the library for the presentation. We made the six-hour drive to Coudersport from our home in Washington, DC because I wanted to bear witness to this event, to experience for myself, if only for a few hours, what it feels like to be so close to such willful ignorance and brazen cruelty.

As I sat there, listening to 'amens,' snickering laughter, and even a roar of approval from the people around me when asked if they agree with the AFA assertions that there “should be legal sanctions against homosexual behavior” and “homosexuals should be disqualified from public office,” I felt a sadness unlike any I have known before. A sadness for those who fall prey to such bigoted and hostile bombast, who carry the feelings these things stir into their homes and family relationships, and for the communities that suffer the sometimes-violent consequences of such mean-spirited divisiveness.

But as I looked at Gramley, unmoved next to Wagner, condoning the ugliness without a word of protest, I thought of all the courageous people who have attended OUT IN THE SILENCE Campaign events over the past many months in far flung places, including there in Coudersport, who refuse to be silent anymore, who are working for change in their communities against great odds, and I was inspired all over again.

It is in their spirit that we will continue our campaign to speak out in the silence and to help build the movement for fairness and equality in small towns and rural communities across America.

I hope you'll join us! Learn more at OutintheSilence.com


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"The Other Side"

‘Bible-believing, Christian’ response to documentary planned in Coudersport

By Bob Hooftallen - August 21, 2010

It’s been nearly a month since a documentary pitching tolerance for alternative lifestyles was shown at the Coudersport Public Library.

At the time, the screening of “Out In The Silence,” a movie about a gay teen’s struggle to survive in a small town, prompted some Coudersport pastors to question not only the focus of the movie and its impact on the community, but also the decision to show the film in a place that is supported partially by tax revenue.

In an effort to address each of those concerns, a Coudersport resident has reserved the library for a program depicting the “other side” of the gay lifestyle debate, essentially testing the library board of directors’ commitment to the right to assemble and speak no matter the topic and offering an opportunity for people to hear a rebuttal to “tolerating” alternative lifestyles.

Dr. Robert Wagner, a relatively well-known Coudersport physician who created a stir in the 1980s with his self-published “True Press,” has scheduled the program from 6:30 pm to 8 pm Wednesday.

Wagner’s description of the program is “a Bible believing Christian response to ‘Out In The Silence’ and related topics.”

Guest speaker will be Diane Gramley, President of the American Family Association of Pa.

When it was first reported that there may be a response to the filming, the documentary’s director, Joe Wilson, hinted that his organization would attend. He has since changed his tune.

“What we’ve learned over the years is that it’s much more productive for us, and the movement, to focus on building relationships with potential allies than it is to engage with those who hold extremist views (about our movement),” he said. “Our work continues to reach a broader audience and we’ve expanded our network of allies. That’s what gives us hope.”

Wilson, who has made several successful documentaries, recently learned that Out In The Silence has been nominated for an Emmy Award by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Mid-Atlantic Chapter.

Boro Hears Film Concerns

Coudersport Borough Council members heard concerns about the previous screening and kudos for Wagner’s planned program during their meeting Wednesday evening.

Calvary Baptist Church pastor, the Rev. Richard Kuehlman, expressed his concern for tolerating such programs in Coudersport.

“As a religious leader in the community, I cannot see how an abnormal lifestyle should be tolerated by our community,” he said. “My concern is that there are already so many problems in Coudersport among our youth . . . Is this a lifestyle that we want to promote to (them) as acceptable?”

Pastor Kuehlman, who has lived in Coudersport for close to seven years after living in Japan for the previous 23, also said he was concerned that the program went on, despite “great protest from the community.”

“It seemed to me that when this took place, nobody seemed to care and the minority was going to do what they were going to do,” he said.

Pastor Kuehlman, who said he is “grateful” the opposing view will be presented Wednesday, questioned whether or not his church, or others, could hold religious events in publicly funded places.

“If this (the documentary) is an acceptable thing, can I hold a tent revival in a park?” he queried.

Borough Manager Marlin Moore said he would gladly check to see if that would be legal. He also noted that he did question the borough solicitor as to whether or not the airing of the film violated any laws. The answer was “no.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

OITS Supports NJ Library that was attacked for LGBT book

Dear Ms Sweet,

We read about the recent dispute over whether the Burlington County Library should carry "Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology" with concern. As noted in the American Library Association Library Bill of Rights,

"Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community...Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues."

We would like to help you in this important goal by providing the Burlington County Library with a copy of our PBS documentary OUT IN THE SILENCE and an accompanying Discussion Guide. OUT IN THE SILENCE tells the story of a small town confronting it's own homophobia, and has won numerous awards including a recent Emmy nomination. We believe it will be a timely and useful addition to your collection.

Over the past year we have been screening OUT IN THE SILENCE at public libraries across the country, and these events have been wonderful opportunities for communities to have a civil dialogue over issues that have divided families, friends and neighbors for far too long. Please let us know if we can help arrange a screening in Burlington or help your library in any other way.


Dean Hamer and Joe WIlson

OITS August Newsletter -- From Lincoln Center To Your Local Public Library

"Back Hills Mom" Wows Lincoln Center, Vows To Fight On

OITS had its official premiere in New York on June 21 before a sold out audience at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. The screening was part of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival.

The highlight of the evening occurred when Kathy Springer, the self-described 'back hills mom' who plays a starring role in the documentary, was introduced and brought on stage to a prolonged standing ovation.

During a lively discussion led by Boris Dittrich, Advocacy Director of the Human Rights Watch LGBT Rights Program, Kathy vowed to carry on the fight that began when school authorities in her small Pennsylvania town stood by and did nothing as her son was brutally gay bashed. She emphasized the importance of making schools everywhere safe for all students.

There will be many opportunities for Kathy (pictured here with Terry, her amazingly-supportive husband) and other allies to join the OITS Campaign as the film continues to tour across the country as part of the Traveling Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which bears witness to human rights violations through storytelling in a way that challenges each individual to empathize and demand justice for all people.

Listen to a podcast about OITS with Joe, Dean and HRW's Borris Dittrich, hosted by Amy Costello.


Film Screening Supports Non-Discrimination Ordinance

OITS events help communities come together in exciting new ways, as The Main Line Times reported about a recent screening in suburban Philadelphia:

"The community room at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute was standing-room-only for the screening of a new documentary film called Out In The Silence. But that wasn't the most remarkable thing about the 100-plus turnout for Jason Landau Goodman, whose organization, Equality Lower Merion, hosted the event.

For the Main Line, 'this was the first community LGBT event they could ever recall,' Goodman said of the audience, a diverse group that included different ages, some same-sex partners, but probably just as many or more heterosexual couples.

For Goodman, the local college student who last month urged the Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners to adopt an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it was a big step forward in the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues here.

Read the entire article here: Film Draws Supporters of Non-Discrimination Ordinance


And The Emmy Goes To ...

OITS is proud and honored to be nominated for an Emmy Award in the documentary category by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Mid-Atlantic Chapter. Winners will be announced on September 25th. Wish us luck!


Will You Join Us In "Going Public" ?

The OITS Campaign believes that real change requires being out there, openly and visibly, in the full light of the public square, linking the struggle for justice and equality for LGBT people to the broader quest for a more inclusive and democratic society for all.

And we need you to be a part of it by bringing OITS to your public library. You can host a local screening or have a DVD and Discussion Guide sent to your hometown library. Check out the screening kits here, let us know your plans, and we'll help you make it happen. Thanks!

Order a DVD from Amazon

Buy a 5-pack and Help Spread the News!

Download the Discussion Guide and Event Toolkit

You Can Sign-Up To Receive Future OITS E-Newsletters Here: Join The Mailing List

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Proposition 8 Dispatch From the Culture Wars Front

Bill Lichtenstein for The Huffington Post:

The US District Court decision on August 4, overturning California's Proposition 8 and its ban on same sex marriages was a watershed moment for proponents of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans.

Within hours of the landmark decision, pundits ranging from MSNBC's liberal Rachel Maddow to Fox's ultra-right wing Glenn Beck, began postulating that the ruling signaled a new "post-homophobic" era in America.

Maddow, who among news anchors may well be America's most trusted lesbian, led her show for the two nights after the decision with celebratory coverage of the ruling. She went so far as to taunt GOP leaders for being uncharacteristically quiet during the 24 hours after the US District Court decision.

Speaking presumably to Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and John Boehner, among others, Maddow asked at the top of her August 5 program, "Where were the outraged Republicans? Where are you? You guys used to be so good at this."

At the same time, Glenn Beck, who is to liberal causes what "Mikey" was to breakfast foods in the 1970s Life cereal ads ("he hates everything"), turned heads by telling Fox's Bill O'Reilly that "I don't think marriage, that the government actually has anything to do with . . . [what] is a religious right," and then added a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "If it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket, what difference is it to me?"

In the wake of the decision, both sides held their breath as Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker gave opponents of the ruling six days to appeal it. On August 16, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals left in place Prop 8 and its same sex marriage ban in California, as the case winds its way through its appeal process toward the Supreme Court, where it may ultimately be decided. Depsite forcing Golden State gay and lesbian couples to put their nuptial plans on hold, this delay has one possible plus for same sex marriage proponents.

Loyola Law School professor Richard Hasen told the LA Times, that "If this case takes another year to get to the U.S. Supreme Court, there could be more states that adopt same-sex marriage and more judicial opinions that reach that conclusion."

In fact, despite the dramatic victory in the federal court, the battle over same sex marriages in the US continues to rage at the state and local levels.

Streak of "31 Straight Victories" Brought to an End

Over the past decade, gay marriage opponents have racked up an impressive winning streak of 31 straight victories against no defeats when the issue of same sex marriages has been on the ballot in state elections. Loss number 31 was in Maine, on November 3, 2009, when voters repealed a law that had allowed gay unions. The 31-0 streak was brought to an abrupt end by Judge Walker's Prop 8 decision.

As recent events have been developing in San Francisco, filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson have been traveling the country with their feature documentary film, Out in the Silence. The film captures the remarkable chain of events starting with the announcement of their wedding, which ignited a firestorm of controversy in the small Pennsylvania hometown Wilson left long ago.

The documentary tells the story of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights in rural America, and premiered at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, was broadcast on PBS stations across the country, and has been shown at over 400 community and school screenings accompanied by public discussions.

Currently, Dean, who has worked for the past three decades at the National Institutes of Health, and received international attention after the journal "Science" published his research in 1993 that he had identified a "gay gene," and Joe, a human rights activist and native of Oil City, Pennsylvania, where the documentary takes place, are traveling with the film through all 67 counties in Pennsylvania, a state that prohibits same sex marriage.

The following is Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson's "dispatch from the front" regarding the latest battle in America's 2010 culture wars:

Plaintiffs Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier at federal courthouse.

"The images of the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case standing on the steps of the Federal Courthouse in San Francisco during the trial, were typical of the now standard media portrayal of gay America: out, proud, comfortably middle class, living in a big city or suburb.

But there is another side to gay America that is rarely seen. It takes place in conservative, often deeply religious small towns and rural communities where those who are found, or even perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, strive to fit in rather than to stand out. For these people coming out means risking their families, friends, jobs and livelihoods, their safety and at times even their very lives.

Our documentary film, Out in the Silence focuses on the harrowing, ultimately successful battle waged by a 16 year-old gay student and his mother against recalcitrant school authorities when the teen was brutally gay bashed for courageously coming out at his rural high school.
Filmmakers Hamer (L) and Wilson (R) in Oil City, Pennsylvania

We've reached half of our goal of screening the film in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania, and most of the events have been greeted with enthusiasm. But in Coudersport, a town of 2,650 people along the northern border of the state, we received an email from Keturah Cappadonia, a town librarian just two days before the scheduled screening informing us that the event would have to be canceled. The reason, as the Harrisburg Patriot-News later reported, was that 'after several hours of people pointing their fingers in her face and telling her she was going to hell, Keturah Cappadonia cracked' and was reduced to tears by the experience.

The controversy resulted from, no surprise, an alliance between fundamentalist Christians and right-wing conservatives. Pastor Pete Tremblay of the Coudersport Free Methodist Church told a local news web site that the film was 'designed to get people to give up their convictions based on the word of God and accept these practices as equivalent to God's design for human sexuality. It is propaganda.'

Pastor Tremblay went on to request that people 'call the library...and in a Christian manner inform them that this event is not a benefit to our community, and ask that it be canceled.'

He was joined in his condemnation of the film by George Brown, president of the Potter County Tea Party, who said he was upset at having to be 'attacked for our beliefs at a public library we support with our tax money. This is wrong and cannot be tolerated.'

Brown also told the web site that $1.5 million of local taxes was used to support the library (the actual number is $42,000), and went on to say that 'Should this agenda be continued, we may need to ask if the library should be defunded.'
Diane Gramley, head of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania

That appeared to be one threat over the line for the library board. Following a quick phone meeting, they unanimously decided that the screening would go ahead as originally planned and issued a public statement for the library patrons:

The mission of any public library is to serve a diverse community with varying opinions about what is and is not objectionable material . . . We believe the library would fail in its mission if it did not provide information about ideas or topics that each of us might find uncomfortable at some level . . . American libraries are the cornerstone of our democracy. Libraries are for everyone, everywhere.

And so two days later, on the evening of July 28, 2010, a standing room only crowd gathered in Coudersport's public library, made up of mainstream members of the community along with lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual, transgender and cisgender, young, middle-aged and senior citizens, together with a goodly handful of reporters, all gathered together in a public place and ready to talk about a subject that had divided their community for far too long.

As soon as the film was over, one of the opponents in the room quickly rose and read from a long list of objections to the film, including that 'most homosexuals are very well off.' Another spoke at length of his belief that homosexuality is against 'God's word.'

But then, gradually, slowly and often in tears, the LGBT folks and their family members, friends and allies began to recount their personal experiences.

A teenager described how he had been harassed at school when his classmates discovered his father was gay. 'I didn't understand why my friends turned their backs on me,' he said. 'To accept everyone is the only way to go about living.'

Then the teen's father - a local business owner, Episcopal Vestry member and former Republican Party Chair - spoke of the acceptance he has quietly gained over his 30 years in the town.

Another young man, visibly nervous, publicly announced for the first time that he was proud to be both gay and Christian, even though his church had rejected him. That prompted a local minister to stand and announce that her church was supportive of LGBT people and would serve as a resource for those who wanted a welcoming spiritual home.

When a woman with a small child in her arms offered to make a financial donation to the library to offset any losses due to the screening, she was greeted by a solid burst of applause.

The topic of marriage equality was never even mentioned. But audience members did circulate a sign-up sheet for people who wanted to work with one another and Equality Partners of Western Pennsylvania to try and make Coudersport a more welcoming and tolerant place. By the time the event was over, the majority of the people in the room had signed up.

While it was painful, even frightening to observe the open hostility of the handful of individuals who attempted to stop the meeting from occurring, and then to disrupt the conversation with angry diatribes and personal attacks, people in the community have told us that it was actually useful that it all took place in full light of day because it revealed the seriousness of the problems that LGBT people face, often alone and without any networks of personal or legal support in such an environment.

The other screenings throughout Pennsylvania, which has a law on the books prohibiting same sex marriage, drew good crowds of local LGBT people and allies including educators, social workers and business owners, but only one minister showed up, in Emporium, PA. After watching the movie he took off his white collar and placed it in his shirt pocket. 'Sometimes I'm embarrassed to be associated with the clergy in this area,' he said. 'My religion is about faith, not about hate.'

Visit the official "Out in The Silence" web site at Outinthesilence.com
"Out in the Silence" can be seen On iTunes or purchased on Amazon.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

"The Film Portrays Oil City In A Very Favorable Light"

OUT IN THE SILENCE, and its portrayal of the quest for fairness & equality for LGBT people in small towns & rural communities, just received the most important honor imaginable, recognition from the Oil City Arts Council, an amazing organization and group of people working for change in the very community portrayed in the film.

Our gratitude will be shown at each and every screening as we continue to share news of the great efforts underway in Oil City to help make it, and the surrounding area, more welcoming and inclusive of all who wish to call it home!

Text of Letter:

August 5, 2010

Dear Joe,

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Oil City Arts Council, I am sending our deep appreciation to you for the sensitivity and sense of community that you expressed in your film, OUT IN THE SILENCE. We feel that the film portrays Oil City in a very favorable light with regard to the interpersonal relationships and personal concern for human rights displayed by our residents.

We hope that you will feel welcome to visit Oil city often and that every opportunity will be taken to show your film to new audiences.

We send our congratulations on your artistic achievement with OUT IN THE SILENCE and wish you success as you continue your creative endeavors.


Libby Williams
Oil City Arts Council

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Truth Hurts

As the facts about the recent OUT IN THE SILENCE screening in Coudersport continue to come out, the controversy that Diane Gramley of the American Family Assoc. of PA and her new-found-friends-in-bigotry, such as the "reporter" at the Cruddy News blog site, are trying to whip up is just making them look like out-of-touch extremists.

The truth hurts.

But what hurts more is hearing about and seeing the pain that such activist-bigotry causes real people in real communities, like beautiful Coudersport.

Fortunately, as this article helps reveal, these real people are getting sick-and-tired of those who misuse religion to support their "family-values" crusades and are starting to speak out, and organize, for change in the silence of rural and small town America.

Screening of Documentary Draws Debate

By Brent Addleman, Editor of The Potter Leader Enterprise

There was little silence following the showing of the documentary film “Out In The Silence” on Wednesday evening at the Coudersport Public Library.

A heated question-and-answer session emanated from the middle of the library that featured plenty of vitriol being thrown around the room in the form of questions of acceptance, deterring discrimination and even attacks on the library in the form of patrons no longer donating to help fund the organization because the film was shown.

About 80 residents attended the showing.

The film documents the struggle of a gay teen in rural Pennsylvania and was shown to a packed house that drew moments of laughter during the movie and moments of tension following.

Coudersport resident Bob Wagner opened the question-and-answer session with statements regarding the standing of gays and lesbians in society.

“I think the lesbians, gays, transsexuals and trans genders are doing quite well in America,” Wagner said. “June 21, USA Today talks about the gay teen girl that couldn’t take her girlfriend to the prom. She was honored in the White House by Barack Obama. The week before you were honored in New York with the annual gay parade endorsed by the mayor, and, of course, you have one in San Francisco endorsed by the mayor. You have the highest per capita income of any group in America. I don’t think you’re doing too bad. Are you ever going to be happy?”

While Wagner stated what he feels is a good standing of gays and lesbians in the community, he also made it clear he disagreed with their lifestyle choice.

“There’s quite a gay community in Coudersport and I think they are doing quite well,” Wagner said. “In spite of my statements here, I think you will find most of them I am on speaking terms with even though I disagree with their beliefs.”

Drawing the ire of the crowd, Wagner gave one final comment regarding his own plans for a forum.

“I am renting the Coudersport Public Library and I will be speaking and giving some more insight to the other side of the agenda,” Wagner said.

According to Wagner, everyone is invited to attend the event.

Joe Wilson, co-director and co-producer of the film, made a valiant attempt to calm what was quickly becoming a volatile environment.

“There seem to be some who do not want an open, public forum,” Wilson said. “That is what we are trying to deal with. We are going to try to be patient. We’re going to try to be respectful and make sure that everybody that wants to join in this conversation has the opportunity to do so.”

A woman from the crowd stated she felt what the library and Wilson and his partner in the film, Dean Hamer, have done in purveying a clear message is a good thing, inciting clapping from the capacity crowd.

“The film speaks to the issues many young people, in particular, experience in our school systems,” Wilson said. “The big question is how are the schools, parents, community equipped to address the situation. I don’t know what the situation is here in Potter County.”

Marty Montgomery, a pastor from the First Baptist Church of Roulette, then questioned Wilson and Hamer about the film and their ideals.

“I understand you folks want to improve the dialog between the gay and lesbian community and those who are not – at least I assume you do,” Montgomery said. “What I saw was what I consider gunpowder-type rhetoric. You said the library and yourselves were attacked and threatened. Would you tell me exactly what [occurred?]”

Wilson responded, “We read there were reports people were threatening to have the library de-funded.”

Montgomery then questioned Wilson as to the library losing funding being a threat to which Wilson gave a one-word answer, “Yes.”

On the issue of discrimination happening in schools and being a problem in Coudersport, Jessica Bonczar was quick to offer her own life experiences growing up in town.

“I’ve grown up here and I went to high school with several people that were gay,” Jessica Bonczar said. “I would like to say [discrimination] is an issue here. While I might not be gay, I watched some of my closest friends be bullied, harassed, threatened, treated like garbage. It is an issue here. It is. It is an issue everywhere. It is a human rights issue. This sort of thing is about intellectual freedom. People should be able to come together and have this sort of forum and discussion in a very civil manner. It is an issue here.”

Bonczar also addressed the library funding issue that was raised prior to the showing of the film.

“I have raised money for this library actively for years now, and it is a threat to have it de-funded,” Jessica Bonczar said. “We are struggling to stay afloat here. It is a threat.”

For Jaimi Bonczar, the film could be the starting point of understanding what gays and lesbians sometimes go through in small towns and teaching tolerance and acceptance.

“I went to high school here probably, well, 10 years ago,” Jaimi Bonczar said. “I also went to school with people who were harassed. This is a public forum. We all chose to be here. I think this could be a great place to start talking about this, how we can better support our own community. Be open-minded, be friendly to everybody. Our small town is just as important to me as the rest of the people. In our community, we care about each other – all of us, not just some of us. I really appreciate what you’ve done.”

Montgomery then interjected his own beliefs that homosexuality is the rejection of God’s word.

“In order for me to concede that the homosexual lifestyle is acceptable, then I have to decide that God’s word must be rejected,” Montgomery said. “That is the decision. I am referring to the Bible. Nobody is going to be able to take the Bible and say homosexuality is sin – you just can’t do that. All you can do is reject it or say, ‘Well I don’t take it literally.’ This is what I am asking. Is it OK with you, if I continue to believe God?”

Hamer fully supported Montgomery’s statement.

“Yes, absolutely, and if you do not want to be gay yourself and you do not believe in homosexuality for yourself or for people at your church, that is absolutely fine,” Hamer said.

Wilson then interjected that during the showing of the film storms that had passed through the area produced a rainbow.

Rev. Evon McJunkin, who has served in the area for 23 years at the First United Presbyterian Church, offered support to those seeking literature on homosexuality and Christianity.

“If there are folks that would like resources in support of homosexuality, I have them for you. I believe that God loves and accepts gays and there is evidence of scripture of that,” McJunkin said.

For Don Caskey of Austin, the plight of being homosexual in a small town is one that caused those he called friends to turn their back when they learned of his lifestyle choice.

“I grew up in Austin and I grew up as a gay man,” Caskey said. “I can’t believe I just said that out loud because there was a time in my life that was the worst thing I could have ever said.

“I told one other person that I was gay, and like what happens in small towns it went through a wildfire throughout the town. I grew up very active in the Methodist church there. I have lots of friends. I was very active in that church. A lot of people supported me, but the people that considered themselves the most religious wrote me horrible letters.

“ The people who I considered some of my closest friends who were very active in that church showed their love for me by not coming to the funeral when my parents died, by not talking to me for 25 years simply for the fact I am gay. I stand before you saying you can believe whatever you want, but you are not showing your love, the love of Christ, unless you are reaching out to everyone – and that includes those who believe differently from you. I would encourage everybody to reach out and love everyone.”

For Kevin Eukon of Coudersport, he wouldn’t change his choice of growing up and living here.

“I feel very fortunate that I come from a town like Coudersport,” Eukon said. “I grew up here and came out of the closet in 1982, 1983. There have been moments of discrimination in my life, but one thing I have noticed about this town that makes it such a unique, wonderful place to live is when things started to get out of hand the town fathers always pressed them down.

“ I don’t see the discrimination here. There are pockets of it here and there are pockets of it anywhere. I think one thing Coudersport has is a decent community full of decent people and when the discrimination or the nastiness gets too out of hand there has always been a town father that has helped me through it or helped take care of it or addressed the situation. I think we are very fortunate to live in a town like Coudersport.”

For one local youth, being the son of gay parents was a trying experience, but one he wouldn’t trade for the world.

“When I was a kid up until sixth grade everything was cool and my parents were just my parents,” the boy said. “At the end of the sixth grade, we got the word ‘gay.’ Then my parents became ‘gay’ parents and my friends stopped being my friends. They call me gay. I didn’t understand why my friends turned their backs on me. But, there is nothing I can do to change my parents. They are gonna be gay and I have to let them be gay. I’m not gonna be like, ‘Dad, I hate you.’ I’m not going to change them. To accept everyone is the only way to go about living. You can point the finger all you want, but it isn’t going to get you anywhere in the end.”

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Potter County, PA Library Faced Protests Over Gay Documentary

Thanks to good reporting by the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the truth about the smear campaign being waged by the Potter County Tea Party, a few fundamentalist churches, the Cruddy News blog, and the Venango County-based American 'Family' Association of Pennsylvania about a recent screening of OUT IN THE SILENCE in Coudersport is starting to come out in the wash.

The whole sad affair reminds us of comments that a Venango County school district superintendent made a few years ago about the American Family Assoc. of Penna.'s president, Diane Gramley:

"She likes to start a fire, then throw gasoline on it."

Potter County Library Faced Protests Over Gay Documentary

by Donald Gilliland for The Patriot-News:

After several hours of people pointing their fingers in her face and telling her she was going to hell, Keturah Cappadonia cracked.

In tears, the 28-year-old librarian in this rural town of 2,500 people typed an e-mail to Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer canceling the planned screening of their award-winning PBS documentary about the challenges of being openly gay in rural Pennsylvania.

Wilson and Hamer are traveling the state with their film “Out In The Silence,” and Perry County is on the list of future venues.

The film recounts the men’s return to Oil City after a plea for help from the mother of a gay high school student being bullied at school.

It has been reviewed favorably by the American Library Association and Christianity Today, but it’s getting resistance in some of the rural counties where Wilson and Hamer think it most needs to be seen.

Several churches in Potter County launched a campaign to force the local library to cancel, and the president of the Potter County Tea Party called for the library’s funding to be revoked if it didn’t comply.

The 58-year-old library board president, Jane Metzger, decided she would have none of it.

Regardless of what she thought of homosexuality, she was not going to compromise the library’s mission “because of the very loud voices of a few folks.”

“Basically we’re looking at intellectual freedom,” said Metzger. “That’s the bottom line. That’s what a library is for.”

A quick series of calls to the other members of the board resulted in a unanimous decision: the screening would go forward as planned.

The leader of the Potter County Tea Party, through a local blogger, claimed the library was allowing conservative Christians to be “attacked for our beliefs at a public library we support with our tax money. This is wrong and cannot be tolerated.” Later, he apologized for using the Tea Party name to express his personal opinion.

In the meantime, the filmmakers issued a press release, and the local blogosphere lit up in a bonfire of anonymous comments and accusations.

By the time people began to arrive for the screening two days later, Cappadonia looked shell-shocked.

“I don’t like controversy,” she said. “I know it’s a conservative community, but I never imagined it would get such a knee-jerk reaction.”

Some were saying Christian views would never be allowed an airing at the library because of separation of church and state. But the the library has six shelves of Bibles and Christian books in the non-fiction section, and Christian fiction is “wildly popular,” said Cappadonia.

Many Christians in Coudersport support the library. One said, “This is not a town that burns books.”

Cars quickly filled the library parking lot. Then they filled the lot for the neighborhood park next door. Then they began pulling onto the grass.

When the lights went down, all seats were full. People were sitting on the floor, sitting on bookshelves, standing between the stacks and against the wall. Many could not see the screen, but stayed just to listen.

As the film neared its conclusion an hour later, there was a flash of lightning outside, a sharp clap of thunder, and a double rainbow filled the sky.

Inside, a few opponents of the film offered their brimstone and walked out.

Applause erupted when a woman told the library board, “I think it’s good what you’ve done here.”

Some attempted to speak at length about “God’s Law,” and expressed frustration when they were asked to let others talk, too.

Openly gay members of the town — teenagers, adults and senior citizens — spoke briefly. Some said they felt embraced by the community and lucky to live there; others much less so.

Walter Baker, former chairman of the local Republican party and a member of the vestry at the Episcopal church, has owned a hotel in the center of town as an openly gay man for over 30 years.

“The people here are probably the most friendly people around,” he said. “They’ve been more than generous to me knowing who and what I am.”

A man from a town nearby said his church was very important to him, but when he came out of the closet “the people who considered themselves the most religious wrote me horrible letters.”

The discussion got loud a few times, but the consensus afterward was it was worthwhile.

When everyone was gone, Keturah Cappadonia locked the door.

Library board member Terri Shaffer sat on the floor and began ripping up the tattered duct tape patching the carpet.

The carpet “was good stuff when it was put in,” said Metzger. “June 1973 to be exact.”

Although the local Tea Party claimed “$1.5 million of local taxes” go to the library, the reality is its total budget last year was $117,000 - with less than $42,000 from local governments.

“I think it was a good experience,” said Shaffer. “Who cares if people get a little loud and speak their mind?”

Maybe the experience will bring in some donations — “especially from Harrisburg” she quipped.

Just then, there was a knock at the door.

It was one of the local ministers who spoke against the “homosexual lifestyle.”

When Cappadonia opened the door, he apologized to her.

“I feel badly about people coming in and badgering you,” he said.

Then he addressed Shaffer, saying “Terri, I hope I didn’t disappoint you too much.”

“It’s not my job to judge you,” she said with a smile.