Coudersport, Pennsylvania, a farm town with a population of just 2,650 people, seems an unlikely location for a battle over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. But when the public library scheduled a screening and community discussion of a documentary detailing the struggle to survive of a gay teen, this remote hamlet quickly moved to the front lines of America's culture war.
We've received phone calls all morning from clergy “screaming at us”, reported a library staff member. “They're threatening large protests and we don't know what to do.”
The film, OUT IN THE SILENCE, was directed by Joe Wilson, a native of the small town of Oil City, Pennsylvania, and his partner Dean Hamer. Produced in association with Penn State Broadcasting and the Sundance Institute, it had its premiere at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at New York's Lincoln Center and has been broadcast on PBS. But Wilson and Hamer are more interested in screening it in small towns and rural communities as part of a grassroots campaign to raise LGBT visibility and promote civic and political involvement outside the major cities.
When Wilson contacted the Coudersport Public Library about holding a free screening and community discussion, they were delighted to schedule the event for this Wednesday, July 28. But a week before the event, the librarian tried to postpone, citing concerns by the Board of Directors about “possible protests and community concerns.”
Meanwhile, however, Wilson had already placed advertisements about the event in local media, and the county newspaper, The Endeavor, published a front page article about the screening and its importance.
Given the publicity, the library changed its tune about postponing, informing Wilson by email on Friday that the screening could definitely take place.
But on the morning of Monday July 26, the library suddenly changed its mind yet again. They wrote Wilson canceling the event, stating that the library “cannot be involved” due to the large number of calls they had received from conservative ministers in the area.
“It's especially ironic given that one of the main characters in the film is an Evangelical Pastor who was initially very anti-gay, but became more understanding once he actually met gay people and saw us as human beings,” said Wilson.
By lunchtime on Monday the library had reconsidered, stating that “We want our library to be a forum for the exchange of ideas, not a place to be ruled by bullies with agendas.” As of 2:00PM the screening is back on schedule for 6:30 PM Wednesday July 28.
Wilson and Hamer have alerted the media, the state Human Relations Commission, and local law enforcement about the flap and threatened protests. None of the local churches have commented on the controversy.
In a recent review of the film, the American Library Association said: “OUT IN THE SILENCE is recommended for all viewers and deserves a place in all library collections, particularly those libraries serving small and rural communities.”
A press kit and more information about OUT IN THE SILENCE and the ongoing community engagement campaign, as well as a short trailer for the film, are available on the Penn State Public Broadcasting website: http://outinthesilence.com
CONTACT: Joe Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-320-4172