By Jeffrey Gerson for The Advocate:
George Brown, president of the Potter County Tea Party, has issued a public apology for his protest of the acclaimed documentary Out in the Silence when it screened at a local library on its tour throughout Pennsylvania.
In an interview with The Advocate, Joe Wilson, codirector of Out in the Silence, explained the project’s mission: “The purpose of the whole tour was really to use this film to raise awareness and visibility about the lives of LGBT people in rural communities and small towns and help strengthen the ability of LGBT people in these communities to begin organizing for change.” The tour has so far covered over half of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Yet upon setting up shop in Coudersport, Pa., Wilson and Dean Hamer, his partner and codirector, met with controversy.
The film was set to be screened at the public library, Wilson explained, emphasizing, “just as any community group can do, or any citizen can use the public library for a program.” All was well until the duo received a call from the library director announcing that the event would have to be canceled. “She was receiving angry calls from local pastors for having scheduled a gay and lesbian program at the library. They were making threats that they were going to call for the library to be defunded,” Wilson said
An article that ran Monday on CoudyNews.com provides quotations both from Pete Tremblay, pastor of the Free Methodist Church and the Tea Party's Brown. Tremblay issued a request for people to “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.” Brown took a different approach: “Should this agenda be continued, we may need to ask if the library should be defunded.”
The library's board of directors ultimately supported the film, saying they would not be threatened. The event was a success, Wilson reported: “It was the largest event in the library in a long time. We had a very supportive crowd from high school students all the way up to elderly people. There were conflicting viewpoints present during the discussion, though Hamer believes these were positive as well, as it made it clear how challenging it can be to be LGBT in that kind of environment.”
Brown issued an official apology for his actions Thursday, stating, “The Tea Party is not concerned with a gay movie, but I as a person was concerned with the library being the venue for the movie, and frankly that had little to do with our Tea Party mission either. In retrospect I should of used my personal email to voice my opinion.”