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.”