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."

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