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.

Pa. Tea Party Apologizes for Documentary Controversy

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 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.”

Friday, July 30, 2010


An individual who identifies himself as the President of the Potter County Pennsylvania Tea Party has issued a public apology for criticizing a screening and community discussion of OUT IN THE SILENCE, a PBS documentary about the lives and struggles of LGBT people in small town Pennsylvania, at the Coudersport Public Library. The surprise flip-flop was issued online on the “Coudy News” website and is reprinted below in its entirety:

George Brown Responds
Posted on July 28, 2010 at 3:15 pm

First, I would like to apologize to the members of the Potter County Tea Party. As one member pointed out, the Gay movie really isn’t what we are about, and that is a very true statement. The tea party is not concerned with a gay movie, but I, as a person was concerned with 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 since this issue had nothing to do with the Tea Party.

However, I do think [Jim Jones] of Solomon’s Words must be on heavy medication, or didn’t have his glasses on. I never said anything about a demonstration or about being mean to the library staff. I did say be nice and voice your opinion, and remember that the people you talk you just work there, they don’t make policy.

Where the threats of a demonstration came from I have no idea, but it was not from me nor from the Tea Party.

Regarding the Tea Pary and gays, we’re happy to have everyone, gay or straight, black, white, brown or red, it makes no difference to us. This is America folks and it is the greatest country in the world. Believe me when I tell you that we have a lot of members with very different political views, but we are all together in the belief that fiscally our country is out of control, and we the people are not being listened to.

For those of the area who made statements about not using the library, the folks at the library do a wonderful job so please reconsider, the library staff are very kind and wonderful people. One decision that someone does not agree with should not close down the library. Let’s be real, we are very lucky to have such a great library here.

I believe a lot of things were said by Solomon’s blog to get people excited. I believe that we in Potter County are fortunate to have each other for neighbors. Let’s love and respect each other, and go out of our way to help others out just as we did before the movie showed up at the library.

You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

God Bless America and everyone who lives here.

George E. Brown
Potter County Tea Party

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tea Party Attacks Public Library, Christian Minister and OUT IN THE SILENCE

Tea Party Threatens Public Library and Attacks Christian Pastor Over Screening of PBS Documentary Film In Rural Pennsylvania Community

For Immediate Release: July 27, 2010

In a scene reminiscent of the recent racist smear campaign against public servant Shirley Sherrod, the Potter County Tea Party in rural northern Pennsylvania has launched an attack on a local public library simply for being the site of a screening of the award-winning PBS documentary film OUT IN THE SILENCE, and is attempting to vilify a conservative Christian pastor who appears in the film.

Produced in association with Penn State Public Broadcasting, OUT IN THE SILENCE is about the difficulties that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people often face in small towns and rural communities and the search for common ground on these issues that have divided our communities for too long. The film has been broadcast on PBS stations in Pennsylvania and across the country.

In the film, Pastor Mark Micklos of Fern Trinity Evangelical Congregational Church befriends filmmakers Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, whose same-sex wedding announcement in Wilson's small hometown newspaper, The Derrick of Oil City, PA, was the target of a firestorm of criticism led by the American Family Association of Pennsylvania.

“To see the Tea Party, and so-called 'family values' activists attack a public library for hosting the screening of a PBS film and attempt to shut down the free flow of information and exchange of ideas in a community is shameful,” said Wilson.

“Their efforts are about exclusion, not inclusion,” continued Wilson, “and that's not the kind of country most Americans want to live in. It's also not helpful to economically depressed communities like Coudersport, where the Chamber of Commerce, elected officials and others are working hard to attract new business, residents and tourists by shining a positive light on the area, and overcome the perception that small towns are places where certain people and ideas are not welcome.”

“What's worse,” added Hamer, “is to see a good man like Pastor Micklos, who demonstrates true Christian values in the film, maligned by people who clearly haven't seen the film or even bothered to read the synopsis. If they had they would know the Pastor never compromises his biblical beliefs; he's simply trying to demonstrate what Christianity really means through a Christlike response.”

Despite efforts by the Potter County Tea Party and Free Methodist Church to shut down the screening of the film, the program will go on as scheduled at the Coudersport Public Library at 6:30 PM on Wednesday, July 28.

Those who would like to show support for the public library for the important role that it plays in a free and democratic society are encouraged to contact the Coudersport Public Library Board President, Jane Metzger, at and/or the library at, or 814-274-9382.

People can also share their viewpoints with local elected officials and with letters-to-the-editor in the local paper and online news sites.

Most importantly, the public is invited and encouraged to attend the screening so that people can come to their own conclusions about the issues involved.

For more information about the film, please visit:

Review of OITS in Christianity Today: Coming Out In Small Town USA

Review of OITS by American Library Association: Love, Hate and a Quest for Change

American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights



Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer
T: 202-320-4172 or 301-326-8355

Coudersport Public Library Response To Tea Party Attack

To The Coudersport Public Library Patrons

The award-winning documentary film “Out In The Silence” will be shown at the
Coudersport Public Library on Wednesday, July 28 at 6:30 p.m. The film depicts the struggle of a gay teen in a small town in Pennsylvania.

The filmmakers, Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer have conducted more than 75 town hall style screenings in public libraries, churches, high schools, colleges, theaters and community centers around the state. Other area screenings are planned in libraries in Smethport and Emporium.

Some in our community have expressed opinions that the subject matter presented in this film is objectionable to them.

The mission of any public library is to serve a diverse community with varying opinions about what is and is not objectionable material. The Library Bill of Rights (from the ALA, American Library Association) states (in part):

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

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.

Our society’s beliefs and ideas are diverse. A public library, in support of intellectual freedom, must provide broad access to divergent viewpoints and materials.

While these viewpoints may not be popular or necessarily represent the majority’s opinion, they must be available.

American libraries are the cornerstones of our democracy. Libraries are for everyone, everywhere. Because libraries provide free access to a world of information, they bring opportunity to all people.

Coudersport Public Library

Monday, July 26, 2010

"We won't be ruled by bullies" vows library

Update on the Coudersport story: There has been an outpouring of support for the Coudersport Public Library screening of OUT IN THE SILENCE. Encouraging words have been received from both local and distant allies through phone calls, emails and blogs. Vowing that "we won't be ruled by bullies with agendas", the library is planning to screen the documentary as scheduled on Wednesday July 28 at 6:30.

Clergy Threaten Public Library -- Promise “Large Protests” over Gay Documentary

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:

CONTACT: Joe Wilson,, 202-320-4172