Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Bible Believing Response" to OUT IN THE SILENCE Promotes Anti-Transgender Violence

Dispatch from Coudersport:

by Joe Wilson, August, 31, 2010:

Diane Gramley sat peacefully behind Robert Wagner in the Coudersport Public Library as the retired physician shared his views on transgender individuals with the assembled audience. “I'm gonna put a ball bat in my car,” he said, “and if I ever see a guy [Wagner refuses to use proper pronouns] coming out of a bathroom that my granddaughter's in, I'm gonna use the ball bat on him.” Moments later he added: “In the good old days, before 'she-males' existed, they just called such people perverts.”

Gramley is no stranger to such ideas. As President of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Family Association, a 'traditional family values' organization based in Mississippi, she spends much of her time planting similar seeds of suspicion about the dangers posed by “men who think they are women,” her disparaging term for transgender females. She also crusades relentlessly against what she and the AFA call the “homosexual agenda” and the type of legal protections that her and Dr. Wagner's threatening rhetoric suggests are needed for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Gramley was in Coudersport, a small town of 2,600 residents in the sparsely populated north-central part of the state known as the Pennsylvania Wilds, as a special guest of Dr. Wagner for what he titled “A Bible Believing Christian's Response to OUT IN THE SILENCE,” my documentary film about the quest for inclusion, fairness and equality for LGBT people in the small town where I was born and raised, Oil City, PA, just a two-hour drive from Coudersport.

Gramley, who also happens to call the Oil City area home, plays a central role in OUT IN THE SILENCE as a result of the firestorm of controversy she helped to ignite in opposition to the publication of my same-sex marriage announcement in the local paper. It was that controversy that compelled my partner, Dean Hamer, and I to go back to my hometown with our cameras to document what life is like there for LGBT people, and to show hopeful and inspiring stories about the growing movement for equality.

The film was produced in partnership with Penn State Public Broadcasting, received support from the Sundance Institute, premiered at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, screened in Tribeca Cinemas Doc Series, and has been broadcast on PBS stations around the country. We're now using it as an educational tool in a grassroots campaign to help raise LGBT visibility and to bring people together in small towns like Oil City and Coudersport to begin building bridges across the gaps that have divided families, friends, and entire communities on these issues for far too long.

As part of this campaign, OUT IN THE SILENCE had screened just a month earlier for a standing-room-only crowd in the Coudersport Public Library despite vehement opposition from Dr. Wagner and the efforts of the local Tea Party and a small group of fundamentalist preachers to shut the event down and have the library 'de-funded' for making its space available for such a program.

Wagner's “Bible Believing Response,” he told the crowd of approximately 60 local church people, “was intended to expose the filmmakers’ real agenda and to question the directors’ assertion that the community should tolerate alternative lifestyles.”

During the two hour program, Wagner asked special guest Gramley a few questions about her experiences as a minor subject of the film, but he used her more as a prop, seated silently behind him, providing an odd sort of legitimacy as he put forth offensive theories and mischaracterizations about LGBT people, including that “AIDS is the gay plague” and “gays can't have families.”

Dean and I were in the library for the presentation. We made the six-hour drive to Coudersport from our home in Washington, DC because I wanted to bear witness to this event, to experience for myself, if only for a few hours, what it feels like to be so close to such willful ignorance and brazen cruelty.

As I sat there, listening to 'amens,' snickering laughter, and even a roar of approval from the people around me when asked if they agree with the AFA assertions that there “should be legal sanctions against homosexual behavior” and “homosexuals should be disqualified from public office,” I felt a sadness unlike any I have known before. A sadness for those who fall prey to such bigoted and hostile bombast, who carry the feelings these things stir into their homes and family relationships, and for the communities that suffer the sometimes-violent consequences of such mean-spirited divisiveness.

But as I looked at Gramley, unmoved next to Wagner, condoning the ugliness without a word of protest, I thought of all the courageous people who have attended OUT IN THE SILENCE Campaign events over the past many months in far flung places, including there in Coudersport, who refuse to be silent anymore, who are working for change in their communities against great odds, and I was inspired all over again.

It is in their spirit that we will continue our campaign to speak out in the silence and to help build the movement for fairness and equality in small towns and rural communities across America.

I hope you'll join us! Learn more at OutintheSilence.com


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"The Other Side"

‘Bible-believing, Christian’ response to documentary planned in Coudersport

By Bob Hooftallen - August 21, 2010

It’s been nearly a month since a documentary pitching tolerance for alternative lifestyles was shown at the Coudersport Public Library.

At the time, the screening of “Out In The Silence,” a movie about a gay teen’s struggle to survive in a small town, prompted some Coudersport pastors to question not only the focus of the movie and its impact on the community, but also the decision to show the film in a place that is supported partially by tax revenue.

In an effort to address each of those concerns, a Coudersport resident has reserved the library for a program depicting the “other side” of the gay lifestyle debate, essentially testing the library board of directors’ commitment to the right to assemble and speak no matter the topic and offering an opportunity for people to hear a rebuttal to “tolerating” alternative lifestyles.

Dr. Robert Wagner, a relatively well-known Coudersport physician who created a stir in the 1980s with his self-published “True Press,” has scheduled the program from 6:30 pm to 8 pm Wednesday.

Wagner’s description of the program is “a Bible believing Christian response to ‘Out In The Silence’ and related topics.”

Guest speaker will be Diane Gramley, President of the American Family Association of Pa.

When it was first reported that there may be a response to the filming, the documentary’s director, Joe Wilson, hinted that his organization would attend. He has since changed his tune.

“What we’ve learned over the years is that it’s much more productive for us, and the movement, to focus on building relationships with potential allies than it is to engage with those who hold extremist views (about our movement),” he said. “Our work continues to reach a broader audience and we’ve expanded our network of allies. That’s what gives us hope.”

Wilson, who has made several successful documentaries, recently learned that Out In The Silence has been nominated for an Emmy Award by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Mid-Atlantic Chapter.

Boro Hears Film Concerns

Coudersport Borough Council members heard concerns about the previous screening and kudos for Wagner’s planned program during their meeting Wednesday evening.

Calvary Baptist Church pastor, the Rev. Richard Kuehlman, expressed his concern for tolerating such programs in Coudersport.

“As a religious leader in the community, I cannot see how an abnormal lifestyle should be tolerated by our community,” he said. “My concern is that there are already so many problems in Coudersport among our youth . . . Is this a lifestyle that we want to promote to (them) as acceptable?”

Pastor Kuehlman, who has lived in Coudersport for close to seven years after living in Japan for the previous 23, also said he was concerned that the program went on, despite “great protest from the community.”

“It seemed to me that when this took place, nobody seemed to care and the minority was going to do what they were going to do,” he said.

Pastor Kuehlman, who said he is “grateful” the opposing view will be presented Wednesday, questioned whether or not his church, or others, could hold religious events in publicly funded places.

“If this (the documentary) is an acceptable thing, can I hold a tent revival in a park?” he queried.

Borough Manager Marlin Moore said he would gladly check to see if that would be legal. He also noted that he did question the borough solicitor as to whether or not the airing of the film violated any laws. The answer was “no.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

OITS Supports NJ Library that was attacked for LGBT book

Dear Ms Sweet,

We read about the recent dispute over whether the Burlington County Library should carry "Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology" with concern. As noted in the American Library Association Library Bill of Rights,

"Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community...Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues."

We would like to help you in this important goal by providing the Burlington County Library with a copy of our PBS documentary OUT IN THE SILENCE and an accompanying Discussion Guide. OUT IN THE SILENCE tells the story of a small town confronting it's own homophobia, and has won numerous awards including a recent Emmy nomination. We believe it will be a timely and useful addition to your collection.

Over the past year we have been screening OUT IN THE SILENCE at public libraries across the country, and these events have been wonderful opportunities for communities to have a civil dialogue over issues that have divided families, friends and neighbors for far too long. Please let us know if we can help arrange a screening in Burlington or help your library in any other way.


Dean Hamer and Joe WIlson

OITS August Newsletter -- From Lincoln Center To Your Local Public Library

"Back Hills Mom" Wows Lincoln Center, Vows To Fight On

OITS had its official premiere in New York on June 21 before a sold out audience at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. The screening was part of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival.

The highlight of the evening occurred when Kathy Springer, the self-described 'back hills mom' who plays a starring role in the documentary, was introduced and brought on stage to a prolonged standing ovation.

During a lively discussion led by Boris Dittrich, Advocacy Director of the Human Rights Watch LGBT Rights Program, Kathy vowed to carry on the fight that began when school authorities in her small Pennsylvania town stood by and did nothing as her son was brutally gay bashed. She emphasized the importance of making schools everywhere safe for all students.

There will be many opportunities for Kathy (pictured here with Terry, her amazingly-supportive husband) and other allies to join the OITS Campaign as the film continues to tour across the country as part of the Traveling Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which bears witness to human rights violations through storytelling in a way that challenges each individual to empathize and demand justice for all people.

Listen to a podcast about OITS with Joe, Dean and HRW's Borris Dittrich, hosted by Amy Costello.


Film Screening Supports Non-Discrimination Ordinance

OITS events help communities come together in exciting new ways, as The Main Line Times reported about a recent screening in suburban Philadelphia:

"The community room at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute was standing-room-only for the screening of a new documentary film called Out In The Silence. But that wasn't the most remarkable thing about the 100-plus turnout for Jason Landau Goodman, whose organization, Equality Lower Merion, hosted the event.

For the Main Line, 'this was the first community LGBT event they could ever recall,' Goodman said of the audience, a diverse group that included different ages, some same-sex partners, but probably just as many or more heterosexual couples.

For Goodman, the local college student who last month urged the Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners to adopt an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it was a big step forward in the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues here.

Read the entire article here: Film Draws Supporters of Non-Discrimination Ordinance


And The Emmy Goes To ...

OITS is proud and honored to be nominated for an Emmy Award in the documentary category by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Mid-Atlantic Chapter. Winners will be announced on September 25th. Wish us luck!


Will You Join Us In "Going Public" ?

The OITS Campaign believes that real change requires being out there, openly and visibly, in the full light of the public square, linking the struggle for justice and equality for LGBT people to the broader quest for a more inclusive and democratic society for all.

And we need you to be a part of it by bringing OITS to your public library. You can host a local screening or have a DVD and Discussion Guide sent to your hometown library. Check out the screening kits here, let us know your plans, and we'll help you make it happen. Thanks!

Order a DVD from Amazon

Buy a 5-pack and Help Spread the News!

Download the Discussion Guide and Event Toolkit

You Can Sign-Up To Receive Future OITS E-Newsletters Here: Join The Mailing List

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Proposition 8 Dispatch From the Culture Wars Front

Bill Lichtenstein for The Huffington Post:

The US District Court decision on August 4, overturning California's Proposition 8 and its ban on same sex marriages was a watershed moment for proponents of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans.

Within hours of the landmark decision, pundits ranging from MSNBC's liberal Rachel Maddow to Fox's ultra-right wing Glenn Beck, began postulating that the ruling signaled a new "post-homophobic" era in America.

Maddow, who among news anchors may well be America's most trusted lesbian, led her show for the two nights after the decision with celebratory coverage of the ruling. She went so far as to taunt GOP leaders for being uncharacteristically quiet during the 24 hours after the US District Court decision.

Speaking presumably to Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and John Boehner, among others, Maddow asked at the top of her August 5 program, "Where were the outraged Republicans? Where are you? You guys used to be so good at this."

At the same time, Glenn Beck, who is to liberal causes what "Mikey" was to breakfast foods in the 1970s Life cereal ads ("he hates everything"), turned heads by telling Fox's Bill O'Reilly that "I don't think marriage, that the government actually has anything to do with . . . [what] is a religious right," and then added a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "If it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket, what difference is it to me?"

In the wake of the decision, both sides held their breath as Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker gave opponents of the ruling six days to appeal it. On August 16, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals left in place Prop 8 and its same sex marriage ban in California, as the case winds its way through its appeal process toward the Supreme Court, where it may ultimately be decided. Depsite forcing Golden State gay and lesbian couples to put their nuptial plans on hold, this delay has one possible plus for same sex marriage proponents.

Loyola Law School professor Richard Hasen told the LA Times, that "If this case takes another year to get to the U.S. Supreme Court, there could be more states that adopt same-sex marriage and more judicial opinions that reach that conclusion."

In fact, despite the dramatic victory in the federal court, the battle over same sex marriages in the US continues to rage at the state and local levels.

Streak of "31 Straight Victories" Brought to an End

Over the past decade, gay marriage opponents have racked up an impressive winning streak of 31 straight victories against no defeats when the issue of same sex marriages has been on the ballot in state elections. Loss number 31 was in Maine, on November 3, 2009, when voters repealed a law that had allowed gay unions. The 31-0 streak was brought to an abrupt end by Judge Walker's Prop 8 decision.

As recent events have been developing in San Francisco, filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson have been traveling the country with their feature documentary film, Out in the Silence. The film captures the remarkable chain of events starting with the announcement of their wedding, which ignited a firestorm of controversy in the small Pennsylvania hometown Wilson left long ago.

The documentary tells the story of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights in rural America, and premiered at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, was broadcast on PBS stations across the country, and has been shown at over 400 community and school screenings accompanied by public discussions.

Currently, Dean, who has worked for the past three decades at the National Institutes of Health, and received international attention after the journal "Science" published his research in 1993 that he had identified a "gay gene," and Joe, a human rights activist and native of Oil City, Pennsylvania, where the documentary takes place, are traveling with the film through all 67 counties in Pennsylvania, a state that prohibits same sex marriage.

The following is Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson's "dispatch from the front" regarding the latest battle in America's 2010 culture wars:

Plaintiffs Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier at federal courthouse.

"The images of the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case standing on the steps of the Federal Courthouse in San Francisco during the trial, were typical of the now standard media portrayal of gay America: out, proud, comfortably middle class, living in a big city or suburb.

But there is another side to gay America that is rarely seen. It takes place in conservative, often deeply religious small towns and rural communities where those who are found, or even perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, strive to fit in rather than to stand out. For these people coming out means risking their families, friends, jobs and livelihoods, their safety and at times even their very lives.

Our documentary film, Out in the Silence focuses on the harrowing, ultimately successful battle waged by a 16 year-old gay student and his mother against recalcitrant school authorities when the teen was brutally gay bashed for courageously coming out at his rural high school.
Filmmakers Hamer (L) and Wilson (R) in Oil City, Pennsylvania

We've reached half of our goal of screening the film in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania, and most of the events have been greeted with enthusiasm. But in Coudersport, a town of 2,650 people along the northern border of the state, we received an email from Keturah Cappadonia, a town librarian just two days before the scheduled screening informing us that the event would have to be canceled. The reason, as the Harrisburg Patriot-News later reported, was that 'after several hours of people pointing their fingers in her face and telling her she was going to hell, Keturah Cappadonia cracked' and was reduced to tears by the experience.

The controversy resulted from, no surprise, an alliance between fundamentalist Christians and right-wing conservatives. Pastor Pete Tremblay of the Coudersport Free Methodist Church told a local news web site that the film was 'designed to get people to give up their convictions based on the word of God and accept these practices as equivalent to God's design for human sexuality. It is propaganda.'

Pastor Tremblay went on to request that people '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.'

He was joined in his condemnation of the film by George Brown, president of the Potter County Tea Party, who said he was upset at having to be 'attacked for our beliefs at a public library we support with our tax money. This is wrong and cannot be tolerated.'

Brown also told the web site that $1.5 million of local taxes was used to support the library (the actual number is $42,000), and went on to say that 'Should this agenda be continued, we may need to ask if the library should be defunded.'
Diane Gramley, head of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania

That appeared to be one threat over the line for the library board. Following a quick phone meeting, they unanimously decided that the screening would go ahead as originally planned and issued a public statement for the library patrons:

The mission of any public library is to serve a diverse community with varying opinions about what is and is not objectionable material . . . 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 . . . American libraries are the cornerstone of our democracy. Libraries are for everyone, everywhere.

And so two days later, on the evening of July 28, 2010, a standing room only crowd gathered in Coudersport's public library, made up of mainstream members of the community along with lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual, transgender and cisgender, young, middle-aged and senior citizens, together with a goodly handful of reporters, all gathered together in a public place and ready to talk about a subject that had divided their community for far too long.

As soon as the film was over, one of the opponents in the room quickly rose and read from a long list of objections to the film, including that 'most homosexuals are very well off.' Another spoke at length of his belief that homosexuality is against 'God's word.'

But then, gradually, slowly and often in tears, the LGBT folks and their family members, friends and allies began to recount their personal experiences.

A teenager described how he had been harassed at school when his classmates discovered his father was gay. 'I didn't understand why my friends turned their backs on me,' he said. 'To accept everyone is the only way to go about living.'

Then the teen's father - a local business owner, Episcopal Vestry member and former Republican Party Chair - spoke of the acceptance he has quietly gained over his 30 years in the town.

Another young man, visibly nervous, publicly announced for the first time that he was proud to be both gay and Christian, even though his church had rejected him. That prompted a local minister to stand and announce that her church was supportive of LGBT people and would serve as a resource for those who wanted a welcoming spiritual home.

When a woman with a small child in her arms offered to make a financial donation to the library to offset any losses due to the screening, she was greeted by a solid burst of applause.

The topic of marriage equality was never even mentioned. But audience members did circulate a sign-up sheet for people who wanted to work with one another and Equality Partners of Western Pennsylvania to try and make Coudersport a more welcoming and tolerant place. By the time the event was over, the majority of the people in the room had signed up.

While it was painful, even frightening to observe the open hostility of the handful of individuals who attempted to stop the meeting from occurring, and then to disrupt the conversation with angry diatribes and personal attacks, people in the community have told us that it was actually useful that it all took place in full light of day because it revealed the seriousness of the problems that LGBT people face, often alone and without any networks of personal or legal support in such an environment.

The other screenings throughout Pennsylvania, which has a law on the books prohibiting same sex marriage, drew good crowds of local LGBT people and allies including educators, social workers and business owners, but only one minister showed up, in Emporium, PA. After watching the movie he took off his white collar and placed it in his shirt pocket. 'Sometimes I'm embarrassed to be associated with the clergy in this area,' he said. 'My religion is about faith, not about hate.'

Visit the official "Out in The Silence" web site at Outinthesilence.com
"Out in the Silence" can be seen On iTunes or purchased on Amazon.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

"The Film Portrays Oil City In A Very Favorable Light"

OUT IN THE SILENCE, and its portrayal of the quest for fairness & equality for LGBT people in small towns & rural communities, just received the most important honor imaginable, recognition from the Oil City Arts Council, an amazing organization and group of people working for change in the very community portrayed in the film.

Our gratitude will be shown at each and every screening as we continue to share news of the great efforts underway in Oil City to help make it, and the surrounding area, more welcoming and inclusive of all who wish to call it home!

Text of Letter:

August 5, 2010

Dear Joe,

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Oil City Arts Council, I am sending our deep appreciation to you for the sensitivity and sense of community that you expressed in your film, OUT IN THE SILENCE. We feel that the film portrays Oil City in a very favorable light with regard to the interpersonal relationships and personal concern for human rights displayed by our residents.

We hope that you will feel welcome to visit Oil city often and that every opportunity will be taken to show your film to new audiences.

We send our congratulations on your artistic achievement with OUT IN THE SILENCE and wish you success as you continue your creative endeavors.


Libby Williams
Oil City Arts Council

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Truth Hurts

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.”