By Michael Hamar
Recent news stories about the tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year old transgender teen in Ohio and the award nominated movie, The Imitation Game, which looks at the work of Alan Turing and the breaking of the Nazi’s secret Enigma Code have brought to focus some of the hardships and discrimination faced by LGBT people, both in the past in the case of Turing and in the present day in the case of Alcorn. Turing, perhaps the most notable unsung hero of World War II who some say helped shorten World War II by two years and saved 14 million lives, was driven to after a conviction for “gross indecency” – i.e., sexual relations with another man – and forced hormonal castration. Alcorn likewise succumbed to suicide after experiencing parental rejection and, worse yet, forced sessions with “Christian therapists” if one believes her suicide note.
While familiarity can sometimes breed contempt, more frequently it can dispel stereotypes and lead to better understanding. Lack of compassion and understanding, and a lack of familiarity with those who are different, often fuel harsh and brutal treatment towards members of the LGBT community. Indeed, even when I “came out of the closet” in mid-life, I initially felt some uneasiness and discomfort around other gays. Perhaps some of that unease came from the internalized homophobia I developed during my Catholic upbringing. But much of it came from the fact that I knew almost no one gay and absolutely no one transgendered.
In the years since I “came out,” I’ve learned that the LGBT community, like any other group in society, has a large spectrum of personality types and certainly a huge diversity in looks and body types, ranging from big burly “bears” to the young, sometimes effeminate “twinks.” But overall, we are a community of pretty much ordinary people doing our best to get through life and find our share of the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” referenced in the Declaration of Independence. The end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (“DADT”) and the spread of same sex marriage have helped the larger society to see us as we really are: regular ordinary people who may be your neighbors or even family members. But more familiarity and acceptance is still needed.
In recognition of this reality, the LGBT Center of Hampton Roads, a program of ACCESS AIDS Care, is sponsoring the third annual Reel It OUT Queer Film Festival of Hampton Roads from February 3-7. The goal of the film festival is simple: To introduce and educate Hampton Roads locals on the triumphs accomplished and hardships endured by the larger LGBT community through the film and media. To accomplish this goal, the film festival is offering a mix of films. Here’s a sampling of the selections (together with my reflections) which are showing at locations across Hampton Roads.
Southern Baptist Sissies (February 3rd at the Naro at 6:30PM): Southern Baptist Sissies is the story of four boys who are gay growing up in the Southern Baptist Church and how they each deal differently with the conflict between the teachings of the church and their sexuality.
I was raised Catholic rather than Southern Baptist, but it is hard to adequately describe the pain, heartache and stress that one’s religious upbringing can bring to the lives of LGBT youth as well as adults.
Burning Blue (February 4th at Norfolk State University at 7:30PM): This film looks at something that until all too recently haunted many gays in the military – I have friends who were discharged under DADT – and involves a witch hunt after a sailor reports seeing one of the top ranking fighter pilots in a gay club. The pilot in question and his squadron mates and their spouses all become the subject of the modern day witch hunt. One can only hope that former supporters of DADT will see this film and realize the consequences of their past bigotry.
Trans (February 5th at Christopher Newport Studio Theater at 6:30PM): This movie is particularly relevant given the recent death of Leelah Alcorn. The film provides an up-close and very personal vision into the lives, loves, and challenges of remarkable individuals of all ages and from all walks of life who are seeking to answer the questions of “’who they really are” and “are you brave enough to find out?”
Christine at the Crossroads (February 6th the Norfolk Unitarian Church at 6:30PM). This film is a drama/romance about a married woman who “discovers” her true (hidden) sexual identity, and falls in love with a coworker of the same sex.
I cannot count the number of friends I have – both male and female – who married, had children and “did what was expected of them” only to realize that they have been living a lie of sorts and did not have the strength to continue to do so. As shown in the film, one of the most difficult issues is deciding if your own happiness is worth causing someone else hurt and sorrow. Many cannot make the decision and end their lives seeing it as their only escape.
Short Film Competition (February 7th at ODU University Theatre at 6:30PM): This competition includes short films from France, Portugal and Spain that look at various aspects of LGBT life as the characters move forward with their lives.
Sadly, those who most need to see these films will likely not attend. But I encourage readers to find the time to see one or more of the films selections. It is difficult to understand others with a different sexual orientation. This film festival may just help provide a needed glimpse to further open one’s mind and heart.
Proceeds from the film festival go to help support the LGBT Center of Hampton Roads which provides services such as mental health for gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender youth and adults; support groups for youth, military personnel, and the transgender community; a variety of social outlets for area high-school gay student associations; meeting space for an over 50 group and weekly yoga sessions. The LGBT Center also offers free HIV testing and youth outreach is also held in the Center, which is partially funded through a grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
I sincerely encourage Hampton Roads residents to support the film festival. More details can be found at http://www.reelitout.org/..