Even as this year’s Pride celebrations will be mostly virtual rather than parading in the streets, the Black community takes centre stage amidst the backlash of authoritative racism, and COVID-19 wreaks havoc all around the globe, Craig Bettendorf’s searing documentary has much to say and manages to weave all of our present-day dilemmas into one ginormous quilt—on purpose or not.
Spanning the terms of institutional homophobia and homosaywhat (“a fun prank to pull on your friends while they’re distracted, quickly say ‘homosaywhat,’ they’ll say, “What, hilarity will ensue”), the film looks back at organized hate, the HIV/AIDS epidemic (where isolation was recommended—sound familiar?) and the effect of the Moral Majority, religion, legislation to explain where we are now.
The contents are:
- Educational—clips (sponsored by the Inglewood police department and school district), long-ago, black-and-white “beware the homosexual” messages;
- George Putnam’s vermin: “floodtide of filth…sex deviants”, reprehensible (in 1964 the state of Florida’s attempts to round up those who want to “bring over the young person to hook him for homosexuality”), blatantly unfair (in some states—after 2016’s Supreme Court 5-4 ruling—same-sex marriage is allowed but you can still be fired for being openly gay—just today, that has been overturned by a 6-3 decision from Donald Trump’s Supreme Court);
- Enraging (the Taiwan referendum on gay marriage failed due in large part by lobbying from the Chinese head of Grindr—one of the most popular and lucrative social media platforms for gay men);
- Uplifting (especially PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—march);
- Hopeful (more and more LGBTQ2 winning all manner of political contests) and;
- Devastatingly sad (just 24 hours after the artistic trust’s—Bettendorf along with partner/producer/narrator Kai Morgan’s première of their TV series, Treading Yesterday—49 lives ended due to the 2016 carnage at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub). And yesterday, another Black life lost (shot in the back) due to unnecessary deadly force by police in Atlanta.
At the root of it all are same-sex relationships—mostly the dignity to have the same rights, freedoms and statutes as heterosexual couples. The difference between having sex (of any persuasion) and making love (in hopes of a permanent relationship), leaves the film just a tad short of reality (many, many “straight” women and men enjoying a no-strings-attached walk on the “other side “ are left out of the conversation).
The other challenge is, of course, religion. The leaders of the ancient Greeks were proud of their very young boyfriends; the Middle Ages had no problem blessing same-sex unions. But in the 20th century—as is pointed out, not much different between the Nazis scorning the “dirty Jews”—and those who love their own sex, are seen as a scourge that must be eradicated. As documented, many believed that God sent HIV/AIDS to purge the planet of “dirty queers.” What would those same Bible thumpers say about why God has sent COVID-19 today? Perhaps a revenge fuck of the highest order on those who assume superiority?
Much is made of Retired Reverend Rusty Smith’s journey within his church: first “making us feel like orphans” then welcoming us “back to the light”. Those thoughts have only reinforced my view that organized religion (as much-opposed to faith) is just as manipulative and uncaring as our political leaders, doing whatever it takes to keep the pews full and—more importantly—the tithes coming in. And those clergy who molest their charges? Just pray for them all and mourn the countess suicides they have and still cause. JWR