Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“THE SUNDAY SESSIONS”— A Look at Conversion Therapy

“The Sunday Sessions”

A Look at Conversion Therapy

Amos Lassen

There has been a lot said lately about conversion therapy and the movies have always been a reflection of what is going on in society. We have already had one big budget film from major studio on the subject and here comes a film that is much smaller but every bit as effective.

In the documentary, “The Sunday Sessions”, a religious young man s identity is called into question when he visits a conversion therapist. For those of you who do not know, conversion therapy is the controversial process that aims to convert an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Although it has been discredited by all major medical, psychological, and professional counseling organizations, some therapists still offer conversion therapy for reasons almost exclusively rooted in a conservative religious belief system.

Nathan is struggling to reconcile his religious conviction and sexual identity. The filmmakers were given total access as Nathan willingly attends clandestine therapy sessions, family sessions, and weekend camps with a therapist. The documentary chronicles two years of his journey from acceptance to skepticism, all leading to a profound epiphany.

This is an intimate portrait of one man’s struggle and it shows how far we have to go as a society to create a place where people don’t have to choose between authenticity and faith. “Director Richard Yeagley offers the viewer an intensely harrowing inside look at one of the cruelest forms of homophobia. Yeagley has captured something that has rarely been documented and it is intimate and revealing, a behind the scenes expose of “the flawed and discredited practice of what has become known as conversion therapy.”

Audiences need to be aware, during viewing, that conversion therapy is centered around religion conviction that homosexuality is a mental illness or the devils work with the assumption participants can be converted back to “straight”. Richard Yeagley does not include his personal opinions and lets the audience decide for themselves.

This  is hard to watch because of its subject matter. The point of a documentary is to show real life and it powerfully does so. While the ending is somewhat unsatisfying, it shows the reality of life.

“A LONG ROAD TO FREEDOM”— Fifty Years of “The Advocate”

“A LONG ROAD TO FREEDOM”

Fifty Years of “The Advocate”

Amos Lassen

There was a time when “The Advocate” was  our only acc4ss to learning about LGBT life and we eagerly awaited each issue. However, in the last few years, it has become a slick magazine with very little in it. The demise of the LGBT national magazine began when Here Media decided to control what we read. They two owners were soon in trouble and the magazine was sold and ever since has been trying to make a comeback. “A Long Road to Freedom” looks at the fifty year history of the magazine and in just under two hours, it attempts to touch on nearly every major event and milestone in the LGBTQ+ rights movement from 1967 to present day. We have had quite a history making it difficult to choose what gets included and how and the results are uneven and it seems like the film assumes that we know our history so it glosses over some important issues while it rehashes others. Major headlines like the Stonewall riots in 1969 or the Moscone—Milk assassinations in 1978 get relatively little attention, even though both were major rallying points for the community. By contrast, the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the role that advocacy groups like ACT UP played in education and medical treatment are explored in detail are one of the most intriguing portions of the documentary.

Writer/director William Clift gives us many notable figures and advocates from throughout the movement’s history. In selecting what to include, the issues of relevance and runtime were certainly important and considered. While some stories enrich the larger historical narrative, others are more personal or rambling. 

Perhaps creating a limited series might have been a better idea. Yet, matters of visibility and inclusivity are discussions as important within the LGBTQ+ movement as they are outside of it, and Clift handles them as gracefully as possible. Several LGTBQ activists are featured in the predominantly white cast and this draws attention to the added discrimination that people of color can face beyond the judgements made based on their sexual orientation alone. Clift also mentions on how the trans community was finally included in the movement.

Actress Laverne Cox narrates the film. We sense the struggle with an uneven approach to such a broad history and this is an important and worthy subject. The film gives its audience firsthand accounts and never-before-seen archival footage and imagery of the watershed moments in our history— everything from the Black Cat Riots, Stonewall, the disco sexual revolution, the AIDS crisis, marriage equality, and the trans movement to the present day. The documentary began as an opportunity to record more information about The Black Cat Tavern, which was an LGBT bar located at 3909 West Sunset Boulevard in the Sunset Junction neighborhood of the Silver Lake district in Los Angeles. The raid of the bar and the subsequent horrific beatings from the LAPD officers came before the Sunset Strip curfew riots, the movement in Los Angeles which grew from the event, and Stonewall.

“The Black Cat raid predated Stonewall by two years,” said the film’s producer David Millbern. “Stonewall was in ’69, and not too many people know that the grassroots gay rights movement really started in Los Angeles in ’67 at The Black Cat.”

“The Advocate” was founded two years before the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, an incident that is generally credited as the beginning of the LGBTQ rights movement. “The Advocate” was at The Black Cat during the raids and documented the incident though no one else would. The documentary touches upon this and gives us the rich pieces of history that don’t often get talked about in schools. The film employs the help of The Advocate archives, Here TV, (who invested funding in the film), and many LGBTQ civil rights leaders who were present during this significant events. The documentary has ended up becoming a complete documentation of the LGBTQ history of the last 50 years because of this.

We have interviews from notable figures, such as Ricky Martin, Caitlyn Jenner, and Margaret Cho, and engaging first-hand accounts from key individuals such as Cleve Jones, Thomas K. Duane, and Ivy Bottini. The documentary not only educates its viewers; it also captures the attention of the audience with a message that encourages the celebration of achievements and serves as a call to action in the current political landscape.

We  learn about some of the earliest activists of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. These activists are still around to fight for the rights of not only the LGBTQ community but for the rights of all marginalized members of society. These same individuals are featured in the movie at Black Lives Matter protests and urging others to come together to help support and fight for equality for everyone.

“Many people have gone above and beyond to fight for what is right, risking their lives and making countless sacrifices for the next generation to one day have a better life. The film artfully reveals how the community has come a long way and also reminds us that we still have a long way to go.”

The documentary, narrated by Laverne Cox and with music by Melissa Etheridge, premiered on July 19th at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater benefiting Outfest Los Angeles and will be shown on Here TV after the festival run followed by a 20-city theatrical release.

“LITTLE MISS WESTIE”— One Family, Two Transgender Children

“Little Miss Westie”

One Family, Two Transgender  Children

Amos Lassen

 Joy E. Reed and Dan Hunt’s new documentary, “Little Miss Westie” is the story of the McCarthy family in Connecticut where both of their children are transgender.  The older sibling Luca came out to his parents in high school and after some confusion at first, the parents adjusted well to the change.  However when Ren his younger sibling came out later, the immediate reaction was that she was emulating her brother.

Chris and Shelley McCarthy’s way of dealing with both their children is measured and calm.  Whatever their initial reactions were (and Shelley confessed to a few misgivings) they are completely accepting and supportive of their children and happy to do whatever is necessary to facilitate their transitioning.

Ren wants to participate in the Miss Westie pageant as long as she can do so on her terms.  Luca had taken part when she was younger and before she had come out as a boy, and he takes on the role of coach for his younger sister.  The pageant in itself is not that important but the way that Ren reacts in social situations like this is important because she has trouble making friends.

Before the 2016 Presidential election, the family was deeply worried about the rights of their children, and the trans community if the Trump administration succeeded. They were proved correct  as the current Administration has started rolling back as many rights as they can, and the siblings need the continued support of their parents more than ever now. We cannot help but be struck by the mature approach of the two kids and their energy. Yet, we see Luca’s mood swings when he first starts testosterone but facing this as a family makes it such a far cry from all the trans kids that end up homeless and suicidal. 

We are again reminded of the crucial need for all of us to be supportive of the trans community  particularly in the present political climate. The film focuses on the family at a time when they are dealing with so many changes.  It’s not just the changes that their children go through with a gender transition but how our country’s political affairs have affected their life.

“FAMILY IN TRANSITION”— Staying Together

“Family in Transition” (“Mishpakha BiTrans”)

Staying Together

Amos Lassen

“Family in Transition” is about the family Tzuk from Nahariya, Israel, (a couple and four children), from the time the father (Amit) suddenly decides to share his secret desire to become a woman. Amit’s wife, Galit, needs time to understand what is happening and she understands
that with the change Amit is about to undergo, she has to make a decision – whether to stay or to leave. She decides to give it a chance.

Despite personal difficulties and social stigmas, all of the family members insist on staying together. They believe that love will overcome all difficulties yet when it seems that Amit’s gender journey has finally reached its destination, it is Galit, the supportive partner that threatens the relationship.

Nahariya is a small city in northern Israel and probably has never had an experience like this. Transitioning is not a decision that is made easily, and it is not  without risks.  There are  the people that transitioning means possibly losing .  Losing her wife is a risk that Amit makes by coming out as a woman.  While their marriage ultimately ends in divorce after 24 years, Galit did hold on for as long as possible.

Nahariya is close to the Israeli-Lebanon border and the  town is less accepting of the Tzuk family.  As free as Tel Aviv is, that is not true of the rest of the country. This is the challenge of living as an openly transgender person in Israel.  Acceptance and rejection come from family as well as from the community. If one is rejected by the community, he/she has to move. you, you have to move.

Together, Amit and Galit have four children and having children together also means having to push through transitioning without losing their family.  Early on, it appears that Amit had the full support of her wife.  It looked as though they survived Amit’s surgery but then something happened.  Mentally, Amit didn’t quite recover quickly enough following surgery and his mental health took a turn for the worst.  Galit had enough and decided to ask for a divorce.

Amit’s transition led Galit to ask important questions like who she is and what does she want from life. She and Amit were married at a very young age. were married at such a young age.  Divorce in Israel is a very problematic issue. The Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) rabbinate has a stronghold on religious law.  Amit would not grant Galit a divorce or get.  In some religious interpretations, a get is no longer required following a medical transition.  In any event, Amit is recognized as a woman under Israeli civil law, but religious law still views her as a man.

When Amit comes out at 42 years old, one of the big concerns is the children.  We see and hear them talking about being teased in school because of Amit coming out.  Galit stayed with Amit for as long as she could.  In many instances, the spouse leaves almost immediately.  The fact that they have four children shows the urgent need to make it all work and when  things ultimately did not work out, it wasn’t for the lack of trying. The documentary was directed by Ofir Trainin and features Amit Tzuk, Galit Tzuk, Yuval Tzuk, Yarden Tzuk, Agam Tzuk and Peleg Tzuk.

“DENIAL”— Facing Facts

“DENIAL”

Facing Facts

Amos Lassen

Before Christine Hallquist ran for Governor of Vermont, she was David Hallquist, the CEO of the largest locally owned electric utility in Vermont.  Hallquist saw himself as a “closet environmentalist” and others saw him that way. Hallquist is dedicated to addressing the way electricity use in America contributes to climate change.  But his mission is balanced with the utility’s charge to provide affordable and reliable service.  For Hallquist, increasing the efficiency of the grid was the only meaningful route to merging these priorities. With that in mind, “he implemented one of the country’s first ‘smart’ grids, decreasing outages, increasing the capacity for renewable sources and building a national reputation as an energy pioneer.”  We understand that resistance, however, comes in many forms and also from those opposed to renewable intermittency, solar and wind advocates  who thought Hallquist was dragging his feet, and the public fears that ‘smart’ meters on their homes  would send private information about their energy use to the government.

As Hallquist struggled to build the kind of transparent company whose honest approach can get stakeholders to accept the realities of how we generate and deliver electricity, he realized he must apply that same transparency to his personal life and reveals to his son a lifelong secret. Dave Hallquist, who presents as a chainsaw-wielding, hard hat-wearing CEO in a male-dominated industry is a woman inside.

Now, his son Derek’s family must face facts that feel far more immediate than the energy concerns. The personal and the societal come together as Derek learns that his father, newly named Christine,  is still indeed his father – and that Christine’s unique perspective as the first American Transgender CEO to transition in office, may be just the what the limiting, binary worldview on energy and the environment needs.

Derek Hallquist (Director, Writer, Producer) has spent most of his life working on the documentary “Denial”, which premiered at the LA film festival in 2016 and has won awards at film festivals around the country. His father, Christine David Hallquist (CEO-VEC) is the first transgender candidate for Governor in the United States.  She moved to Vermont in 1976. At the beginning of Christine’s tenure as CEO, the Coop was in severe financial distress, and the state was considering pulling its certificate of public good.

Christine has always believed that people begin each day wanting to do the best job possible.  As head of VEC, she viewed her job as empowering the Coop’s employees by giving them the tools they needed to do so. Embracing this philosophy, Christine worked with VEC’s 107 employees to not only rebuild the Coop’s finances, but also to transform it into a national leader on using renewable sources of electricity production to combat climate change. She was the chair of the strategies and technical advisory committees of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association where she advocated for innovative technology that enabled high penetration of renewables onto the grid. Today, under Christine’s visionary leadership and steady hand, VEC’s bond ratings are solid, and the Coop has not had a rate increase in more than four years. VEC meets 96 percent of its energy needs from carbon-free sources, compliance with the state’s goals to achieve the 100 percent renewable mandate for 2050.   

Over the years Christine has also devoted her time and leadership skills to her local community. She has served as Hyde Park Town Meeting Day Moderator for the past five years, served twelve years on the Lamoille Economic Development Corporation Board, chaired the Sterling Area Services Mental Health Board, and served on the Hyde Park School Board. She is a member of United Community Church in Morrisville. In speaking about her time at VEC and her work at the community level, Christine has stated that “the values of cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community are a great basis for leadership at the state level. The power of people who want to do good, working together, is more powerful than their individual skills.”

Christine’s experience as head of VEC and her national prominence as an expert on the electric grid and climate change inspired her cinematographer son Derek to direct the biographical documentary about her entitled Denial. While in the process of filming Denial in 2015, Christine made the decision, after years of holding it inside, to come out as her true self, a transgender woman, becoming the first business leader in the country to transition while in office.

 Derek Hallquist decided to film his father but there was a problem— while the nation’s enormous electricity grid works okay with the amount of wind and solar energy produced at the moment, it will have increasing problems as more is created. The wind and sun aren’t reliable in terms of the amount of energy they can produce and there is no economical way to store excess energy for use when the wind dies down or the sun goes behind clouds. there will be large issues if there’s high demand and not enough sun or wind to meet that. Dave thinks the answer is smart products, which can talk to the grid and adjust their power demands depending on the supply – taking more when it’s plentiful and less when it isn’t.

Unsurprisingly, with many politicians still skeptical about the existence of climate change, and it sounds difficult and potentially raises privacy concerns, it’s difficult to get people to listen. This, however was minor compared to what Dave had going on in his life. After decades of keeping t to himself, and with his kids now grown, he decided to share with them that he is transgender and would be spending an increasing amount of his time living as a woman. As we can well imagine, Derek was shocked at first but gradually accepted the idea. He became concerned about his father, now Christine, moving back and forth between genders and wondered if Christine’s private struggles would be reflected in her public life as Dave. Are Christine’s worries about being rejected by society and others around her allied to her decision to call for a moratorium on new renewable energy projects in Vermont – where she’s also concerned society isn’t ready to accept the truth? Yet, as she becomes more comfortable living more publicly as a woman, Christine also begins to find a renewed passion for moving forward to find solutions, rather than stopping everything until the problems have already gone away.

Derek had to find a way to get two very different themes to come together in one filmed documentary. And because the two themes are so different, in the beginning we seem to be watching two distinct films with one title. This could be because of Derek’s initial mixed feelings about his father’s revelation. He is still compartmentalizing things and in his head is still splitting Dave the engineer, from Christine the transgender woman. As the documentary moves forward, it all comes together. Derek realizes that Dave and Christine are not completely separate entities, and that the journey his father is on in terms of both being transgender and trying to fight back against climate, is the same story, rather than two separate stories.

The final third shows the effects of denial on both Christine and some people’s attitudes towards climate change and we see that some things are painful and difficult— it’s easier to try to ignore them than deal with them. However, Dave’s transition to Christine, as difficult and with a much uncertainty as it causes, shows there is a way forward, and that while people may not like change, when they face a truth they cannot deny, many will adapt to it and learn from it. Pretending the truth is something else is no good for anyone.

In the film, Derek interviews those closest to his father including family members, co-workers, and community leaders.  It’s obvious that Derek is very close with his family and concerned about the effects of his film on others, particularly his parents.  Christine strongly felt that this film was Derek’s story and that “…he needs to tell it completely from his own perspective. 

“Denial” is a very personal movie for Derek and having spent 8 years on it, taking time away from his own family, there is a bit of anger and perhaps resentment toward it.  He still struggles with accepting his father as and with how this has impacted his mother. Derek’s emotions are raw and open, and viewers feel his pain and frustration.  Since the film, Christine has received both local and national support.  Thankfully, she has not seen any evidence that her continued efforts toward renewable energy sources has been compromised as she transitioned into Christine. 

“Denial” is  timely and relevant and is told with bold and powerful emotion.  We see that we can face our fears and the unknown, educate ourselves, and be open to new and different ideas if we allow ourselves to be. 

“COBY”— Becoming Self

 

“Coby”

Becoming Self

Amos Lassen

“Coby” is a touching and powerful story about the fight to be true to oneself. Christian Sonderegger’s documentary follows Coby, a transgender man from a small American town who fights difficult decisions and prejudices and changes the mindset of his entire family in the process.

From the very beginning, we see the two versions of the hero. We first see Suzanna, a 23-year-old woman from the American Midwest announcing to her YouTube followers that she has started testosterone treatment, the first step on her journey to manhood. Minutes later, we meet Coby, a manly, calm, competent paramedic waiting for the next emergency call. These are both the same person. The documentary doesn’t really discuss the issue of being a woman or a man, but rather, takes a more general approach, discussing how effort, perseverance and time can shape a person, no matter his or her gender. This is a film about change, and not necessarily about changing one’s gender. It’s about choices but not necessarily the choice of becoming transgender.

Sonderegger mixes two journeys undertaken by Coby. Through YouTube posts, we watch Suzanna becoming Coby, over the long months of waiting and analyzing each change in aspect, behavior and mood. But the journey doesn’t end when Coby finally receives confirmation from his doctor that he is now a man. There are new choices to be made. “Changing has consequences. Not changing also has consequences.”

Even if Coby is almost always the center of the film, it follows how the protagonist’s change affects those around him. In well-considered interviews, his mother, father and brother talk about how they had to change in order to accommodate Suzanna’s need to become Coby. This is a story about gender revolution set in the living room of your average American family. Coby’s mother briefly sums up the fundamental simplicity of the change by pointing at two pictures, one of Suzanna before the treatment and one of Coby. She says, “There you are, and there you are. The two yous. Only it’s all you.”

The most endearing and relevant scene in the film is a video made by Coby and his girlfriend Sara early on in his transformation. Only seven weeks into testosterone treatment, a playful Coby hugs Sara from behind and looks into the camera. He flexes his arm so that the viewer can see the manly contours it has been taking on.

At 77 minutes long, the movie is as efficient and as concise as it can be. Every moment is loaded with meaning, from the one when Coby and his father compare their stained, hard-worked hands after they clean the house’s chimney, to a conversation on femininity and emotions that Coby has with female colleagues in the emergency room, while a male colleague listens.

When 21-year-old Susanna announces to the world her decision to start transitioning you are suddenly aware that she has been processing this thought for several years and is now at peace with her choice, but it’s going to be tougher for her family to catch up and totally embrace all the consequences.  Sarah her live in girl friend for a few years now, is fully supportive and now that Coby …..the transitional name chosen …. needs testosterone, she is more than happy to even do the injections. 

Coby’s family who live close by in the tiny village of Chagrun Falls in Ohio had never even whispered when she had come out as gay, but now struggle to accept their only daughters decision. However after initially failing to persuade her out of it, they slowly came on board. They are a tight knit articulate group and whilst they proffer their genuine support for the lengthy process that Coby must undertake, they still have own concerns on how this change and affect them all. The parent’s discomfort is very real but their undeniable love for their child  supersedes any of their own regret.  

Coby is now fully transitioned and is now a man who has one final major decision to make. He thinks that one day in the future he would like to be a parent and so would Sara too, but she is adamant that she doesn’t want to have the baby herself. It is a situation that Jacob must weigh up now as he is forced to deal with the fact that he is about to have his uterus removed, and also any chance of him ever bearing a child.

Sonderegger’s emphasis on how the whole family is coping makes this documentary an important contribution to the dialogue on transitioning and is also a thoroughly entertaining documentary.

“ROOM TO GROW”— Series Premiere  October 11th,  National Coming Out Day

 

“ROOM TO GROW”

Series Premiere  October 11th,  National Coming Out Day

Amos Lassen

Premiering on Oct. 11th, this inspiringly heartwarming docu-series chronicling the lives of LGBTQ+ teens and families in cities across North America, offering an intimate glimpse into their daily lives as they endeavor to find an identity that fits and a place in their communities.  The premiere episode introduces Savannah (star of the HBO doc BELIEVER about Imagine Dragon’s Dan Reynold’s charity) and her viral moment of being shut out of the Mormon church.  

“Fascinating…fresh, compelling…rousing and eye-opening…affecting…moving…most engaging. All but the most intolerant members of our society will have some of their assumptions shaken by these forthright and intelligent kids.”  – Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter

 A Revry Original

Directed, Produced and Cinematography by Matt Albers & Jon Garcia

“An intriguing cast of teenage characters enlivens…triumphant moments…with racial as well as sexual or gender issues…poignantly caught…throughout this humane document.” – Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter

Revry Original docu-series ROOM TO GROW chronicles the lives and stories of LGBTQ+ teens and families in cities across North America, offering an up-close and intimate glimpse into their daily lives as they endeavor to find an identity that fits and a place in  their communities.  ROOM TO GROW shows just how important it is for LGBTQ+ teenagers to receive the support they need at home, at school, at church, and in the world to reach their full potential.  Kids grow up fast, and it’s amazing how much these teenagers changed within 12 months.  The Bridging Voices Queer Youth Chorus is a Portland singing group that provides a safe and supportive space for LGBTQ+ youth.  

Matt Alber – Co-Director / Producer

Matt Alber is a two-time Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter, filmmaker and LGBTQ+ youth educator based in Portland, OR.  Matt’s music has been featured on ABC’s The Fosters and Bones.  He has performed on stages world-wide from Lincoln Center to Tchaikovsky Hall.  In 2015, the U.S. State Department sent Matt to Russia, Hungary, Kosovo, Estonia, Finland and Sudan as an Artist Diplomat to work with young artists and at-risk youth.  He holds a degree in voice and composition and is the co-founder of Room To Grow Productions, a documentary-focused film studio in Portland, OR.

Jon Garcia – Co-Director / Producer

Jon Garcia is an accomplished musician and Emmy-nominated filmmaker currently living in Portland, OR.  He earned a BA in Film Studies from Portland State University.  He has released feature films in varying genres in his short career as a filmmaker, including the cult trilogy THE FALLS, THE FALLS: TESTAMENT OF LOVE, and THE FALLS: COVENANT OF GRACE being the most well known.  The films have screened in film festivals all over the world and have been available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, iTunes and many other platforms.  He is also the co-founder of Room To Grow Productions, a documentary-focused film studio in Portland, OR.

About Revry

Revry is the first global queer streaming network, available in 35 million homes in over 100 countries, with a uniquely curated selection of LGBTQ+ film, series, and originals along with the world’s largest queer libraries of groundbreaking podcasts, albums and music videos. Revry is available worldwide on seven OTT, mobile, and online platforms, and hosts the exclusive LGBTQ+ channels on Pluto TV and XUMO. Headquartered in Los Angeles, Revry is led by an inclusive team of queer, multi-ethnic and allied partners who bring decades of experience in the fields of tech, digital media, and LGBTQ+ advocacy.  Follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @REVRYTV. Go Online to: https://revry.tv.

“CALL HER GANDA”— True Journalism

“CALL HER GANDA”

True Journalism

Amos Lassen

“Call Her Ganda” is a staggering and thought-provoking documentary on the epidemic of violence against LGBTQ people. Part-chronicle, part-tribute, the film is ushered by Three central female figures take on a seemingly never-ending and irremediable quest for justice in this part-tribute, part-chronicle powerful film.

Jennifer Laude was a twenty-six-year-old transgender woman from the Philippines who died at the hands of a US Marine. She was warm, caring and giving person who did not have, Jennifer did not have a normal childhood and grew up in a bigoted, oppressive environment where she always feared for her safety. As a young adult, she used most of the money she made to help her mother and make generous loans to her community. Julita, her mother, called her Ganda (the Tagalog word for “beauty”), as the little girl would always playfully talk about how pretty she was.

After she grew up, Jennifer became a sex worker. One night on the job, she was taken to a motel by Joseph Scott Pemberton, a nineteen-year-old American serviceman who brutally killed her by submerging her head in the toilet of the motel’s bathroom. After being apprehended, Pemberton received plenty of sympathy from media figures, law enforcement officers and the general public. In response, three brave women took it on themselves to help bring justice to Jennifer’s ghastly death. One of them was Meredith Talusan, a trans journalist who brought the case to the media’s spotlight by publishing articles. Another was Virgie Suarez, a devoted attorney who relentlessly fought for Laude’s attacker to receive legal punishment. The third was Jennifer’s mother who was the leading figure behind several political protests, ensuring that her voice is heard and that her daughter’s tragic death is not overlooked.

It was not the public at large, but a group of LGBTQ individuals and allies who openly mourned Jennifer’s loss and rioted and called for justice to be served. Only a handful of media-recognized figures stood up to this horrible death, but it was enough to spur a movement that managed to obtain a conviction. (It was a reduced, hard-fought and long overdue verdict with Pemberton eventually sentenced for homicide after years of trial).

This ruling represented a critical juncture for the trans community of the Philippines, as for over a century not a single United States soldier was ever convicted for reported harassment, murder and rape and this certainly far not the first care of abuse of trans Filipinas by American servicemen— these officers were consistently assigned immunity under the region’s Visiting Forces Agreement. This blatant favoritism is what sparked a genuine controversy on a political and social level in the aftermath of Jennifer’s death, drawing attention to institutional violence, colonialism and how transphobia still operates in the court of law. Director PJ Raval includes a relevant segment on the historical colonization of the Philippines taking a critical look regarding the United States’ political influence and its residual effects in the country. The documentary does not only showcase the search for justice, but also the prejudice, hatred and undertones of bigotry that prevent it from coming to an end.

This is an important and fascinating watch. It’s also an upsetting, eye-opening film layered with themes of oppression, inhumanity, and discrimination. We immediately know why Jennifer was murdered—that alone is an unfortunate truth we have had to come to terms with. But how she was murdered and just what happens afterward is nothing we might have expected.

“THE SILK AND THE FLAME”— Parental Pressure

“The Silk and the Flame”

Parental Pressure

Amos Lassen

“The Silk And The Flame” explores parental pressure in China on younger generations who desire nothing more than to explore their own sexuality without fear of judgment. We meet Yao who travels back from Beijing to his family’s village so that they can celebrate Chinese New Year together. Jordan Schiele’s cinematography and direction captures everyday life in rural China and this stays with viewers long after the credits roll. Yao selflessly puts aside his own needs to support his family, all while fending off their relentless need to see him settle down with a nice woman.

The homecoming exodus across Mainland China leading up to New Year is thought to be the largest regular mass migration in the world. Unfortunately for Yao Shou, things get even more uncomfortable for him when he arrives at his parents’ house. The climate for LGBT Chinese citizens is not good (to say the least), especially in homes. For various social reasons, there is a lack of welfare programs and the slightly loosened One Child policy puts gays and lesbians under enormous pressure to marry. Yao is an example of this. He explains the corrosive effect it has on his relationship with his family. It is easy to understand why the closeted Yao feels so guilty. His mother is deaf and essentially mute, due to a case of childhood medical malpractice. His stroke-impaired father has given up on life, sinking into a state of existential near-catatonia. Since he was a teenager,

Yao has been his family’s primary source of financial support—and he provided well. Yet, he is constantly miserable because he lacks a wife of convenience to placate them, as well as a lover for his own personal fulfillment.

Yao never really embraced life in Beijing, but he looks increasingly out of place in Jiwa, a provincial village in Henan. In large part, it is because of the endless questions from family and neighbors regarding his matrimonial prospects, yet we get a sense of even deeper tensions dividing Yao and his father.

Visually, this is a striking documentary. We get a vivid perspective on modern life in rural Henan. The trust that exists between the two friends, subject and documentarian, is also unmistakable. How much Yao opens himself up for his Schiele’s camera is quite remarkable. We can only wonder what will happen when the film makes its way back to Jiwa village. Perhaps this is Yao’s intention yet he has certainly expended great time and effort far to maintain his double life.

“TRANSMILITARY”— The Ban

“TransMilitary”

The Ban

Amos Lassen

Being transgender isn’t something that should take away from someone having the ability to serve in combat.  The road to lifting the transgender military ban was a long one.   All it took was a question during a town-hall meeting in Kandahar, Afghanistan when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter was visiting.  Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, a doctor, asked Carter his thoughts on transgender soldiers serving in an “austere environment.”

This question by Ehrenfeld is what ultimately led to the ban on transgender members serving openly getting lifted in 2016 and as such, 15,500 service members were finally allowed to serve openly in the military without having to hide who they truly are.

Co-directors Gabriel Silverman and Fiona Dawson chose a perfect project to make their feature film debut.  “TransMilitary” is a follow up to the 2015 documentary short, “Transgender, at War and in Love” in which two subjects were profiled— Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland and Corporal Laila Ireland (ret.). “TransMilitary” also follows the stories of Captain Jennifer Peace and Captain El Cook.  Some of these people are based stateside while others have seen deployment.  In coming out before the ban was lifted, service members risked losing everything that they’ve worked their entire lives for.

Even though TransMilitary is a documentary and not a narrative feature, it is the importance of films such as these that can help to spread education and awareness when it comes to representation.  Transgender people do not think of their lives as an experiment at all. They just want to live as anyone else does.

“Transmilitary” is a rational approach to the subject of transmen and women serving in US Armed Forces and it focuses on facts. Filming began back in November 2014 and the film focused on four individual stories of serving transmen and women, all with exemplary records. The same four who are nervously waiting to see if they will ever be officially recognized.  The ban of them serving dates back to World War II medical regulations, but despite this there are an estimated 15500 trans in the Armed Forces that are actually making them the largest employer of trans people in the country.

Captain Jennifer Peace started transitioning just 6 months after she got married and a couple of years into her service.  She has consistently been singled out for praise for her performance and promotion .  Yet despite this, on occasion she has been outed by local commanders and has been discriminated against and been allocated mindless jobs beneath her rank.

Muscle-bound Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland was serving in Kandahar province facing dangerous missions daily.  He revels in the fact that he is completely accepted  in his Unit, so much so he confides to his fiance Laila in their weekly Skype video call, if it wasn’t for her, he’d much rather never come home.  He knows that the moment he is redeployed back to the US, the local Commander there may insist he goes back to joining the female ranks again.

Laila understands this as she is a transwoman serving in the Army in Hawaii under Commanders who insists that she obey Army rules and present totally as a man.  In the end it will be the reason she will accept an honorable discharge after 12 years of service.

The 4th subject is Captain El Cook, a black trans man from Houston whose mother is a church pastor.  She, and his  clique of bros accept him fully, but he still wears  a ponytail  just in case he is ever told by superiors that he has to present himself as a woman again.

All of them are members of SPARTA an association of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who currently serve or have served in the U.S. armed forces . The documentary traces their involvement over the next few years, each of them knowing that they were ‘outing’ themselves and this could lead to them being dishonorably discharged.

The fear they experience at times is real, but nevertheless will not put any of them off. They helping to fight for their right to serve legally.  They know that time may be running out for them.  As one of their leaders comments no new President would want to make this issue a priority in their new term.  That was of course before the unexpected Election result.

Their lobbying played off and on June 30th 2016 Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that as a result of the 6-month investigation he had decided that all qualified transgender men and women could serve with immediate effect.  For once these men and women could relax secure in the knowledge that their commitments to serve and fight for their country was finally rightfully recognized.

That elation lasted for one year and on June 26th 2017 Trump blasted out a tweet announcing the ban would be re-introduced with immediate effect. He didn’t offer any facts at all to support his decision and in reality was just playing to the  prejudices of his alt-right supporters.

The Heads of the Military stepped up to the plate and said that not only would the ban not be imposed immediately, they all insisted that everyone serving regardless of orientation of gender would always be treated with the respect they deserve.

With such  an unstable Commander In Chief now no rationale would be of any use and it looks like the Courts are the only way f to get the Ban lifted once and for all. 

What we really see here is that no matter how these men and women deal with their gender dysphoria they are also risking their lives by choosing to serve their country and their very future can be changed by prejudiced politicians.