Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“LOVE THE SINNER”— Christianity and Homophobia

“LOVE THE SINNER”

Christianity and Homophobia

Amos Lassen

“Love the Sinner” is a powerful short documentary that looks at the connection between homophobia and Christianity in light of the recent attacks on marginalized groups (the LGBTQ community, immigrants and Muslims). Gay filmmaker Jessica Devaney was raised in Florida and was immersed in Evangelical Christianity there. She became a nationally recognized activist and leader among conservative Evangelicals and she left Florida and didn’t look back. She built a life that took her as far away from home as possible. The mass shooting at Pulse was a wake up call and she wondered if she had missed opportunities to challenge homophobia. Her film looks at our responsibility to face bias in our communities and to push for dignity and equality for all. Geeta Gandbhir co-directed the film.

“GARETH THOMAS V HOMOPHOBIA: HATE IN THE BEAUTIFUL GAME”— Gay in Football

“Gareth Thomas v Homophobia: Hate in the Beautiful Game”

Gay in Football

Amos Lassen

It has been fifty years since the partial decimalization of homosexuality took place in England and Wales and Gareth Thomas takes a look at what he sees as the last bastion of open homophobia in sport – professional football. Meeting fans, players and pressure groups alike, he wants to find out what is preventing gay footballers from coming out.

In the world of rugby union, openly gay former Wales and Lions captain Gareth ‘Alfie’ Thomas has proved time and time again that “where there’s a will, there’s a way” or in his case – there’s a winner. We see how difficult it is to face the disturbing reality of the truth behind homophobia in the not so beautiful game and that there is a apparent lack of a support program for any footballer thinking about coming out to his teammates and the public alike.

Gareth has discovered the shocking view that since no player in the Premier League is “officially” gay, there is “seemingly” no need for such a program. Yet with around 5,000 professional footballers in the UK, such is not only a statistical improbability, but also a sheer impossibility. Indeed, Gareth’s own agent confirmed that he knows of a number of gay footballers that are living lies and in fear. What is so shocking is the “normality” of homophobia. As bad as verbal abuse is, it is nothing when compared to the appalling abuse found online Gareth offered to meet with those who posted such hate but they all declined.

More than willing to meet Gareth however were others who shared his desire to show homophobia the red card one of whom is Amal Fashanu, the niece of Justin Fashanu; namely the sole player in the UK ever to come out while playing the game only to suffer a tragic end. Credit must go to all those players who participate/d in the likes of Kick It Out, Football v Homophobia and Rainbow Laces, all being praiseworthy campaigns aimed at challenging discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at all levels in football. There are run by those who truly care about making the game a beautiful one but the absolute power to make it so, again does not lie with them. It is with the Football Association and the Premier League itself. Gareth requested meetings with FA Chairman Greg Clarke and PL Chief Executive Bill Bush to discuss the situation with them direct. They declined to meet.

Gareth went where some would have preferred him not to and he so with legal advice. He created formed his own “Code of Practice”; an action plan aimed at eliminating homophobia within professional football and one that he duly emailed to the Football Association, the Premier League, the Professional Footballers’ Association and all 92 clubs in England and Wales. What they will do with this highly constructive document remains open to question.

Gareth is a man who gets things done and here he’s done his upmost to address the issue of homophobia in professional football head-on.

“GLITTERBOYS AND GANGLANDS”— The Miss Western Cape Contest

“Glitterboys and Ganglands”

The Miss Western Cape Contest

Amos Lassen

In “Glitterboys and Ganglands,” a documentary directed by Lauren Beukes, three contestants in the Miss Gay Western Cape contest are featured in interviews leading up to the contest as well as in their performances competing against each other. Miss Gay Western Cape is the largest drag performance contest in South Africa and while lighthearted, the film addresses issues such as poverty, sexual violence and HIV.

This is a slightly unusual beauty pageant. It follows following the lives of a ballroom dancing mechanic, a pre-op transsexual trapeze artist and a pageant power couple. The contestants are queer and black, or mixed race and female impersonators. It is intenerating that this pageant take place in a community where historical social issues of poverty, gangsterism and conservative attitudes towards sexuality are part of the context of the lives of the contestants.

This documentary was shot in 2010 but because the setting is the rather deprived Cape Flats area of Cape Town in South Africa, it has a very distinctly old fashioned feel to it.  The area is populated by ‘Coloureds‘ a multi-racial ethnic group, and time has definitely stood still for the local populace, especially the LGBT community that must constantly deal with blatant homophobia.

This is the story of the area’s most important annual pageant where the competing drag queens hope that by winning, they will take the first step to a more glamorous life. Filmmaker Lauren Beukes chooses to follow three of the contestants starting with all their preparations in the run up to the event. Kat Gilardi (“The Princess”) is managed by her boyfriend Errol who was a runner-up in Mr. Gay South Africa and who designs and make all her costumes.  Kayden van Eerden has 59 beauty pageant wins under her belt and thinks that this pageant is hers for the taking. The fact that she is a pre-op trans woman causes some consternation and objections to the fact that this disqualifies her but it brings a crude rebuttal from the Organizer who says that anyone still packing a penis can enter.

The third contestant is Eva Torez a young car mechanic who is preparing to enter the pageant for the first time, and it is he who almost unemotionally bears witness to how rough the area is with both of his brothers being killed within a few months of each other. Despite this, he is optimistic with a bright outlook on life. 

When the week of the Pageant arrives and all the contestants start rehearsing and the camaraderie between them all is touching and quite genuine.  They are very creative at designing and making their own homegrown costumes out of presumably very small budgets, and it is only Kayden who works at McDonalds during the day who spends big bucks for her couture gown (without a hint of where the money came from to pay for it).

The organizers do a good job of making the event look as glamorous as possible and everything on the big day goes extremely smoothly. That is until Kayden doesn’t even make the cut for the Top Five and she cannot wait to get out the Theater claiming the whole thing is rigged. 

‘Princess’ claims the crown and when the local tabloids catch her embracing Errol they dub the pair the ‘Posh & Becks of the Cape Flats’, which gives them great joy. This is an intriguing documentary filled with enthusiasm. It is more than just a moment in the spotlight; it is a rare opportunity for the contestants to be true to who they really are. 

“A QUEER COUNTRY”—- Israel from the LGBT Perspective

“A Queer Country”

Israel from the LGBT Perspective

Amos Lassen

I spent many years of my life living in Israel and can vouch that it is a complicated country to say the least and I am actually surprised that I stayed there as long as I did. I arrived in Israel long before gay liberation and along with many of my gay friends, lived a closeted life. We did set up the first gay liberation organization and I do not think that any of us thought it would get to where it is today. There is no such thing as pinkwashing in Israel and I am emphatic on that. Looking at Israel from the outside, it’s difficult not to see the divisions and conflicts; especially the secular versus conservative religion. Yet nowadays and against that backdrop, Tel Aviv holds one of the biggest gay pride parades on the planet.

British filmmaker Lisa Morgenthau’s documentary, “A Queer Country” looks at Israel from an LGBT perspective. We meet some of the more interesting and thought-provoking issues queer people in Israel face. The film contrasts the largely secular and open Tel Aviv with the more staid and religious Jerusalem, where gay issues are far more political and difference less tolerated.

We meet those who’ve faced difficulties due to the fact Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities rarely accept LGBT people, and who have therefore had to find new ways to hold on to their beliefs outside of the world they were once part of. The film also addresses the accusations of pinkwashing that have been leveled against Israel. This is the allegation that the Foreign Ministry has promoted Israel’s acceptance of LGBT people to try and deflect criticism from allegations of human rights abuses against Palestinians.

We hear from a variety of people who show that things are often far more complicated than they first appear. With pinkwashing, we face whether it is a cynical attempt to gloss over the fact that not all minorities enjoy the benefits LGBT people do, or is it a legitimate way of promoting a nation that often finds it difficult to get positive stories on the international stage? I believe it is neither and does not exist.

In the early part of the film many participants talk about how Tel Aviv is a gay haven yet it was also the scene of a 2009 shooting at a gay centre that killed two and injured 15 others, while in 2015 Jerusalem Pride saw a fatal stabbing by an Ultra-Orthodox Jew angry the city had allowed the celebration. Some of the most interesting parts of the film are when it looks at the dichotomy of a country set up to be a secular, plural society, but where that plurality means they have to try and find ways for some very different and sometimes extreme views to live alongside one another.

“A Queer Country” does not come to conclusions. It presents a variety of thoughts and opinions. However, there is nothing about LGBT Arabs in Israel, as while the movie engages with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how that relates to LGBT people, it does so almost exclusively from one side of the issue. This means that some people, perhaps unfairly, will find the film is to be one-sided. Nonetheless, the film does a good job of including a diverse array of interviewees from within the Israeli Jewish community. We hear from a strict orthodox psychologist who thinks that everything that is gay is wrong. We also hear from gay Jews who are conflicted about their status compared to Palestinians, to a trans man and his family on a kibbutz where they’re trying to live their lives in a way that they feel honors God, although there are others who might disagree.

The one theme that comes up over and over is that of people trying to find synthesis between being gay and Jewish, something many people, and perhaps Israel as a nation, is still trying to deal with. This is an issue that seems to go beyond just LGBT issues, such as when one person talks about the fact religious bodies have complete control over marriage in the country and we understand that it’s not just gay people who can’t marry but also many of those who fall in love with people outside of Judaism.

The film helps puts context on issues that are often presented in rather one-dimensional ways. It shows that, as is so often is the way, things are more complex than they first appear, and that while Israel may be the most gay-friendly country in the Middle-East, LGBT people still face difficulties that are both relatable and very specific to living there, and that even within Israel there is division about how their status relates to other groups.

“GARDEN OF STARS”— AIDS, The Stillborn & The Brothers Grimm

“Garden Of Stars”

AIDS, the Stillborn & The Brothers Grimm

Amos Lassen

The Alter Sankt-Matthäus-Kirchhof is in the Schoneberg section of Berlin. It is famous as the burial site of the Brothers Grimm. However, this film is isn’t about them but about a man whose life has become linked to the cemetery.

Ichgola Androgyn is a gay drag queen who used to be involved in experimental art and various other slightly hippy-like pursuits. Almost accidentally he got involved with the cemetery, which he helped change it from Victorian institution to something more welcoming that is designed as much for the living as the dead.

He began his association with the graveyard during the AIDS crisis, when it almost became the ‘gay cemetery’ due to the number of young men being buried there. The cemetery now includes a beautiful AIDS memorial. Ichgola also helped found the ‘Garden Of Stars’, a place to bury stillborn children. Ichgola specializes in this work— he organizes the funerals for these babies, and makes sure that the Garden is both a place of sadness and solace, covered with bright colors and flowers. He also gives tours of Alter Sankt-Matthäus-Kirchhof and helps to run a small café in the cemetery’s ground.

This film is Ichgola’s story and it introduces us to him and his ideas. He’s an interesting man, who manages to mix the seemingly contradictory qualities of being a bit of a bohemian dreamer with practicality.

We see how his sexuality influences everything about him while not taking over his personality or mean that everything he does is ‘Gay’ with a capital G. Ichgola’s life in the cemetery is undoubtedly informed by growing up gay before it was accepted and getting involved in a more free-thinking culture outside the mainstream. This allowed him to look at a graveyard that was stuck in a time and see what it could be. What he has created respects the past, while looking to the future and makes us realize that death is part of life.

We see some moving moments and get an interesting look at a gay man “whose freethinking life and attitudes have been translated into a new and potentially better way to handle death”.

“SEX AND SINGLE GAYS”— Mature Men Share Sexual Intimacy In Social Groups

 

“Sex & The Silver Gays”

Mature Men Share Sexual Intimacy In Social Groups

Amos Lassen

Each month, New York Prime Timers members participate in “sex parties”. In this film, we learn what it means for them to continue to practice free love despite the advancement of age.

We know that sexual desire doesn’t just evaporate once we get older. On the contrary, with maturity comes wisdom and experience and both of these make men better lovers. This is exactly why the documentary, “Sex & The Silver Gays” is so important.

Filmmakers Charles Lum and Todd Verowtell the idiosyncratic story of the New York City chapter of a national elder gay men’s organization, Primetimers. Among the many elderly activities, the members also actively participate in monthly sex parties. With the film, we are invited us to an intimate gathering that explicitly illustrates their carnal activities and explains who they are, their own shared histories, and what it means to their lives to have and enjoy consensual sexual celebrations together for a long as may be possible.

“HOT TO TROT”— Same Sex Competitve Ballroom Dance

“Hot to Trot”

Same-Sex Competitive Ballroom Dance

Amos Lassen

Gail Freedman’s “Hot to Trot” takes us inside the world of same-sex competitive ballroom dance as it follows a small international cast of four men and women, on and off the dance floor.

Ballroom dance is once again becoming popular here in America, as well as abroad and it has even become a widespread competitive event, known “dancesport”. Same-sex couple dancing is also becoming popular.

The film is “an immersive character study and an idiosyncratic attack on bigotry”. This world of dancing is one in which personal passion meets political muscle. Away from their extraordinary dance feats on the dance floor, the characters’ back stories frame their struggles and conflicts in life.

We meet Ernesto, a Costa Rican former meth head; Emily, a severe lifelong Type 1 diabetic, who wears an insulin pump 24/7, even while performing; Russian dance champ Nikolai, who came out only a few years ago and longs for family acceptance; and Kieren, whose identity was created in a strict New Zealand military environment. The film follows them over time and through their relationships with others, and themselves.

Here we see dance as a form of personal power and political engagement that simultaneously shapes and reshapes their identities and helps them overcome personal challenges. As these dancers evolve, we really understand the real impact of the LGBT politics.

“Hot to Trot” is about empowerment and is therefore, a film for all of us including those who do not self-identify as members of a historically marginalized community. We see that our identities are multi-faceted, that they don’t just depend on gender, race, religion, etc.

A WOMB OF THEIR OWN”— “Separating Gender from Genitalia”

“A WOMB OF THEIR OWN”

“Separating Gender from Genitalia”

Amos Lassen

Today’s gender politics include people living beyond the male/female binary. In Cyn Lubow’s documentary film “A Womb of Their Own” we meet a diverse group of masculine pregnant people who have something about gender to share with us. The people Lubow introduces us to six “masculine-identified people” who tell the stories of their pregnancies and other issues they have faced navigated.

Rae Goodman is a high school biology teacher, whose students understand that both men and women can have beards and be pregnant. Kerrick, a museum science educator and Rae’s husband, identifies as a trans man who is attracted to people rather than gender.

Lorenzo Ramirez identifies as a straight man who dates women. He can’t afford top surgery to remove his breasts so he wears a skintight body suit, which for him is very uncomfortable, impractical and ultimately depressing. Imelio Ramirez, Lorenzo’s 14-year-old son, tells his dad how to use a public urinal and survive the experience.

Morgan Weinert uses the pronoun “they” after having used masculine pronouns and testosterone in the past. They are attracted to a variety of people that identify as male and trans. In their mind they are a “fabulous gay man.” Weinert has a trans male partner.

Darcy Allder is a social work student who is negotiating his school/work life while pregnant. He had top surgery nine years ago and is uncomfortable socially while taking testosterone. He has found that passing as a white male brought inherent misogyny. He has stopped taking the hormone and now sees himself as living in a gender middle space.

AK Summers identifies as “faggy butch,” and thought of pregnancy as an awful experience. Summers chronicled her experience through a graphic memoir, “Pregnant Butch”.

In “A Womb of Their Own” we share the intimate details and reflections of those who are outside the gender binary and see the societal challenges they face. The film’s goal is “to help relieve pain for people who feel misunderstood, confused or shamed just because their gender doesn’t fit someone else’s rules.” The film challenges many common assumptions about gender so people who don’t fit the assumptions can be more visible, understood, and accepted.

The people in this documentary come from all walks of life and “display a variety of preferences in terms of how they identify, how they see themselves and how they choose to present themselves along the gender spectrum. But what they all have in common is their desire to give birth to a child and to raise it.”

“OUT OF ORDER”— Queer Pastors Redefining Church

“OUT OF ORDER”

Queer Pastors Redefining Church

Amos Lassen

Amanda Blugrass’ “Out of Order” is a full length documentary that follows the journey of three queer members of the American Presbyterian Church. Most gay and transgender people know what it feels like to be told they are broken and to be rejected. This message many times comes from Christians. This documentary joins a group of queer future ministers at a secret retreat in the South. The critical decisions they make there will forever change the course of their lives. This is the first film to positively portray queer people of faith actively changing the meaning of church through alternative Christian communities, worship practices, and theological interpretation. This is more than a film about being gay or Christian— it is about empowerment. We are invited and challenged to stand up and start making a difference.

Today we are living at a time when America is divided over homosexuality and the bible and this is not just Christian America. Because of a recent change of rules, LGBT Presbyterians can receive ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). As nice as that might be, there is another obstacle and that is finding a pulpit that will hire them since we all aware how long it takes for attitudes to change. These newly ordained ministers question why anyone would want to lead a group that does not accept them. They have the added task of trying to teach tolerance and understanding. (I might mention here that I really hate the word “tolerance” because to be tolerated does not mean one is accepted.)

While this is a film about Presbyterians, it is fairly universal to state that many LGBTQ people feel that religion and God has abandoned them. The three people we meet here want to be leaders and through their encounters with intolerance, they become “the authentic heirs of modern Christianity: faith, hope and love.”

 In “Out of Order”, we see the complex and painful struggles faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer faith leaders as they confront bigotry and work to build loving support within their churches. Just because the rules have changed, that does not mean that we are welcome in all houses of worship and the sad thing is that we are well aware of that. Yet even with the way many feel today there are some brave individuals who are emerging as new kinds of spiritual leaders and who work at winning acceptance.

These leaders of this movement are young LGBTQ people of faith claiming a place in their church pulpits and being recognized in the everyday moments of church life.

We still need greater awareness and understanding of bisexuality, and more understanding about the transgender individuals since they are becoming more visible and demanding. In this film, we get to see the reality of gender transition and lived sexual identity as a person of faith.

With all of the secular and cultural victories that the LGBT community has won in this country, there is still disparity toward equality and acceptance within the Christian community. Some Christian denominations have rejected the movement toward equality for LGBTQ people in sacred spaces. Others have accepted structural changes that have created, to varying degrees, space for LGBTQ families in church life and embraced marriage equality. As a response to this, conservative activists are increasingly rallying support for state and local bills designed to restrict the rights of LGBTQ people.

Since I am Jewish, I have seen the tremendous changes made in the reform and conservative, the renewal and reconstructionist branched of Judaism. The Orthodox branch of Jewry is facing the same problems as the other religions. To say that I am amazed at the changes is an understatement. I really never thought I would see any of these changes I my lifetime. I know that telling others to be patient and things will work out is not what we want to hear but I have seen it happen over and over again. Whatever you believe or not, this is an important film and everyone needs to see it.

http://www.outoforderdoc.com/trailer

“F(L)AG FOOTBALL”— Upending Stereotypes

“F(l)ag Football”

Upending Stereotypes

Amos Lassen

When I was growing up there was that misconception of gay men as limp-wristed and effeminate that are not into sports. The truth is that there are all sorts of gay men; some are indeed more in touch with their feminine side but there are others who are macho and who love sports. Come to think of it, I know some limp-wristed straight men that hate sports too.

The National Gay Flag Football League grew out of pick-up games that gay men put together to play football. Many found playing football in any sort of competitive manner to be uncomfortable for them while others wanted to use it as a means of meeting new people with similar interests. Then something unexpected happened in that the teams of predominantly gay players began to bond. This started in New York City and the idea of gay leagues began to catch on in cities around the country. Eventually, the National Gay Flag Football League came into being.

The idea of competitive tournament of gay teams around the country culminating in a championship game was the idea of sportswriter Cyd Ziegler who is himself an ultra-competitive football player. His team, the New York Warriors, became the dominant team winning three Gay Bowl championships in a row. However, in Gay Bowl IX however, they were beat by the Los Angeles Motion (led by Cyd Ziegler who had moved out to Los Angeles.

The Warriors, led by team captain Wade Davis (a former NFL player) were eager to regain the title that they’d lost. The Motion had two of the best quarterbacks in the league with MVP Drew Boulton and Christophe Faubert and they were just as motivated to repeat. The dark horse of Gay Bowl X was the host team, the Phoenix Hellraisers, led by quarterback Joey Jacinto with this very strong arm and Jared Garduno, the heart and soul of the team.

“F(l)ag Football”, the documentary follows the three teams as they prepare for the weekend event. We hear from the players, many of whom found the acceptance here that they couldn’t find in the gay bar and club scene. Some of the players talk openly about their coming out and some of those stories are heartbreaking. Davis tells us that his extremely religious mother, whom he had been especially close to as a child, washed her hands of him. Los Angeles captain Brenton Metzler talks humorously of how his sister, a lesbian wishing to deflect her parents’ attention away from herself, outed him against his wishes.

We are all aware of the clichés about football and how it builds character and forges bonds not unlike those forged by soldiers. We begin to realize that the men we meet here these just gay men; they’re men period. The only difference between them and straight men is that they prefer men as romantic and sexual partners.

The most exciting part of “F(l)ag Football” arrives at the end, when two bitter rivals face each other. But the most insightful scene comes in the middle of this documentary, when the gay New York Warriors take on a straight team from Long Island.

The Long Island players aren’t told that most of the Warriors are gay, and excerpts shown from the game show intense competition. When one Long Islander learns of the opposing players’ sexuality, he reacts with a shrug and with praise for their skills. That’s how it should be— we should judge people on their abilities and without preconceptions. Not everyone is there yet. Director Seth Greenleaf gives us some optimistic moments as we follow the teams as they train for the yearly Gay Bowl flag football tournament. (The game, a variation on touch football, places a premium on speed; players are downed not by tackles, but when an opponent pulls a marker from the ball carrier’s belt.)

Along the way, we explore the conflict between traditional views of masculinity, especially in sports (and in the N.F.L. in particular), and stereotypes of homosexuality. It’s an interesting mix. The film gains momentum, however, as the athletes experience hope, disappointment, pain and joy during the final contest. We see that on the field and off, we are all so much alike.

Throughout the film the players make it clear that there is nothing sexual for them about playing the game; it’s all about the competition and the game itself. These men are as tough as nails regardless of their sexuality but since the point of this film is to try to change perceptions of gay men then to a certain extent their sexuality has to be part of the equation. What we really see are talented, hard working and masculine football players who happen to be gay. Their sexuality is part of who they are but it isn’t the only thing that defines them.

The film asks all the right questions that we hear in the football vs. homosexuality debate, while revealing a lesser-seen part of the gay community. The players are capable of divorcing sex with contact sports. They may even be able to understand better than their straight counterparts that the reason why they play sports is secondary to winning and primarily to find brotherhood with their teammates.

These guys are all jocks. We hear the “F” word many times and they speak in sentences filled with clichéd “macho-isms”. Many of these athletes were raised with the casual homophobia and systemic heterosexism that even they write off. Player Wade Davis says, “We’ve created this nationwide narrative that gay men aren’t as tough,” but when confronted by a straight man, \ “We can go outside right now and I’ll run through you like a Mack truck, and you tell me if gay guys aren’t as tough as straight guys.”

Opposite this, these men have found that looking for the bonds they seek in the traditional gay scene can be problematic, sometimes promoting unhealthy lifestyle choices that are often image-obsessed and ruthlessly judgmental.

As a sociological study, the film is fascinating. We see that there are gay men out there creating alternatives such as the National Gay Football League. We see that “Advocacy and activism come in many ways other than just marches.