The very next day after queer filmmaker Craig Bettendorf and his crew celebrated Treading Yesterday’s world premiere at Dances with Films in Hollywood, the euphoria quickly disappeared. It was the night of the mass-killing at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando.
The bitter irony (if that’s the right word) is that ‘Treading Yesterday’ Web Series is all about homophobia. It contrasts the late 80’s and the decade’s intolerance of LGBT people, with the present day’s legal and growing social acceptance. The series plays out through the eyes of Eric, a gay man who is about to cross into middle age; a man who seems to have led a rather charmed life. The pilot opens “yesterday” before re-setting to December of 1988, in the midst of a monumental anti-gay attack.
Now Bettendorf and his life partner Kai Morgan have made HOMO-SAY-WHAT a new documentary that focuses on the historical roots of homophobia and its original target which was primarily white gay men at the time. Using some powerful archival footage Bettendorf traces the complicity of State and Church to create institutionalized homophobia to create such a level of fear that it placed the lives of LGBTQ people in danger
We had known of the national ‘Lavender Scare’ in the 1950’s caused by Eisenhower signing the law banning gay men and women working for the Federal Government created a vicious witch hunt. However the report of the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee led by Senator Charley Johns in 1964 was news to us. Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida, also known as the Purple Pamphlet was another clamp down searching homosexuals in public schools, universities, and state government agencies. As usual the claim was that they were part of a Communist strategy to “subvert the American way of life!” They managed to get a number of Professors and Deans fired and rescinded licences from about 70 teaches.
Actually the Purple Pamphlet almost backfired as it provoked a backlash of criticism for its explicit photographs of gay men involved in sexual activities, BUT it did become a big seller in a Gay Book Club.
Fanatical Religious Leaders such as the despicable Jerry Falwell used the AIDS Pandemic of the 1980’s to stir up even more hatred against the LGBTQ community with their Fire and Brimstone rants . At one point Kai Morgan the documentary’s narrator asks the Rt Rev Rusty Smith how did the actions and the words of the so called ‘Moral Majority’ affect us all. He simply replied that he made orphans of us all. Orphans from our families, from the realities of our lives, and from our God. We were, Falwell insisted, ‘step children to evil’.
As Bettandorf would point out, the homophobia from the Church is so hypocritical. The two forces that threw millions at to defeat Prop 8 Campaign to end Same Sex Marriage in California were the Mormons , led by a man who had 34 wives, and a Catholic Archbishop still sheltering pedolphile priests.
Much of the content of the film is not new, but seeing it collated together makes for a powerful statement and serves as a fierce reminder of the ingrained homophobia we still have to deal with.
The ‘haters’ are very much like cigarette manufacturers who finding they are fighting a losing battle, and turned their attention to more virgin territory like in Africa and Third World countries where they deem the pickings will be easier.
The documentary also reminds us that as a community we must always be alert and that when we have such excellent factual research like that of the late John Boswell that we ensured it doesn’t become part of a fake news campaign or just completely dismissed.
There is one point midway through the film when a local TV journalist is reacting to another gay tragedy and she says : “It makes News, it makes Headlines When will it make change.” This is so relevant today, even more so for our trans brothers and sisters
N.B. Available on June 2 – DVD (major e-tailers + website) and Streaming (Amazon, Vimeo, Hoopla)
Labels: 2020, documentary, homophobia