"You're wrong," the stranger told me, flat-out.
I was participating in a talkback after screening my short film series The Devotion Project at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia. The series, made up of six 10-minute documentary portraits of happy LGBTQ couples and families, has been incredibly well-received, and I've enjoyed talking about the issues raised by the films in schools, LGBTQ organizations and online.
But this time I got some flak. "You claim that these films are mainly for young people out in rural areas, who don't have access to gay role models, but I'm an adult..."
He was, in fact, a kind-faced man in his mid-50s, with a receding hairline and speckled salt and pepper hair.
"... I live right here in Philadelphia, I'm only partially out, and I'm ambivalent about gay marriage. These films made me rethink it; they made me realize that these people want homes, stability and companionship. Now I get it. And I'm not a teenager in the boonies."
I stood corrected. And I thanked him for reminding me that positive representations of LGBTQ lives are in such short supply that everyone, not just the archetypal "closeted rural teen," needs to see them.
From the very beginning of this project in early 2011, I've been figuring out, and refining, the intent behind the films. Sometimes it seems that you're encouraged to fight, argue and diminish the opponent at all costs. "Fight homophobia!" has been the rallying cry. And I'm thankful that it has been, seeing that we've accomplished so much by being bold and assertive.
But when it came to these films, intimate glimpses into the private lives of LGBTQ couples, I've held fast to the notion that I'd be more successful, and feel more gratified, if I focused on the variety and specificity of our love, rather than politicizing their stories or condemning other viewpoints. You might call it "preaching to the choir," but I believe that the choir has not heard this sermon enough. And with every reinforcement, every example of gay love and commitment that we see, we can go forward more fully to share our stories, fight the good fight, and, most important, do it with conviction and self-respect in our hearts.
So the latest playlist I've created for The Devotion Project, featuring all of the films subtitled in Russian, is not for Putin and the vicious vigilante homophobes baiting young gay men in order to demean and shame them, and it's not for the closed-minded whose compassion is obscured by their religion or their "traditions." The series approaches the audience gently, seeking to illustrate and illuminate all of the common ground that we share.
These films are meant to give hope to LGBTQ youth (and adults) in Russia, so that they can see past their shortsighted laws and imagine a future filled with happiness, success and acceptance. I'm still in awe of the six couples we featured and what they've accomplished. I can only hope the films land in the right hands, and are embraced for the many tiny miracles of love that they celebrate.
You can watch The Devotion Project's Russian-subtitled playlist is below. The films have also been subtitled in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. There's more at www.thedevotionproject.org.