A Washington, D.C., gay couple who made a documentary of gay life in the Pennsylvania hometown of one of the men attracted controversy when they held a screening of the film at a public library on July 28.
Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer’s 2009 movie “Out in the Silence,” which follows an Oil City, Pa., gay high school student named C.J. Springer as he navigates his life and education in the town the filmmakers say was often hostile to gays, was screened last week at Coudersport Public Library in Coudersport, Pa., a small town in north-central Pennsylvania. The men are on a tour, seeking to have the film screened in all 67 counties in the state. They’ve shown it about 50 times so far but say the Coudersport controversy, in which a local pastor and a Tea Party activist attempted to halt the screening, was the most opposition they’ve encountered.
“This was probably the biggest blow-out to date,” Wilson said. “We’ve had some opposition on one or two other occasions. The common denominator is that in most places it goes off without a hitch but in places where there are fundamentalist activists based there, they start to stir the pot.”
The news site CoudyNews.com reported that Coudersport Free Methodist Church was calling for “a peaceful phone-in protest” and that Pastor Pete Tremblay urged supporters to “call the library … and in a Christian manner inform them that this event is not a benefit to our community and ask that it be canceled.”
It almost worked. The library waffled and at one point planned to cancel the screening.
“There was some back and forth,” Wilson said. “I said it’s at exactly times like this when the library needs to play its important role in the community that all are welcome and a diversity of programs must be offered.”
Wilson said things got somewhat heated after the screening, which played to a packed house of about 80. He guesses about 25 Coudersport residents appeared in opposition.
He said one minister “started shouting and demeaning” a woman who spoke after the film “reducing her to tears.”
Tremblay, initially reluctant to comment to the Blade, said the experience has left him frustrated.
“They haven’t heard anything we’ve said or answered any of our questions,” Tremblay told the Blade. “It’s obvious to me there’s not interest in a discussion, there’s only interest in vilifying people who disagree.”
Tremblay said he objects most to the film’s assertion that all gays should embrace their sexual orientation.
“I know people who are not comfortable with [same-sex desires] and want to seek healing,” he said. “But if all we say is you have to come to grips with it, those who feel this is not appropriate, there’s no place where they can go. We have to disagree that this behavior should be presented as normative.”