Reel Religion: 'God and Gays' producer Kim Clark (left) and director Luane Beck.
Thou Shalt Not Commit Documentary
What's in director Luane Beck's locally made 'God and Gays' that the religious right doesn't want you to see?
By Richard von Busack
IT WAS the day before Valentine's Day and two weeks after the only president we have spent part of his 2005 State of the Union speech creatively linking "unethical conduct by public officials ... and activist courts that try to redefine marriage." What essayist wouldn't envy such creative rhetoricthis yoking of Jack Abramoff with Adam 'n' Steve?
On Feb. 25, Focus on the Family's Love Won Out division is going to St. Louis to open "a dynamic one-day conference addressing, understanding and preventing homosexuality." To trumpet the occasion, the group has raised billboards over the arch city: "I Questioned Homosexuality. Change Is Possible. Discover How." The conference includes Anne Heche's mom, Nancy; Joe Dallas, of the ex-gay ministry Exodus International; and several assorted psychiatrists who didn't give up and lay down when the AMA declassified homosexuality as an illness in 1973.
Meanwhile, the media continues to deny that gays can be healed (ah, but are they unwell?), preferring to hype decadent transgender films like Transamerica. That's Hollywood for you: Lassie was a male dog, but of course the liberal press covered it up. Tyler Perry's OK, though. When he goes in drag, it's for Jesus.
Oscar shoe-in Brokeback Mountain is a target for anti-gay outrage, even if it appears to be a movie about two guys who sleep together once and then brood about it for 20 years. To make matters worse, the Daily Variety claims that Universal is hatching a gay-marriage comedy, which, it is hoped, will star Adam Sandler and Kevin James. It is titled (shudder), I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
This American maelstrom is addressed by the locally made documentary God and Gays: Bridging the Gap, scheduled to play twice at Cinequest. Through some law of synchronicity, there is also a one-night-only screening of the San Jose Jewish Film Festival-sponsored documentary Keep Not Silent by Ilil Alexander. It is a film about Orthodox Jewish lesbiansor "Orthodykes," as one interviewee calls herself and her friends.
Rather than pleas for "special rights," these documentaries suggest that what some gay people are looking for is the most basic right: the right to seek God in one's own way.
The day before Valentine's Day I sat at a new cafe in Scotts Valley, meeting God and Gays director Luane Beck and producer Kim Clark.
Luane Beck is a film-studies lecturer at San Jose State University, and the director of the well-turned feature film Intentions. The brown-eyed actress and director displays that combination of wariness and fast-paced talk that marks the ex-Los Angelean.
"I loved being an actress while I was there," she says, "but then I got kind of burned out, and I wanted to get out of the business altogether. I was being too saturated with left brain, and I needed some right brain."
Clark made documentaries for the Discovery Channel. Her favorite was a piece on premature babies and infants born with illnesses, which she filmed at Stanford.
"We met at San Jose State," Beck recalls, "right before I was going to shoot Intentions in 2001. But then our paths didn't cross for another year. Kind of divine. You don't really realize when you meet someone that you'll spend the rest of your life with them."
Beck and Clark have been married for 2 1/2 years. They finish each other's sentences; together they're an assured, assertive moviemaking team. They raised money as they went along for God and Gays. As Beck says, "Usually you spend a year or two fundraising before you actually start shooting. We were: fundraise, shoot, fundraise, shoot."
Beck and Clark's documentary is premiering at Cinequest as a rough cut. Clark says, "It's not, 'Oh, jeez, Toronto didn't want it, and neither did Berlin.' We were very deliberate about wanting to watch it at Cinequest."
Beck and Clark shot their film with three cameras, instead of in the usual "one camera plus B-roll" style of the low-budget documentary. The three cameras allowed them to experiment with the visuals; they could creatively use negative space and tight close-ups and could avoid rephrasing questions.
"With one camera, you have to repeat the question when you answer," Beck explains. "We didn't want our subject to say things they wouldn't ordinarily say. And we didn't want to dramatize anything. When someone's talking about killing themselves in a dorm room, we didn't want to have actors re-enact that."
'I Am Not a Ragger'
In this documentary that inspires some laughter and some sorrow, the early scenes are among the ones that concern them the most. "I was concerned," Clark admits, that "I was ragging [complaining] in my piece, when I'm walking on the beach. I am not a ragger."
Beck adds, with a snort, "Well, I don't know ..."
In the opening sequence of God and Gays, Beck and Clark walk hand in hand on Santa Cruz's West Cliff Drive. The scene is strangely tense. The possibility of harassment or slurs could intrude into the frame at any time. They re-enact the first conversations that led them to make their film; they analyze the challenge of being gay and loving God.
God and Gays includes interviews with various gay divines, including the Rev. Doctor Mel White of the anti-discrimination group Soulforce. At one stage, Rev. White worked as a ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell. White points out that Falwell once had a segregated church: "Falwell changed his mind about blacks. He'll change his mind about gays."
Much of the film consists of a dialogue with Rev. Deborah Johnson of Inner Light Ministries in Soquel. (Disclosure: The Inner Light Sunday service airs weekly on Santa Cruz Community Television, where my TV show, CinemaScene, is produced.)
Rev. Johnson married Beck and Clark. On-camera, she describes her own background. She told her fundamentalist mother that she might commit suicide over being a lesbianto which her mother replied, "That would be most unfortunate."
Statistics show that some 1,200 teenagers a year kill themselves a year over just that matter. Interviewed in God and Gays is Mary Lou Wallner, co-founder of T.E.A.C.H. ( Teach and Educate for Active Christlike Holiness) Ministries. She lost her daughter, Ann, to suicide, and she is determined to help other parents and children to keep from repeating her mistakes.
The filmmakers collect letters that were read aloud at the annual May 1 rally outside of the Colorado Springs headquarters of Dr. James Dobson, the anti-gay crusader of Focus on the Family. One young woman writes of slashing her arms every time she has a sinful thought. Another family speak of how their house was egged and paint-balled.
Among the subjects in God and Gays is Katy Keen, a nonpracticing gay woman who feels she must fight her inclinations: "I felt betrayed by God." And a woman identified as "Lara" says she feels bashed by both sides for being a married lesbian who still goes to church.
But Johnson emerges as the star of the show. She has the most convincing arguments: "When we say we want it, it becomes a special right. But if we were straight, we'd have it anyway."
Photograph by Zernus Productions
Free Choice: Comedian-actor Jason Stuart wonders why anyone would choose a lifestyle with no rights.
Let's Get Biblical
As a black woman, Johnson is aware of biblical arguments in favor of discrimination. Verses about the care of "bondsmen" justified the Southern claims for slavery before the Civil War. The reverend points out that anti-gay Christian leaders base their authority on only six biblical verses.
Clark says, "Rev. Deborah told us, 'I'm asked all the time by heterosexual couples to marry them, which I'm legally and religiously ordained to do. I can do that, and I will do that. What they don't understand is that the very marriage I'm bonding them in I can't have myself.'"
Clark observes, "All people hear is the marketing terms like 'special rights.' I have a lot of faith that people are smarter than slogans."
The idea of "choosing homosexuality" is derided in God and Gays by the droll comedian-actor Jason Stuart: "Who'd choose it? We have no rights, and everyone hates us." And the idea of a "gay lifestyle" is similarly mocked by Mary Lou Wallner: "Madonna and I are both heterosexual, but we have a very different lifestyle."
As for the religious lifestyles of Luane Beck and Kim Clark: Luane was raised Baptist in Oakland, but her parents moved to Livermore, where they were converted to Mormonism.
"We heard that the Mormons were the only true church and the Baptists were going to hell," says Beck. "I stopped going to church for a period of time, because I thought church was God. But I missed spirituality, and when I brought it back into my life, I completely opened up. Now, I feel like I have a voice, and I can use my art to provoke thought. So I say 'Jesus brought me out' because it was no problem. I started going to church again when Kim and I started going out together."
Clark was raised Church of Christ, and then ran through a gamut of local churches. She was doing audiovisual work for Twin Lakes Church in Aptos when an outreach group for people who were struggling with homosexuality visited the church. "And I saw that their booth was comprised of these books like You Don't Have to Be Gay," Clark remembered. "I realized I couldn't go there anymore."
Preparing for The Backlash
The team is anticipating anti-gay protestors at the March 10 screening of the documentary, which will be attended by members of PFLAGParents, Friends and Families for Support of Lesbians and Gays.
Clark explains, "The conference is an extension of the documentary. We're hoping to meet people who want to be part of the solution. No one will tell you you're sick or that you're broken or that we're going to pray you out of it. We're going to pray you into what you are. Instead of talking about all the things we disagree on, let's talk about what we can agree on, like God is love. Because conversation can actually go on from there."
"The other side of this issue," Beck adds, "has a huge voice, a voice that's trying to be written into the constitution again. Everybody knows that side. No one knows about the suffering and pain and the loss of what this is doing to people. Lives are at stake, we've learned. I mean, I knew it was bad, but I had no idea of how many people were losing their lives to hate crimes or suicides. If somebody sees this film and it saves their lives, that's what I wanted to do with this film.
She calls not being able to reconcile with and embrace one's sexuality "a huge dream killer."
"If you're gay and you're trying to suppress it, you're suppressing your life across the board," she says. "It's not just that one piece. And if you come out and accept who you are, you're going to blossom in ways you didn't know."
Does God Love Gays?
The next day is Valentine's Day. My left hand is bandaged. I ripped it on a thorn, trimming some roses for a certain someone. I'm on the phone with one of the subjects of God and Gays, a lady named Darlene Bogle.
"It's the early 1990s," she says, "and I'm at my first Exodus conference. Two hundred people are there. I still have the photo. There's a banner that asks, 'Can Homosexuals Change?' I'm in the front row with my arms up. I looked at that picture the other day. Of the people in it, about half are no longer in Exodus ... they're no longer in churches of any sort. What breaks my heart is that when they came out, God had to go out, too. But God wants to embrace all his children."
Darlene Bogle is an earthy, humorous woman in her middle years. She has authored books with titles like Leaving Winter Behind: Moving Away From Lesbianism. Google Bogle, and you will find her quotes cited by current ex-gay ministries, some translated into French and Spanish.
When she was fighting her sexuality, she was given to describing herself as "demonically indwelt." But today Bogle is actually an ex-ex-lesbian, finishing a book titled Christian and Gays in America.
Valentine's Day is a fraught day on Bogle's calendar. It is the anniversary of her mother's death. It is also the 1-year anniversary of the death of her lover of 12 years, Des Lambson, who succumbed to breast cancer. Bogle was the dean of an ex-gay ministry at the time, but when she saw Des at the Western State Conference, "In one look, it was all over. I asked God, 'How can you do this? I've been straight for 15 years!'"
Two months after she met Des, Darlene got kicked out of the ex-gay movement. "Valentine's Day was already ruined for me," Bogle jokes. "So the November before she died, Des told me she was going to heaven on that day."
And that's what happened. The last three years of Des' life, Darlene quit work to take care of her. While Des was alive, Darlene was hesitant to go too public about her newer feelings. Des' relatives were Baptists, and the couple didn't want to embarrass them. "They suspected something, but they were very 'Don't ask, don't tell.'"
After mourning, Darlene Bogle is involved with someone again: "I'm moving into her place in Los Gatos. We had a commitment ceremony has October. I've been lucky. I met two godly women in my lifetime. Pre-Exodus, I spent a lot of years looking for the right woman in bars."
When Bogle joined the ex-gay movement, she was a minor celeb, going on Oprah, Jerry Springer, NBC's 48 hours. "Wherever they needed a real live genuine ex-lesbian, I was there. I did it for a lot of years. I was so busy being ex-gay that I didn't feel anything." (In God and Gays, Bogle puts it, "I was not attracted to women, not attracted to men, not attracted to myself.")
I had read about a Mormon missionary who was assigned to go door to door in Bordeaux, France, to urge the locals to join a religion that forbids wine. I imagine preaching to San Franciscans to give up their sex lives would be just as much jollity.
"People rise up, but not to call you blessed," Bogle laughed ruefully. "I can see it all on old videotapes; the picketers from the Metropolitan Community Church ..."
Bogle still gets phone calls from women trying to fight their sexuality. "I was writing back in 1985 and 1990 and was young and naive enough to print my phone number in my books. I've written an awful lot of articles, too, so I get calls. At first I try to tell them where my life is going now: that I'm now living in a committed gay relationship. I still have friends in Exodus and occasionally I refer someone to them."
When Bogle was an ex-lesbian spokeswoman, she recalls, "I wasn't saying that I hated anyone, or that God hated gay people, but that God can change your behavior. Through God, you can change your behavioryou just can't change your orientation, and you can try till hell freezes over. God created us to be alive and full Christians, fully human beings."
The idea that God is love is difficult for those of us who have to strive to see organized religion as something else than a mill that grinds human hearts. Still, Beck, Clark and Bogle have the energy and clarity of people who have God on their side. As Bogle says, "I'm so thrilled about this documentary. It's for all those people who thought they didn't have a chance in hell of getting into heaven."
God and Gays: Bridging the Gap plays at Cinequest at March 6 at 7:15 pm, and March 10 at 9:30pm at the Camera 12. 'Keep Not Silent' plays March 8 at 7:30pm at the Hoover Theater, 1635 Park Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $8/$10. See www.sjjff.org for details.
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