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June 21, 2010

Coming Out in Smalltown USA

Documentary explores a Pennsylvania town's attitudes about homosexuality

When Joe Wilson got married, he put an announcement in his hometown newspaper in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Nothing unusual about that, except that Wilson had married another man--and a picture of the two of them appeared in the paper. Angry, even hateful, letters to the editor poured in; one said that it would've been better for Wilson not to have been born. Wilson responded not in anger himself, but by revisiting his hometown, with his partner and a couple of camcorders, to look into the town's attitudes.

The result is Out in the Silence, a 65-minute documentary that ends up following four main subplots in Oil City. First, a gay teen who was verbally and physically abused at the local high school, and the quest that he and his mother take to confront those attitudes and the school district's refusal to make things right. Second, a lesbian couple that buys a crumbling downtown art-deco theater and renovates it into a functioning civic showcase again. Third, a woman representing the American Family Association who seems to be on a crusade against gays, more anxious to speak out against their "agenda" to take the time to meet or listen to any of them.

Fourth -- and likely most interesting to CT readers -- a local Christian pastor and his wife who had written one of the letters to the editor decrying homosexuality, only to later show tolerance and love toward the filmmakers as they got to know them in the months ahead. The pastor didn't compromise his biblical beliefs at all; he continues to believe that homosexuality is a sin. But, for the first time in his life, he actually gets to know gay people, and by the end of the film is calling them friends. There's some interesting dialogue between the two "sides" as their unlikely friendship unfolds throughout the film. It's really a Christlike response from the pastor.

Though the film is made by two gay men, it doesn't seek to promote a "gay agenda" or to stereotype the "religious right." It's simply a matter of trying to understand attitudes in small-town America. The filmmakers end up advocating for the teenager to the school board and in a civil rights lawsuit, and the local school board ends up admitting they should've done more to help the boy who was abused; they incorporate staff training as a result. Despite some initial opposition, the two women end up re-opening the theater to a warm reception of both gays and straights. The AFA rep never changes, and refuses to look the gay men in the eye or even have a conversation with them. And the pastor and his wife seem glad to have made new friends, though they clearly disagree with their lifestyle.

The film is showing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York today, followed by broadcast on New York's two largest public television stations, WLIW (June 26, 3 p.m. ET) and WNET (June 27, 11:30 p.m. ET). For more on the film, click here. Watch the trailer here:


You must have seen a different show than I did. I was watching it and felt like is was totally promoting "tolerance" and the gay life style as the only "good" thing in this small town.

Step one is tolerance, step two is equality, step three if you're not gay there must be something wrong with you.

Seems like this article is helping to begin that process.

I agree with dawicker...
This article is stepping down a slippery slope

Yeah some homosexuals are good and others are bad but please don't steer towards political correctness (or whitewash what the Bible has written)

Political correctness is stiffling and destroying Western civilization as we speak... it gives out a victim mentality, puts people into groups and shouts racist, sexist, homophobic or whatever if you don't agree with some of their attitudes like welfare, illegal immigration, etc

For years I believed what I was told about homosexuality and even worked in ex-gay ministries until a situation forced me to actually study the scriptures that I had used to condemn for so many years. I found thru a exhaustive study (Greek, Hebrew, and much more), we have taken those verses completely out of context (as has happened with other scriptures over the years). So, when u can say that you have done the research to back up what you say, come back and let us know. There are already books (by heterosexual theologians) that have presented the research already. I'm becoming embarassed by the too-quick-to-condemn Christians who can't back up what they say intelligently.

Why don't these "Christians" first condemn all the fornicators and adulterers in their own congregations? If they did, would anyone be left? What's that thing Jesus said about casting the first stone? The day you outlaw fornication, divorce, and adultery will be the day I join you in outlawing homosexuality.

I've been reading the Bible. It's amazing how many wives and concubines some of the Bible heroes had at the same time. It also amazes me that Matthew said that any widow who has not born a child for her deceased husband needs to sleep with all her husband's brothers until she bears an heir for her deceased husband. Why are these "Christians" not obsessed with enforcing these antiquated passages?

dawicker and Yasmin, I don't mean to sound rude, but would you explain to me why whenever Christianity Today publishes an article that's slightly objective (though with a clear evangelical slant), people accuse them of being liberal?

I consider myself an evangelical, and I really enjoy Christianity Today for its journalistic integrity and its Christ-centeredness. I think this blog (which isn't even an article) took an approach which said "Here's what is in the movie, this is what is interesting to Christians."

What part of that is there to disagree with? You're obviously both interested, or else you wouldn't have posted. Right?

I find this statement most interesting "The AFA rep never changes, and refuses to look the gay men in the eye or even have a conversation with them." It was convenient for Joe to leave out the fact that he had called my home several times over the course of months trying to talk me into being in his 'documentary.' Over that time period we talked for several hours, each stating our own positions very clearly. He also fails to leave out the fact that they purposely tracked down the authors of the letters to the editor and sometimes showed up with their cameras unannounced on their doorsteps. It was also convenient to leave out the fact that the only reason we were at the Oil Heritage Parade was because Governor Rendell was there nor did they adequately portray the efforts they took to run me down with their cameras when they saw me at the parade. Their verbal harassment finally stopped when someone in the crowd said something to divert their attention to allow our escape. To get a clearer picture as to what really took place, go to our website to read the two letters that are referenced in the documentary. After reading them, you will see that what is portrayed in Joe and Dean's movie is not what actually took place. http://afaofpa.org/archives/122/