Friday night, I was watching the Documentary Channel.  (Yes, it is a wild and crazy life here at The Muse Asylum.)  I love the Documentary Channel;  I love documentaries;  I love “real” t.v.  (Also reality t.v., but that’s another post for another day.)

Ahem.  Anyway, I watched a film called Small Town Gay Bar, written and directed by Malcolm Ingram. Malcolm Ingram is a Canadian independent filmmaker, and Small Town Gay Bar is brilliant.  It was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. And dammit, I think it should have won.  (Note:  I have not actually seen the movie that won the Grand Jury Prize that year;  God Grew Tired of Us is a documentary about three of the Lost Boys of Sudan, and is no doubt a fantastic film.  But I didn’t watch it Friday night, so go with it, already.)

Small Town Gay Bar is about being gay in the Deep South of the United States.  The film uses two Mississippi gay bars, Rumours and Crossroads/Different Seasons, to explore what it is like to be gay in a part of the world where staying in the closet can be a matter of survival.  As well, the film goes to Bay Minette, Alabama, which is the site of the brutal murder (and hate crime) of Scotty Joe Weaver.

The amazing truth shown in this film is that it can truly be a matter of life or death in rural, southern America to reveal that one is gay/lesbian.  (Or heaven forbid, bisexual, transsexual, or questioning.)  Scotty Joe Weaver was a young man of 18, who was beaten, strangled, stabbed many times, partially decapitated, and then doused with gasoline and set on fire.  All because of his sexual orientation.  Or rather, because of the intolerance and inhumanity of people who disagreed with that sexual orientation.

Ingram interviewed person after person, many of whom revealed that they could not reveal their sexual orientation out of fear.  And not just fear of being judged.  Also fear of losing their jobs, fear of being beaten, and even fear of being killed.  These are people who cannot be themselves, cannot openly be with the person they love, have to hide everything for fear of being the victim of violence.

Ingram also interviewed Fred Phelps, who is the poster person for intolerance, bigotry, hatred, oppression, ignorance, and a whole lot of other uncomplimentary words I could use.  He is some sort of pastor from Kansas who is on a mission to tell the world that we are all doomed to damnation because of homosexuality and society’s “acceptance” of it.  (I must put those ” ” around “acceptance”, because frankly, it’s news to me that the world has accepted being LGBTQ.  I’m sure that many of the LGBTQ community would also be surprised at this news.)

Phelps seems to have no purpose other than to terrorize anyone who is not anti-gay.  He and his followers picket everything from churches who allow members of the LGBTQ community to be part of their congregations, to military funerals, to the funeral of Scotty Joe Weaver.  (I know, I was floored that he and his group would picket a funeral of the victim of a hate crime, carrying signs reading, “God hates fags”.  Even given that he and his followers are raging bigots who have no clue about decency and humanity, let alone “Christian values”, I was shocked.)

Anyway, there is an interview with Phelps in the movie.  I swear that I flinched every time he spewed his vitriolic hatred, peppering his speech with “fag” as often as possible.  I very much believe that the language we use is an integral part of our respect for others, and I seriously almost changed the channel, due to his tide of verbal violence.  (I dislike even typing the word, because it is hateful.)  Phelps is every bit as awful as you can imagine.  And he is not the statistical outlier in Deep South opinion.  It’s no wonder that people fear for their lives.

I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked here with my own rant.  The film not only shows the attitude toward the LGBTQ community, it also shows the strength of that community.  Rumours and Crossroads (now Different Seasons) are two oases in a sea of hatred.  These bars are the only places where members of that community can fully be themselves without fearing retribution.  (Although the film also discusses other gay bars that used to exist, where the haters would sit outside and take down license tags and other fine things.)

Part of the reason that I am writing this post is that I live in a different world than this.  Definitely, there is a lot of homophobia in my neck of the woods.  There is even (what I hope is rare) explicit violence toward those who identify as LGBTQ (recently, a member of a local gay couple was assaulted because he and his partner were dancing together at a pub).  I certainly recall the days when I was in college and a person I will call Ted told me that he was afraid to reveal he was gay.  He was running for student government, and he felt he had to hide his sexual orientation not because he was worried he would lose the election, but because he was afraid of being harassed and even assaulted.  In the Loops, we’ve come quite a ways from that point (or at least I think we have).  Or perhaps the more accurate way to say it is that explicit homophobia is not as common;  I am certain that many good citizens are bigots in the privacy of their own lives.

But it is my impression that (generally) it is not a life-threatening event to announce that one is something other than heterosexual.  Many cities have thriving LGBTQ communities.  Heck, gay marriage is even legal in Canada.  So I was reminded (and needed to be) that this is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted, because there are still places in North America where you can die because of who you love.

I know, how naive is that, having to be reminded of this.  Although I’m not LGBTQ (so I don’t really know what it’s like here to be LGBTQ), I think that we’re at least a couple of steps ahead of places like those shown in Small Town Gay Bar.  And thank God for that.

Please Note:  I was lazy today, which resulted in an abundance of Wikipedia links.  Sorry 'bout that.