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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hoping Times Have Changed

I remember eagerly turning on the TV to see Word Is Out , which was listed on the daily paper, only to find the station had replaced it with rock concert footage. It was not even an actual program, just pure footage. No explanation, no apology.

I hope times have changed.

When I finally got to see it I noted that one of the most important figures interviewed in the film is Harry Hay, original founder of the gay rights movement with the Mattachine Society in 1950 and later founder of the Radical Faeries in 1979.

I think of Harry as our George Washington, possessing a level of courage I can hardly imagine for myself.

Alan SF, rowmaine@hotmail.com

Friday, May 11, 2007

Word Is Out Makes a Mark on Europe

In 1980 the movie Word Is Out was shown in the European Youth Centre in Strasburg, France. It was presented in the framework of The Conference on Intolerance in Europe. The Dutch delegation had brought it along to the conference, organized by the Council of Europe and European youth organisations. The conference dealt with a broad range of intolerances, anti-Semitism, racism, the German Berufsverbote.

The Dutch delegation raised the topic of intolerance against homosexuals, at the time a still underdeveloped theme on the level of the Council of Europe and in the organised youth structures of Europe.

We thought that the movie Word Is Out could give a nice introduction to the theme also for a European young audience.

We hired a copy through the Dutch distributor of Word Is Out and took it along to Strasburg.

We arranged a showing in the centre’s viewing room and made a handwritten announcement on a poster board in the hall of the centre.

To our great indignation we found out, when we returned from a conference session outside the Centre that the Dutch permanent representative to the Council of Europe, Mr Jan Breman, had tore off the poster and crumpled it up, uttering screams like ”a shame, scandalous” and worse. He threw the crumpled poster in a corner and headed for the Director of the centre to lecture him.

A staff member of the Centre with a great sense for history had saved the crumpled paper and handed it over to me giving me all the details of the enragement of the Dutch permanent representative (= ambassador). His behaviour was so much more surprising as the Dutch foreign policy had already committed itself to equal treatment for gays and lesbians.

The participants of the conference reacted with indignation, but the showing went on that same evening. The head of the Dutch Delegation Ad Melkert (who himself is not a gay man, and is now working for United Nations Development Programme in New York) on behalf of the members of the Dutch delegation addressed Mr Breman and suggested to him that he apologize, case closed.

But Mr. Breman refused and once more caused indignation with the other members of the Dutch delegation and among the participants of the conference. One of the members of the delegation (Jan Herman Veenker, a well known Dutch gay activist and in later years AIDS activist) contacted his MP (Member of Parliament) in The Hague and the next day the matter was raised in the Dutch Parliament. The Dutch Foreign Minister of those days, Chris van der Klaauw, swiftly reacted and summoned Breman to withdraw from the conference at once. The Dutch government had been one of the initiators of the Conference and could not tolerate that it should fall short of expectations or worse fail.

The conference adopted a document that included homosexuality as a behaviour that should not lead any longer to intolerant attitudes.

The whole incident even had a greater impact. The day after the conference I received a mysterious phone call from the Secretariat of the Council of Europe. The secretary to the Political Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council, told me he had followed the incident with great interest and asked me to take up contact with a Dutch Member of the Assembly who was just preparing the first political document in an International governmental structure (the Council of Europe). The MP, Mr Joop Voogd was reported ill at the time and the secretary of the political committee had found out that conservative colleagues of Mr. Voogd tried to kill the document in his absence. He urged me to warn mr Voogd to have the vote postponed in committee in order to save the document. It all worked out well, the document was saved and is to my knowledge the first time that a very well respected international governmental human rights organisation took a positive stand on LGBT rights.

Mr Breman was transferred to his next diplomatic post in Saudi Arabia. According to Dutch foreign office circles it was considered a heavy punishment for him and even more for his glamorous wife.

Well Word Is Out!

For myself the whole story was the beginning of a long period of international gay activism, but that's another story!

Hein Verkerk Amsterdam, Blog

Coming Full Circle

I was a junior at Duke University in 1979 and miserable with loneliness. I had friends and acquaintances but nobody to talk to about my feelings of affection for guys. Then some flyers went up on campus for the movie, it was going to be shown by the campus gay group and I hadn’t even heard of them before. Back then the stigma of coming out was strong, and even mysterious. Because so few people were out then, the possibility of coming out wasn’t widely known on campus. I went to see the film, sat alone in the back row, and cried my way through it. I immediately felt relief and knew that things were going to start making sense for me. I attended the next meeting of the gay group, came out of my closet and never looked back. Eventually I made my way to San Francisco and even had a chance to work with Rob and Jeffrey on The Celluloid Closet. That was a full circle.

Willi Wolf, williwolf@delcominc.com

Finding Role Models

I was in my early forties, and was out to no one, not even myself.
Okay, I'd enjoyed furtive gay sex, but could not accept that I was
gay, simply because no role models were available, apart from a
couple of very effeminate comedians on British television - and I
STILL hate "Are you being served?". which I know is a favourite of
many of my gay friends in the USA, simply because the John Inman
character effectively helped keep me in the closet for more years
than were necessary.

And then, out of curiosity, I went to see Word Is Out. There, up
on the screen, was a selection of lesbians and gay men who were 'normal', who were like me, and with whom I could thus identify, even if they were American and I am British. I just cannot express my gratitude to the makers and distributors of this movie. They helped open the door for me to a very fulfilling life as a gay man. I hope that, in turn, my witness can help other younger gay men and lesbians.

Bernard Bucan, bernard@peteandbruin.demon.co.uk

A Prized Possession

I had already been a gay activist for a dozen years when I first saw
Word Is Out. I loved the film, because of its professionalism, its
message, its likely public appeal, the memorable stories of its cast
members, and the fact that I knew and respected some of them.

Later, when an older activist friend of mine died in the late 1980s, I
was fortunate enough to receive his framed copy of the beautifully
designed Word Is Out poster, which I still prize.

A lot of things were happening in the late 1970s--for instance, I recently observed the 30th anniversary of taking part in the first White House meeting on gay rights--but I hadn't realized until now that Word Is Out is already 30 years old, too. I'm delighted to know of the forthcoming DVD and will be glad to help with a contribution.

William B. Kelley, wbkelley@earthlink.net