Friday, December 14, 2007

This Is My Story

I saw Word Is Out for the first time at the Varsity Theater in Palo Alto in autumn 1977. After two years on Capitol Hill I had returned to the Bay Area to (as I told myself) "give heterosexuality one more chance." (Surely I'm the only person in history to return to Northern California to go straight, but that's what happens when you grow up in the Kentucky hills: you get some weird ideas.) I wept through the last third of the film. After it was over I went back to the hippie communal house in which I was living and grabbed my best friend – Haney Armstrong – and said: You have to watch this, this is my story. And thus was precipitated Haney's introduction to Peter and his work.*

I wrote Peter's obituary for the Sunday SF Examiner and I remember one quotation from my interview with Peter. I knew he was dying, and I knew I would write his obituary, so I walked over to his house in Bernal Heights and sat down with him and said, "Peter, I'm going to write your obituary and I want you to tell me what you want me to say." As you know, Peter was the kind of rare bird with whom one could have such a conversation. And, being Peter, he warmed immediately to the task. "Why did you make Word Is Out?" I asked, and he responded with something to the effect of, "I set out to create and shape a gay and lesbian consciousness."

Of course the film was a collaborative effort, and Peter knew that as well as anyone. At the same time that he was never one for false modesty and he knew perfectly well that on one's deathbed one may legitimately claim a certain...generosity of memory. And there's enough truth in his statement that I kept it and used it in the obituary.

I am so very glad that you are bringing Word Is Out to the attention of a new generation, many of whom have never seen it or heard of it. It will serve them as well as it served us.

Best of luck, many bows to all of you,
Fenton Johnson,

*Editor's note: Haney Armstrong became Peter's business partner a few years later.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Daring Cinematic Breakthrough

I was serving as Executive Director of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual in 1973 when Peter Adair called to make an appointment to see me. Someone had referred him to me as a person who might have some helpful contacts for his newest project. Peter had in mind a 20-minute video about gay and lesbian people that could be shown in schools as a way of countering negative stereotypes. He and I talked about his idea and the more we talked, the more the concept grew. I urged Peter to think about making a feature length documentary of interviews with people from all over the country. He worried about raising considerably more money than he had originally planned. I told him I thought the time was right for a daring cinematic breakthrough. It was, I thought, an idea that many people would get behind, with their contacts and their money. When Peter left the CRH office, I think he was pretty well convinced his idea for an "educational film" could be expanded and have a much broader impact, given the diversity of people in the gay and lesbian community.

After putting together the brilliant Mariposa Film Group, Peter completed a film that soared beyond all expectations, full of emotion and wisdom, laughter and tears. I received a one-sheet for the film, which I framed. It has given me pleasure for four decades and counting.

In 2006, I showed my VHS tape of Word Is Out as part of a documentary film series I programmed at my local church, a predominately LGBT United Church of Christ congregation. Only two other people present had ever seen the film. When the lights came up, eyes were teary and folks were clearly in awe of the accomplishment of the Mariposa Film Group so many years ago. I am thrilled that new audiences will get to see Word Is Out . I hope the new DVD will gain the widest possible distribution.

Thank you all so much for bringing Word Is Out back to life and to new generations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgezander people, our families and friends.

Rev. Bill Johnson, Ed.D.,

Your Movie Changed My Life

I am thrilled to learn that you are releasing a 30th anniversary edition of Word Is Out , and I have sent a donation. Your movie changed my life. I had just graduated from a small college in Appalachia, still a virgin and struggling to come out. I drove four hours to Washington, DC--where no one would know me--to see the film. I can't begin to tell you how I felt as I watched it. I knew for the first time in my life that I was not alone. I remember as the lights came up, being afraid someone would see me crying. It was a long drive back to my hometown, but I finally knew who I was, and spent the next few months finding others like me--and being amazed that there were so many nearby. It became a joyful year of self-discovery.

Years later, when I was working at The American Film Institute in LA, I had the good fortune to meet Peter Adair and thank him. Recently I found an original poster for the movie, had it linen mounted and added to my collection of favorite movie posters.

I am very curious to know what became of those wonderful men and women featured in the film. They unwittingly became by heroes and role-models. I am sure I will be saddened by some of what I learn, but I hope your 30th anniversary DVD will shed some light on the future of those beautiful people.

I've been happily out for three decades and I have a very good life now with my partner of 23 years. It is not an overstatement to say that Word Is Out played a big part in my finding happiness.

Thank you to everyone involved in the creation of Word Is Out ... then and now.

Ron Geatz,

Monday, June 25, 2007

I Could Be Who I Felt I Was

I first saw Word Is Out in 1981; I was a high school senior in small-town Essex Junction, Vermont, and was dating a Harvard freshman who was active in the gay student organization there. Word Is Out was one of the featured films at their annual G/L pride week.

The film had an incredible impact on me -- it was my first exposure to the diversity of our community, after having had the 'I'm the only one' feeling for so many years. It helped me realize I could be who I felt I was and did not have to be constrained by any one stereotype. Later, in my travels, I came across the Word Is Out book in a used bookstore, and snapped it up. Each portrait brought back memories of being seventeen years old and the expansive awe I had first felt when watching the film.

Zoom forward almost twenty years. I'm still living in Vermont and become friends with a local guy, Freddy, who, after one confusing connecting-the-dots conversation years into our friendship, I discover is Freddy from the film! 'I have a book with you in it!'

We recently celebrated his 60th birthday, at which I put up copies of his portrait from the book. I joke with him that I met him twenty years before he met me.

Jay Schuster,

Indelibly Printed In My Memory

I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am to the late Peter Adair and the Mariposa Film Group for making this landmark film. I was an 18-year-old high school senior when Word Is Out was released, in heavy denial about being gay, and sheltered, shy, and naive to boot. I saw the film on my local PBS station, which screened it at least three times that month. I watched it every time -- once with my Mom and twice secretly down in the basement on the grainy black and white TV. I didn't want my folks to know how riveted I was by the movie (as if my Mom couldn't tell!).

When my Mom asked me what I thought of the film, I didn't know how much there was behind that question. I didn't know that the counselor I had seen in junior high school had told her he suspected I was homosexual (without discussing the subject with me), or that she had long harbored suspicions of her own. I do remember that I panicked, and said something about how the film showed how important it was for all people to have equal rights in society, or something to that effect. And I remember that we talked for a while about some of the people in the film and how moving, funny, or tragic their stories were. I was trying to be calm, but inside I was bursting with exuberance (to have found others like me), grief (over the torture some of them had endured), and confusion (about what gay life would mean for me). But more than anything, I was elated that this film existed.

I especially loved the diversity of the people interviewed and their leadership by example. The women and men of Word Is Out taught me more clearly than anyone I had known how ordinary people could become absolutely heroic by virtue of who they are and the lives they lead. They gave me hope, for the first time, that I could have a loving relationship and a meaningful life as a gay man. They taught me that my tribe had a living history deserving of deep, abiding respect, and that lesbian and gay identity was inextricably tied to all the political debates that were (and still are) raging around race, ethnicity, gender identity, class, age, and nationalism. They taught me that there is no single way to be as a gay man or lesbian, and that a whole world of possibilities existed. And they taught me that in this living, organic civil rights movement, much work remained to be done, and the path ahead would not be a clear one.

The faces and voices of the "cast" of Word Is Out were indelibly printed in my memory and I have never forgotten any of them (including my crushes on David and Dennis!). They inspired me as a budding gay activist in college, and in the decades since. I had the great pleasure of meeting Betty Powell about five years ago, and have often wondered what became of the others in the film. I look forward to hearing their stories and hope that these many years have found them happy, fulfilled, and pleased to know that their strength and courage have inspired countless others worldwide to live open and proud lives as LGBT people in the quest for full and equal rights.

Doug Edelson,

A Great Cheer Went Up

I was an 18 year old freshman at UMass/Amherst, and I saw a screening of Word Is Out offered by the gay student group. One of the people interviewed in the film is a UMass student, and he is shown outside of the Student Union building, a building which we all saw every day. When that shot appeared, a great cheer went up in the movie theater. I felt for the first time the tremendous power of coming out, and how as more and more people came out of the closet it would change our world forever.

I also remembered that the student interviewed in the movie was carrying on a long distance relationship with a man he had met off campus. I had just had a wonderful sexual experience with a man from Boston, and the film inspired me to have the courage to call him up and tell him I'd like to continue seeing him.

David Finkelstein,

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,

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,

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,

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,

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I Wasn't Alone

It was either 1977 or 1978, and I was home alone. I would've been 16 or 17 at that point, and was living in Chicago with my parents, and was scared to death. Nothing felt right, and I had strange feelings, and I could NOT bring myself to get interested in playing with girls.

Flipping through channels (we only had about a half-dozen back then, in the pre-cable-TV days), I ran across Word Is Out just starting on Chicago's PBS station, WTTW.

I was so mesmerized I forgot to sit down for a good twenty minutes; I just kept standing there, watching the screen.

About halfway through Word Is Out , I started crying, because I realized I Wasn't Alone. There were other people in the world who Felt Like Me, and it was called Being Gay, and it wasn't A Terrible Thing. (Teenagers think a lot in Capital Letters.)

I think I cried for a good two hours, because after the first set of tears dried, and the documentary was over, I realized "OK, I'm gay. Now what?" and started crying again.

I won't go into the story here of how I ended up being outed to my parents (the local gay men's health clinic did it by accident) and moving to San Francisco.

I will say that if I hadn't seen Word Is Out when I did, it's not an exaggeration to say I probably would have ended up as another teenage suicide statistic.

Thank you for producing the film 30 years ago. I can't tell you enough how much it's touched my life, and changed me for the better.

Allan Hurst,

All I knew of homosexuality was "faggot"

I was reading about Peter Adair on Wikpedia of all places and then realized; "Hey! I saw that thing on Public TV - on an antennae TV - as a kid and it profoundly influenced my interactions with gay people."
I am not gay but when I saw that show I remember being very intrigued with the subject.

I was raised in a very macho military culture and all I knew of homosexuality was "faggot" "queer" to the point that as a small child I had thoughts that all faggots should be killed. That show pretty much altered that thought process immediately. I think I was open to it but needed to see it in order to explore my own individuality and embrace my quirks and accept and embrace the quirks of others.

I had forgotten how influential that show had been on me. It's a great movie that should be required viewing. Young gay people are dying in droves because they are so ostracized by the people they grew up loving. Maybe if their families saw Word is Out
I support your project and only wish you could reach those young people in crisis. I just read a piece online where a young girl was outed as bisexual and was rejected by her family and then she killed herself. This is devastating to me that something so harmless as individual sexuality carries such weight.


Furtive Glances

I remember sneaking furtive glances of this as a kid, trying to have the TV volume loud enough to be "normal" (to avoid the "hey, waddya doin' theah?" shout through the wall), but not too loud ("what the hell ah ye watchin'?")

I wasn't thinking "this is me", but I felt drawn to it...even as it scared the shite out of me. I was 13.

John P Egan, Vancouver BC