I had the honor and pleasure earlier this week to attend a special on-campus screening of “Out in the Silence,” a beautiful documentary about one town’s struggle with its gay community and a teenager dealing with discrimination and harassment at high school. Partners Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, the documentary’s filmmakers and co-stars, joined us for the evening to answer questions and lead a thought-provoking dialogue.
I’ve talked about CJ before, both here on my blog and in other speaking opportunities. His story is an inspiration, but like so many others, the hell he lived through should have never happened. “People don’t deserve to be tortured like this,” CJ’s mother Linda said. “I don’t know if I’ll change the world, but if I could just educate a few people.”
Victimized by verbal assaults such as “we wanna see what color a faggot bleeds,” CJ allowed cameras to follow him as he struggled to hold school officials accountable for allowing such heinous bullying to persist. “I can never deny who I am,” CJ said. His refusal to sit down was inspiring to watch, as “Out in the Silence” chronicles the irrational fear that many cling to when confronted with a minority whose potential invisibility is viewed as a threat.
“We’re gay, and we’re here to recruit you, because we need you in this movement,” Joe Wilson said to us after the film. “Out in the Silence” proved to be as much of a learning experience for them as it was for so many others involved with the project. Rather than ridiculing those who hold beliefs and opinions contrary to their own, Hamer and Wilson have put their energy to better use by building relationships and embarking on this grassroots campaign to encourage people to stand up and speak out in areas that may not be traditionally accepting of the LGBT community.
“Take that anger and apply it to more productive means,” Joe Wilson said. He alluded to Martin Luther King’s timeless “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” where Dr. King expressed his belief that the biggest threat that faces the civil rights movement are not those on the extreme, but good people in the middle who aren’t doing anything. “You don’t have to be gay to enjoy equality and justice,” Wilson said.
Many audience members shared wonderful stories of their own experiences, including a local pastor who described herself as a Christian conservative. For years she included herself among those who opposed gay rights, until one day God convicted her of her transgressions and led her to “repent from my ignorance.” She opened her church doors – and heart – to the LGBT community, her testimony spoke directly to those who live in fear of being who they are. “If they want to come out of the closet, I’ll be glad to stand beside them.”
I was thrilled to see such engaging and provoking discussions, it truly makes a difference no matter how big or small. We may feel uneasy or even embarrassed to speak out, but it’s this dialogue taking place across the country that will ultimately change the current of history and help us win this movement.
“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”