Homophobia didn't just happen. It took decades of instruction and collaboration to shape public opinion in support of the idea that homosexuality is unacceptable in our society.
It starts with a taunt, a barb, a joke–
Seemingly harmless jokes morph into angst, then fear, and ultimately escalates to hate; all this, leading to the intimidation, oppression, and even murder of those who are deemed inferior.
"HOMO-SAY-WHAT?" contrasts the social, political, and religious intolerance shown toward LGBTQ people over decades with present-day legal and growing social acceptance.
Craig Bettendorf's documentary juxtaposes life after much of the fight for gay rights is won, with the hard truth of what it took to get to where the community is today. As the film unfolds, we see that the link between the challenges of the past and present are surprisingly similar.
Review by Helen Wheels
"HOMO-SAY-WHAT?" is a reference to a joke in which the perpetrator asks the question, homo say what? Then, when the individual it's directed toward doesn't get it and asks, "what?" everyone laughs at the joke. Ultimately it's an insinuation that the person who responded is gay.
This action may seem harmless; however, it's one of those micro-aggressions that illustrate how society looks at this population as somehow inferior. Why would it be funny if the person were gay if there weren't some underlying assumption that there's something innately wrong with homosexuality?
Language is very powerful; language does not just describe reality, language creates the reality it describes. ~ Desmond Tutu
Piecing the Past Together
Bettendorf's documentary "HOMO-SAY-WHAT" is much like a patchwork quilt that pieces together the history of homophobia in America. He uses a combination of found footage, newspaper clippings, and interviews to tell a poignant story. It's a tale of one of the world's largest populations who are grouped by something other than race.
The pieces of history that Bettendorf weaves together in his documentary illustrates the language used over the decades regarding homosexuality, and how that shaped the way society views gay people.
Indeed, the LGBTQ community comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors of humans. They also have something in common other than a lifestyle; they understand the destructiveness of discrimination.
Past Versus Present
Bettendorf inserted a rehearsal in which he works with his actors from Treading Yesterday. As the conversation progresses, the difference in their experiences becomes apparent. Age is the reason for this disparity.
As an older gay man, actor Steven Scholz has a clear picture of how society has progressed since the 1980s when homophobia was at an all-time high. He describes his experiences while the younger men listen intently, maybe never having considered what it was like to live in that world.
Of course, young gay men have their own challenges that Sholtz is also most-likely unaware of, and that's why these types of conversations are so consequential.
The thing is:
Cast members: 'Treading Yesterday'
History has a way of repeating itself. Right now life for gay men and lesbians is relatively secure to a point. That doesn't mean that progress can't disappear with the right amount of fear-mongering. In my experience, when fear rears its ugly head, public opinion changes.
HOMO-SAY-WHAT demonstrates that fear is followed by hate.
Of course, fear is also easy to use to manipulate people toward one's agenda. If homophobia remains in any form, we must ask, have things changed that much? When we still have gay jokes that are a put-down, there is still hate and fear, even if it's covert.
The documentary points out that truthfully things haven't changed right down to the core. And depending on what part of the country you live in, homophobia may be more visible.
Propaganda Films and Institutionalized Homophobia
It's easy to see how deeply ingrained homophobia is in our society. One way is through the documentary's exploration of propaganda films from the 1970s and earlier. These government-funded movies taught children that homosexuality was wrong. The films depicted gay men as pedophiles, kidnappers, and sexual deviants.
This institutionalized homophobia runs deep, and is passed on from generation to generation with little understanding of the truth about homosexuality, and what it means to be gay. In fact, part of the fear-mongering teaches us to be wary of gay men, because they want to recruit our children into their lifestyle.
As a child of the 70s, I remember these films and other so-called "Social Guidance Films" that had a definite impact on what we came to believe as right and wrong. After all, when the government, the church, and your parents are all teaching the same doctrine, why wouldn't you believe them.
But that's not all:
Using an Epidemic for Hate-Mongering
Additionally, "HOMO-SAY-WHAT?" points out one appalling act of hate-mongering by religious leaders. Reverend Jerry Falwell's claim that God sent the Aids epidemic as a punishment on gay men for their lifestyle spurred on the so-called Moral Majority. Not only that, he went on to say that the punishment extended to society for being tolerant.
Such claims certainly kept research from progressing quicker, as well as igniting fear in the hearts of millions. And it wasn't until years later that we came to understand that Aids wasn't strictly associated with homosexuality.
What's more, the documentary brings home the point that all this indoctrination is harmful to families as well as individuals. Ultimately, a belief that there's something wrong with your son or daughter who is gay isolates that child. The statistics and individual stories that Bettendorf presents are heartbreaking. If nothing else, the lives that are lost by violent hate-crimes and suicide should be an indicator that we need to fight for gay rights continuously.
Learn from the past to Help Create a Better Tomorrow
Craig Bettendorf's documentary uses media as proof that homophobia is institutionalized discrimination in our country. It's a history lesson in hate-mongering. After watching the feature film, there's no denying that government and religious agendas framed the way much of society thinks of homosexuality. But in the long run, we can only improve as a whole when we practice tolerance individually.
Imagine all the lives that we can save by merely looking at our fellow human beings as worthwhile individuals with the same rights as our own. What if it were your son or daughter who came out as gay? Would it change the way you see them? If so, maybe you should take an honest look at what makes you feel that way. How did those beliefs come to be? What if that intolerance led to their suicide? What if they were murdered in a hate crime? These are harsh questions, and an unfortunate fact is that it happens all the time, even today.
Craig Bettendorf's documentary is currently making the rounds in the film festival circuit, and is already receiving awards. It recently won the Activist Award for a Documentary Feature at the Colorado International Activism Film Festival held in Denver on July 28, 2019.
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In the meantime, go ahead and check out the trailer: