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Pride Month Doc Corner: Activists, Fighters and Organizers

By Glenn Dunks

Once again, The Film Experience and Doc Corner is celebrating Pride Month with a focus on documentaries that tackle LGBTIQ themes.

This week I am looking at four films, each of which focus around the fight for equality and LGBTIQ history across America. My favourite of the group is Southern Pride, a continuation of director Malcolm Ingram’s first documentary Small Town Gay Bar. Where that film navigated the communities around the bars Rumors and Crossroads, Southern Pride delves into two different bars – Just Us Lounge in Biloxi and KlubXclusive in Hattiesburg – as they attempt to pride events on the state’s gulf coast, the first of their kind.

Just Us owner Lynn Koval is the force behind the primary event with even RuPaul’s Drag Race competitor Gia Gunn booked, while KlubX’s Shawn Perryon, the recipient of a racist jailing for pot, who seeks to build a home for the region’s black queer population and with her own Unapologetic Black Gay Pride event.

The film, of course, comes on the heels of not just Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the inauguration of which opens the film as a symbol of resigned ill-progress, but also the shooting at PULSE nightclub. That event isn’t covered by Ingram, but its legacy lingers over the film especially when it does venture towards the violence that is so often inflicted on the LGBTIQ community in this and other parts of country, namely the murders of black transgender women. That fight is a part of why these venues are so important anywhere but especially there in the south and it's what their efforts feel more important than just another pride event where white men with big muscles don't wear shirts off (and I say that as somebody who has done just that plenty of times).

Ingram weaves these three stories together well, complimenting each other even when their stories don’t appear to share much beyond the surface. How nice it is to a story about gay individuals in this region, particularly women and even further still women of colour, with local Gulf Coast cinematographer Bruce Lee Roberts III adding enough visual flourishes that the film emerges as a richer watch.

The experiences of Lynn and Shawn are far away from the Cold War of the 1950s, which is where Josh Howard’s The Lavender Scare. This efficient (it’s only 75 minutes) and affecting documentary charts the efforts of the American government, in particular Eisenhower, to weed out homosexuals from their ranks as they are deemed security risks and potential for Russian blackmail (we can say the same for Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner, but that’s not the issue at hand). Of course, it was about much more than just wanting to keep America safe from potentially recruiting gay individuals who fear being outed, but rather the systematic and overtly homophobic outing, shaming and removing the “perverts” and “sex misfits” altogether from the American public service.

Howard shows a quiet talent here in just his first film, weaving the stories of first-hand accounts by NASA engineers, Washington D.C. clerks, military admirals and even rural postal workers throughout the much wider story of government discrimination that wasn’t officially disbanded until 1995 and 10,000 individuals later. With graceful narration from Glenn Closev (an Emmy winner for Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story) and additional voice work by Cynthia Nixon, David Hyde Pierce, Zachary Quinto and T.R. Knight, there is a stirring and heartbreaking undercurrent to its often-thrilling political story.

With that particular human rights violation over – although who can say about the future at this stage – The Most Dangerous Year charts the battle over transgender equality over 2016 as a series of so-called “bathroom bills” sprung up across America. Director Vlada Knowlton focuses on her home of Washington State which, like Southern Pride, allows for an interesting point of entry that is both regional specific and grassroots with nonetheless national connotations.

More educational than cinematic, Knowlton’s film nonetheless offers a detailed exploration of the issue especially as she comes from a place of personal experience as she herself has a transgender child.

Lastly, is To a More Perfect Union: U.S. v. Windsor about Edith Windsor and her journey through the courts to be legally recognised as the wife of her spouse, Thea Clara Spyer, and receive the benefits of that following her death. Charting their four-decade romance including how it connected to the larger gay rights movement and how her own court case was part of a larger final push towards the Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Theirs is a touching story and the film offers reflection alongside the celebration. It’s quaint, but respectably told and ultimately signifies many of the relationships over time that weren’t offered the same dignity and that is ultimately something quite special. And while, like The Most Dangerous Year, it will likely play much better on television where it's more minor technical ambitions aren't as noticeable (although its use of archival footage including a news segment hosted by Mike Wallace titled "The Homosexuals" is a nice touch), this still works as a means of learning just another sliver of the story of LGBTIQ rights including more of the efforts done by the under-represented lesbian community.

Release: Southern Pride is available on most home entertainment services including iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google, Fandango and DirectTV. The Lavender Scare airs on PBS this June 18th following its limited theatrical release last week (you may still be able to catch it in a cinema). The Most Dangerous Year has some screenings across the country through June and will be on VOD and DVD from July 9. To a More Perfect Union: The U.S. v. Edith Windsor is out now on VOD and DVD.

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