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In 1995, Kelli Peterson started a gay and straight club at her Salt Lake City high school. The story of her ensuing battle with school authorities in interspersed with looks back at the diary of Michael Wigglesworth, a 17th-century Puritan cleric, at the 30-year love affair of Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Adams Fields, at Henry Gerber's attempt after World War I to establish a gay-rights organization, at Bayard Rustin's role in the civil rights movement, and at Barbara Gittings' taking on of the American Psychiatric Association's position that homosexuality is illness. One person comments, "To create a place for ourselves in the present, we have to find ourselves in the past." Written by
A Somber, Maddening and Tremendously Intelligent Picture
In Salt Lake City in 1995, gay high school student Kelli Peterson started a gay and straight club at her school. The story of her proceeding struggle with school administration and powers that be intermingles with brief narrative accounts of noteworthy historical figures whose sexuality has kept those of us in the present from learning from them, such as Michael Wigglesworth, a 17th-century Puritan minister, the 30-year love affair of 1800s novelist and short story writer Sarah Orne Jewett and woman of letters Annie Fields, Henry Gerber, who doesn't even have a page on Wikipedia, and his effort after WW I to found the short-lived Society for Human Rights, Quaker civil rights activist Bayard Rustin's role in the civil rights movement and as principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. He advised Martin Luther King on nonviolent resistance. Then we find Barbara Gittings's maverick crusade against the American Psychiatric Association's stance that homosexuality was an illness.
Contained by the concise length of an hour, narrated by revered Hollywood stars like Edward Norton and Gwyneth Paltrow, shot on 16mm film and paced with calm serenity, Jeffrey Dupre and Michelle Ferrari's independent documentary converges upon a reconsideration of American history. To establish a status for ourselves in our day, we have to identify with someone in the past, as this film makes obvious.
This somber, maddening and tremendously intelligent picture is a moving record of a momentous subject which, though it concerns gays, affects us all, and makes its statement in an intelligent and moving manner.
The wonderful Barbara Giddings is actually featured in an enormously moving climactic moment in which she and Kelli Peterson meet, and it is cloudless that if only Kelli, and other students like her, had merely been taught about people like this woman at whom she's waving in school, she would never have contemplated suicide and never would have needed to form a Gay Straight Alliance. This film, about love, about the nature of humanity, and not to be confused with Jacques Tourneur's overrated film noir, is an first-rate tribute and monument to those who died having lived lives committed to the greater good seeing no sign of their own acceptance by the society for which they fought so passionately.
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