The Importance of LGBT Documentaries for a Society that Idealizes LGBT Identities

“Why can’t I Identify as Gay” is the title of a video by YouTube star Trisha Paytas. Known for her trolling videos, many people viewed this video as Trisha playing dumb and being ignorant as she flips between sexualities and identities throughout her videos with one aptly titled “I’m a chicken nugget”. However, many others viewed this video as a direct degradation of the lesbian identity and of the LGBT community. One commenter wrote ‘it’s sad that the lgbt youtubers don’t call her out for this shit because she’s friends with them. fuck them for allowing this degrading video’, while another said ‘You’re a fucking idiot. Go back to identifying as a chicken nugget & leave the LGBT community alone. We don’t need your bullshit giving us more issues’. Merely typing the phrase ‘why can’t I identify as a lesbian’ into google minus Trisha’s name bring up a range of articles relating to the idealisation of LGBT identities. An article written by Chloë on After Ellen, titled ‘No, Straight People Can’t be Queer,’ states that ‘After clawing our way to equality, it is enormously frustrating for the queer community to face assimilation into invisibility.’ Being a part of the LGBT community has become ‘mainstream’ and ‘cool’ with the community gaining more and more acceptance. Such acceptance is wonderful; however, the struggles of the community are often washed in representations of homosexuality, bisexuality etc being idealised. This article will discuss the importance of LGBT documentaries, exploring particularly in this case the struggles of homosexuals, for a society that fetishizes homosexuality. This article will discuss Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s 2013 film Bridegroom and Michele Josue’s Matt Shephard is a Friend of Mine (2013).

“They’re not Romeo and Juliet.” “No, they’re Romeo and Romeo, get over it.” This touching statement comes from the 90-year-old great-grandmother of Shane Bitney Crone in an interview filmed for the documentary Bridegroom. The documentary reveals the beautiful relationship between partners Shane Bitney Crone and Thomas Lee Bridegroom and the homophobia that surrounded the aftermath of Bridegroom’s untimely death. One brilliant thing about the documentary is that unlike Matt Shephard is a Friend of Mine’, it is not overtly political but rather uses the audience’s emotions in an attempt to make them feel outraged at the homophobia experienced by Thomas at the hands of his parents and ultimately the lack of rights Shane poses being in a same-sex relationship after Tom’ death.

In touching interviews with Tom’s friend Alexis, who he had been taking pictures of on the roof of her apartment complex at the time of his death, and Shane, we learn that Shane was not allowed to be in the hospital room with his dying partner because he was not family. Alexis tells the interviewer that she and another friend of the couples pleaded with the nurse to allow Shane to see Tom, with the nurse eventually giving in. This particular moment in the documentary stands out due to its legislative undertones and the undermining of Shane and Tom’s six-year relationship with one refusal. Throughout the documentary, we see Shane and Tom live as a couple very much in love, no different from a straight married couple. They live together, own a pet and run a business together. A family friend suggests that ‘they were living the American Dream without the marriage.’ And it’s the absence of marriage that forbids Shane from seeing Tom in that hospital. It’s an emotional moment as we see Shane fight back tears and the struggles of being in a same-sex relationship come to the fore.

After Tom’s death, his mother takes complete control of the funeral arrangements initially telling Shane that she will keep him posted until Shane then receives a phone call a couple of days later from one of Tom’s aunts to tell him that he is not welcome at Tom’s funeral and that for his own safety, he should not attend. As he and Tom were not married, Shane finds himself with no right to any information about Tom’s funeral.

Since the documentary’s release, Shane became one of the first LGBT activist campaigning for same-sex marriage in the United States.

Matt Shephard is a Friend of Mine is a documentary that coveys the realities of living as a homosexual man and the dangers that come with it. Matt Shephard was a 21-year-old college student studying at the college of Laramie in Wyoming, who was tied to a fence, beaten, tortured and left to die in a vicious hate crime carried out by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. The documentary pays homage to Shephard’s life with interviews from family, friends and teachers all who characterised Matt as a friendly, kind and compassionate man, the anti-gay sentiment of his murder and the political aftermath of his death.

The director of the documentary, a close friend of Matt’s reveals her intentions for the film in an interview with Advocate stating “I made a promise to myself that when I was emotionally and artistically ready, I would share, with the world, who Matt really was.” And the documentary does just that. Progressing chronologically the film traces Matt’s life using the accounts from people who were closest to him to portray his character to the audience. The film, as its title foreshadows, allows the audience to feel as though they were Matt’s friend too. Just as Kristen Johnston said, at a celebrity vigil for Matthew, ‘I somehow feel like I would have loved him, does anyone else feel that way?’

Aaron McKinney’s girlfriend claimed when questioned that Matt’s murder was fuelled by McKinney’s homophobia and further details emerged that the attack was apparently triggered by Matt making a pass at McKinney. On the day of Matt’s funeral, Matt’s father pleads to the press and others to allow them to mourn the death of their son in peace. However, members of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church felt it appropriate to protest across the street shouting anti-gay slogans. Matt’s death became a pillar for discussion of the tolerance of homosexuality and the violence and threat of violence that they are subjected to on a daily basis. As Josue said in that interview, ’There were hate crimes before Matthew Shepard and after, but for various reasons, his death was the one that captured the world’s attention and brought antigay violence into the national conversation.’

And she is right, Matt’s death is merely a drop in the pond of so many other members of the LGBT who have been murdered because of who they were and because they didn’t fit into the status quo.

Just like Shane Bitney Crone, Matt’s mother Judy became an LGBT activist fighting for the government to pass hate crime legislation making all hate crimes a punishable offence. In the documentary, we see her stand proudly as President Obama signed the measure into law on October 28, 2009.

Both of these touching documentaries show the reality of members of the LGBT community, and although this article focuses on the lives and struggles of homosexual men, people of colour who identify as part of the community, transgender men and women, lesbian, and bisexual people all experience struggles both unique to them and resonant with an entire community. ‘The devastating reality is that even now, 16 years after Matt’s death, many in the LGBT community in the U.S. and around the world, particularly the trans community, still face the threat of violence because of who they are. As a society, it’s crucial that we continue to share stories like Matt’s and do all that we can to prevent similar stories from occurring.’ (Josue, Interview with The Advocate). In a society where the LGBT community is gaining well-deserved acceptance, lest not forget the trials and tribulations that they experience that are often left out of your Buzzfeed articles.

Words: Leanne Scott

References

Bloodworth-Thomason, Linda. Dir. Bridegroom. 2013.

Josue, Michele. Dir. Matt Shephard is a Friend of Mine. 2013.

http://www.afterellen.com/lifestyle/475243-no-straight-people-cant-queer

http://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/film/2015/02/06/director-reveals-intimate-portrait-icon-her-friend-matt-shepard

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbSSxEn0RYY (Why Can’t I Identify as Gay – Trisha Paytas)

Further Reading

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/health/19well.html (Article about same sex couple being denied the right to see their partners in hospital.)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/it-could-happen-to-you-gay-man-boyfriend-death_n_1499673.html (A video by Shane Bitney Cone regarding lack of rights afforded to same-sex couples)

http://www.advocate.com/print-issue/current-issue/2013/09/13/have-we-got-matthew-shepard-all-wrong?page=0,0 (An alternative view on Matt Shephard’s murder, suggesting it was not in fact a hate crime.)

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