Out of the Past

Title: Out of the Past: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Rights in America
Director: Jeffrey Dupre
Studio: Allumination
Year: 1998
Available: Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

Out of the Past reviews the progress of gay rights. Throughout the movie short video clips of modern and discussion of older events are mixed together. In addition to giving a brief overview of the history of American queer human rights, the documentary describes the problems inherent in organizing a gay rights movement in a very homophobic society.

Just a few of the major historic events discussed in the video are listed below:

  • A very negative view of homosexuality can be seen in the personal writings of the Christian pastor and poet Michael Wigglesworth. People reviewing Wigglesworth’s personal journals found he wrote in a code, so nobody could easily determine he was writing about his feelings of attraction toward other men. His popular poem, “Day of Doom,” written in the 1600s, is about secret sins.
  • In the 1920s, Henry Gerber mailed the first American gay periodical. Gerber also formed the first American gay rights group. His gay human rights group disappeared after a number of members of the group were arrested. When he was released by the police, Gerber found he was suspended from his job. Later, he was informed he was dismissed from his job.
  • The gay rights movement was influenced by the Black civil rights movement. The movie shows a strong connection between gay people and the civil rights movement. The man who organized the march on Washington, DC, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech was a gay man, Bayard Rustin. Rustin's organizational talent was impressive. According to Wikipedia, between 200 and 300 thousand people are estimated to have participated in the march on Washington.
  • Kelli Peterson start a club, the Gay Straight Alliance, at her high school in Utah. Kelli says she started the club to “end the misery and isolation of being gay in high school.” The school group touched-off a storm of controversy, which included school board members and Utah State legislators. Death threats against Kelli Peterson did not stop the protests against the school board’s attempts to shut down the Gay Straight Alliance. Students walked out of school in protest, and political action protests were organized.

Most ethnic, religious, racial, and cultural groups teach children and young adults their history, their culture, and help their youth feel proud of their heritage. Generally, this enculturation starts with very young children. That rarely happens in the queer community, because gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-identified, and intersex children are usually born to straight parents, and are enculturated into straight society.

This documentary is valuable. The video can help enculturate queer youth, and ground them to the past. Every young gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified person should see the video. The video helps queer youth understand the price paid for the rights they enjoy every day. And this documentary helps queer youth understand that they are worthwhile people, and deserve to have the same rights everybody enjoys.

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