Several years ago we fell in love and got married. Like many couples, we decided to share the news with our communities by publishing our wedding announcement in our hometown newspapers.
Dean's announcement in The New York Times elicited congratulatory notes and wishes for a happy life together. But the reaction to the publication of the announcement in The Derrick, the paper in Joe's small hometown of Oil City, Pa., was a torrent of anti-gay hate mail. One letter-to-the-editor referred to it as "a homosexual perversion announcement." Another said, "It would have been better if you had never been born."
We soon learned that the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Family Association, the controversial anti-gay organization based in Tupelo, Miss., was behind the outcry. Its President, Diane Gramley, had issued an "action alert" asking readers to write to the paper in protest.
While the year-long brouhaha caused a disturbingly ugly rift in the community, it also prompted many good people to begin speaking out against such brazen bigotry, and to organize for change. The whole story is told in our Emmy-Award-winning PBS documentary Out in the Silence, which is now the centerpiece of a grassroots campaign to raise lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) visibility in small towns and rural communities and bring people together to find common ground in the quest for fairness and equality for all.
At the invitation of a coalition of courageous local organizers, we're taking the film and campaign to Tupelo for a day of exciting events to help build support for efforts to counter the divisiveness of "hate groups" like the American Family Association, and to make our communities more just and inclusive for LGBT and all people who call them home.
The events, which will take place at Tupelo's premier cultural arts venue, the Link Centre, on Monday, Oct. 10, will begin with an 11:00 a.m. press conference, where a highly anticipated new Southern Poverty Law Center "Intelligence Report," titled "The Propagandists: Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association, and the Demonization of LGBT People," will be unveiled. Fischer, the AFA's most prominent spokesperson, has blamed gay men for the Holocaust and called for the re-criminalization of homosexuality.
The public events start at 12:00 noon with a colorful rally outside the Link Centre, where participants will demonstrate a more charitable commitment to the struggle for inclusion, fairness and equality for all and call out to others to take a stand in their community.
At 2:00 and 7:00 p.m., in the Link Centre Concert Hall, there will be Free Public Screenings of Out in the Silence, followed by town-hall-style public forums aimed at engaging the audience in an action-oriented dialogue about justice and equality for all. We'll be on-hand to help lead the discussion and explore ideas for promoting positive change.
Alongside these events, there will be a networking fair in the Link Centre's Reception Hall, where participants can visit with representatives of local groups and organizations to learn about their work and how to get more involved.
Groups like the American Family Association will continue to instill prejudice and fear in communities by pumping out "thoroughly discredited falsehoods and demonizing propaganda about homosexuality and other sexual minorities," as described in a recent SPLC report on anti-gay hate groups, only as long as we stay silent.
With these events, we need to make a strong show of support for the courageous folks in Tupelo who are beginning to speak out and work to create a world where hate is unwelcome and all people are treated with dignity, respect and equality under the law.