Since launching our Voice to Voice conversation series in January, we've tackled lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender literature, Black History Month, bullying, Pride and more.
Today we bring you a chat between Hudson Taylor, of Athlete Ally, and filmmaker DMW Greer, moderated by Lia Parifax.
Hudson Taylor is a three-time All-American wrester, Assistant Wrestling Coach at Columbia University and founding Executive of Athlete Ally, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to ending homophobia and transphobia in sports. Athlete Ally provides social advocacy campaigns, on-campus trainings and practical tools including resources to locate and learn about allied athletes, coaches, teams, athletic clubs and sports-based advocacy projects around the country.
DMW Greer is a playwright, designer and filmmaker. "Burning Blue," a controversial play about a forbidden love affair set against the backdrop of the U.S. Navy, is drawn from Greer's life as a Naval Aviator. Written in 1992, the play debuted on the London Fringe in 1995 before transferring to The West End where the production won two Olivier Awards. Other critically acclaimed productions followed in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Tel Aviv, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. Greer directed and produced the film adaptation, which he wrote with University of Connecticut professor Helene Kvale. The film screened earlier this summer for a private audience, the proceeds of which benefited the non-profit organizations Athlete Ally and Freedom to Marry.
Lia M. Parifax is an attorney, activist, social entrepreneur and public relations strategist. While studying law in Washington DC, she co-founded the nonprofit Athlete Ally with partner Hudson Taylor. Lia practices Global Finance law at Alston & Bird LLP, in Manhattan.
Here Lia Parifax moderates a discussion between DMW Greer and Hudson Taylor about the long-anticipated film Burning Blue, to be released sometime this fall, adapted from Greer's critically acclaimed stage play by the same name.
Lia Parifax: Hudson, of all the themes in David's film -- honesty, courage, communication, redemption and platonic vs. romantic love -- which one do you find most compelling as it relates to the work you're doing with Athlete Ally?
Hudson Taylor: It would have to be the film's depiction of platonic love between persons of the same gender. The idea of platonic love within athletics remains largely closeted. Much of the homophobia I see in sports stems from a fear of being perceived to be less masculine or less feminine than desired. David's film helps to break down some of those fears by showing that platonic love between two people of the same sex is something not to be feared but cherished.
Lia Parifax: David, there were any number of organizations you could have aligned yourself with to celebrate this sneak preview of "Burning Blue." Why did you choose Athlete Ally?
DMW Greer: Certainly, before we were anything else... before we we're Aviators or Submariners or Surface Warfare Officers, my classmates and I were athletes. It's part of the military ethos so there was an immediate attraction to Athlete Ally because of that. But, really, it was about Hudson... who he is... his remarkable integrity and compassion and how, through leading by example, he's encouraging athletes of all stripes to tap into their better selves and become allies not only for the LGBT community but advocates for the fair treatment of all women. This isn't easy work for either side. Enter Hudson and Athlete Ally acting as facilitators helping to bridge the divide -- helping the heterosexual majority navigate this unfamiliar and often scary terrain.
Lia Parifax: Hudson, I read somewhere that "Burning Blue" is "a story about the complicated nature of friendship and love between men." How is that depicted in the film and how have you seen that played out in your own life?
Hudson Taylor: The film tells the story of two fighter pilots -- best friends -- whose friendship gets put to the test when one realizes he's fallen in love with another aviator. I have learned from my advocacy that the coming out process can sometimes be as difficult for the friends and family of those coming out as it is for the individual coming out. This can be especially true in athletics and the military when preconceptions about the LGBT community don't coincide with the perceptions of what an athlete or soldier is supposed to look and act like. The result is a complicated coming out process for everyone and "Burning Blue" does a terrific job of showing that process.
Lia Parifax: David, why did you choose to set this story within the U.S. Navy and do you think that critics might say the characters portrayed in the film are not realistically depicted?
DMW Greer: I set the story in the Navy because it's one of the most hyper-macho cultures on the planet and because that's where it happened. "Burning Blue" is a story drawn from my own experiences while flying for the Navy. My Grandfather and my father were test pilots. My step-father was an admiral and they were all Annapolis graduates. Three of my sisters married naval officers and one of my younger brothers was a naval aviator. So, I guess you could safely say I know a bit about that world. Also, the military depicted in many of the Hollywood films we've all seen doesn't really reflect the military I knew. At least, not in its entirety. So, I wanted to set the record straight, so to speak. It's obviously a very male-dominated culture but the media's interpretation tends to be hyperbolic and caricatured. It gives the impression that they're all super-human automatons. That impression does all of us a disservice because it falsely elevates and separates the soldier from the general populous and threatens the health of our democracy. It's important to know how good our service members are at what they do but it's equally as important to look at their emotional life, i.e. how they feel about what they do and how they feel about one another. At the end of the day that's what motivates them -- the man or woman standing beside them. That's what motivates us all.
Lia Parifax: Hudson, talk to me about the relevance of a film like "Burning Blue" given that many young adults and teens are clearly pro-LGBT and "don't ask, don't tell" is now history.
Hudson Taylor: While DADT has been repealed and a majority of Americans now support marriage equality, there remains many stereotypes of and stigmas toward the LGBT community that need to be addressed. Many individuals young and old still feel as though they must remain in the closet. "Burning Blue" is both relevant and important because it helps to break down those stereotypes and empowers us all to reexamine how we treat one another.
Lia Parifax: David, who is your audience?
DMW Greer: Certainly the military and the gay community but I firmly believe it will appeal to everybody else also because it's a powerfully acted, often very funny story about courage and friendship and love and you can't get more mainstream than that. My hope is that anybody who has sought to suppress the rights of the LGBT community would see this film because I think it will move them and, with any luck, make them allies in this continuing struggle for understanding and acceptance.
For more information on "Burning Blue," visit the film's official website. For more information on Athlete Ally, click here.