03/16/2011 04:42 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Letter to Durango

Dispatch from the Culture War Front: Durango, Co.

As filmmaker-activists who have spent the last two years criss-crossing the heartland of America to promote fairness and equality with our documentary Out in the Silence, we spend a lot of time listening to stories of how difficult and dangerous it can be to live as openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in small towns and rural communities outside the major urban enclaves. Only rarely, however, have we ourselves felt threatened or intimidated.

A recent incident in Durango, Co., which Joe was visiting for a screening event, revealed how thin the veneer of civility for LGBT people really is. The following is an open letter to the people of Durango, written in hope of raising awareness of the work that still needs to be done to make it a truly inclusive community.


During a recent visit to Durango, CO for a screening of my film, Out in the Silence, in the Durango Independent Film Festival, I was verbally assaulted and physically threatened in an anti-gay tirade by two prominent local businessmen while having dinner in a downtown restaurant.

I became the target of their anger and threats after I approached the them and their female companions to say that I, as a gay man, was disturbed by their loud and mocking references to "queers" in a public setting, and hoped that they would think about the consequences that such offensive behavior has on a community and its most vulnerable members.

I decided to say something because, as the co-director of a documentary about equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, I regularly urge audiences at screenings to speak up and take constructive action when confronted with intolerance.

How could I not practice what I preach when in such a situation myself?

While the bullies and their companions eventually moved on, I was too shaken by the episode to venture out for the film festival-sponsored "gallery walk under the stars" that evening. Rather than risk more trouble, I hunkered down for the night in my hotel.

The next day, film festival personnel and many other community residents expressed embarrassment about the incident and promised to take their concerns to the businessmen. But I couldn't help but wonder what it must be like to be a victim of such, or worse, abuse and not have anywhere to turn for safety or compassion.

What about the student tortured at school whose teachers turn a blind eye and whose own family would reject him if they found out he was gay? What about the adults who have spent decades alone and in hiding because their church pastors preach that the "homosexual lifestyle" is sinful and wrong? What about the basic rights of millions of LGBT people -- to education, employment, housing, marriage and family-formation to name just a few -- that have been lost or never enjoyed due to the pervasive bigotry and discrimination that goes unchallenged, day-in and day-out, in towns large and small across the nation?

To those who believe in the promise that all people are created equal and endowed with the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we have an obligation to ensure that such rights are realized.

If not us to work toward these goals, then who? And if not now, when?

It's time to speak out in the silence for fairness and equality for all!