"Why would you end the movie like that?" the man scoffed. "Two gay men having a church wedding, in Florida? It's a fairytale. Never gonna happen."
The declaration caught us by surprise. This man's words were loaded with disbelief and derision.
We were super jazzed, standing in front of a large audience who'd just watched our LGBTQ romantic comedy, The Perfect Wedding. Up until this point, the energy around the feedback had been positive.
Our indie movie, a sweet little boy-meets-boy story, had just premiered at the prestigious mainstream Sarasota Film Festival in Florida. We were local filmmakers--we'd shot our SAG ultra-low-budget feature in town, and quite a few people at that screening had appeared in the scene we'd filmed at my mom and dad's open and affirming UCC church. It was the final moment of the film, where our hero joyfully married the man of his dreams in front of a large group of friends and family.
My co-writers/producers--my husband Ed, our son Jason--and I were doing a Q&A at the festival. We stood at the front of the theater along with other members of the cast, including Kristine Sutherland (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) who'd proudly and beautifully portrayed our handsome gay hero's loving and supportive mom.
Producer Ed Gaffney and star Kristine Sutherland at the Sarasota Film Festival for the premiere of The Perfect Wedding (from Wolfe Releasing)
Together, we were answering questions about the movie we'd written and filmed, and about our family-run LGBTQ production company.
Our mission statement has always been to create high quality, entertaining movies that are set in our world--where parents love, support, and celebrate their LGBTQ children, and where people are defined by far more than their sexual orientation.
The older gentleman who thought our film's perfect-wedding ending was a "fairytale" continued. "It's completely unbelievable. A gay church wedding in Florida," he repeated. Scorn dripped from his words--but it didn't quite hide what he was really feeling--his disappointment and frustration that it couldn't happen here. His pain.
I looked around at the faces in the crowd. Many of them were familiar--friends we'd made through joining and working with Equality Florida.
Back in early 2008, after Ed and I spent years in Massachusetts fighting for (and winning!) equal marriage with an amazing organization called MassEquality, we moved south to Florida, eager to get involved with that state's LGBTQ-rights organization. I still remember the very first Equality Florida meeting we attended. It was just a few months after we'd marched in Boston Pride with hundreds of fellow MassEquality members, as a roar of approval rose from thousands of supporters who were watching the parade.
In 2008, MassEquality held huge events in enormous ballrooms.
That same year, EQFL's fundraising party was in the living room of a volunteer's home, where we politely applauded the courageous group's strenuous efforts to get a nearby local county to support an anti-gay ordinance. It hadn't passed, but support was growing, so . . . maybe next time?
"We've time traveled to 1972," I whispered to Ed. Equal marriage was a reality in Massachusetts, but in many communities here in Florida, our son Jason could lose his job or apartment just for being himself. It was surreal.
But in just four years, by April of 2012 when The Perfect Wedding premiered, EQFL had grown into a large, vibrant, well-connected group--and was picking up more and more supporters every day.
Ed responded to the man's question with the same easy-going nature and grace that he'd used going door-to-door in working class neighborhoods in the Boston suburbs, in support of our son's civil right to marry. "When we wrote the script," he explained, "we imagined that the hero's entire family might travel to Boston for the wedding. But because our budget was tiny, and also because we found a welcoming church in Sarasota, we filmed the wedding here. We considered giving the scene a subtitle in post-production: Boston, one year later. For the sake of realism. But ultimately, we decided to set our movie not in the world we live in, but the world in which we want to live. So we kept their wedding in Florida."
The man was decidedly unimpressed. "Well, it made it completely unrealistic," he said, adding again, "It's never gonna happen."
"We disagree with you," I told him, took another question from the crowd, and the Q&A session moved on.
Less than two short years after that discussion, equal marriage came to Florida. And friends got married, some in small civil ceremonies, and some in huge church weddings. Life, joyfully imitating the art we'd created in our simple, sweet movie.
Ed, Jason and I are continuing to make movies set in that world in which we want to live. Our latest project is an LGBTQ indie thriller that we're Kickstarting from now through May 30th, called Russian Doll. In this noir-ish story, a lesbian police detective, still grieving two years after the death of her wife, takes on a challenging missing person case, begins unraveling a thirty-year-old mystery, and ends up squaring off with a killer who's hiding in plain sight. Just to complicate things, the detective's mother (Kristine Sutherland) believes it's time for her daughter to move forward with her personal life, and sets her up on a date with a beautiful young woman.
A lesbian police detective tracks a killer in Russian Doll, an LGBTQ movie filming in the Boston area in July 2015
Because in our world, even when our themes and major conflicts are dark and noir-ish, mothers always love their children and want them to be happy.
The good news is that our "fairytale" LGBTQ-welcoming world and the real world are looking more and more similar every day.
And for the record, despite the words I used above, equal marriage didn't just "come" to Florida. We dragged it here, not by saying it was never going to happen, but by getting together, by working together, and insisting that it would.
But it all starts by imagining that better world in which we want to live.
Filming the big church wedding scene in The Perfect Wedding (distributed by Wolfe Releasing), at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Sarasota, Florida.