My mother calls me and says, “Meet me at the Gay and Lesbian Center this Tuesday night. They’re showing an anti-gay video called The Gay Agenda and we need to know what we’re up against.”
“I already know what I’m up against,” I say, “but sure.”
It’s 1993. My mother has become a fiery ally to every single member of the LGBT community. She has no idea what the T part of that acronym means just yet, but she supports it. She marches with PFLAG in the pride parade and carries the sign with the “P” on it. She plays matchmaker for me whenever she meets a visibly gay man in public. She yelled at Phil Gramm in the lobby of her Texas church. She has met Cher. She is, in fact, more into me being gay than I am.
“When will you get serious about finding a partner?” she likes to ask me. I think she just enjoys saying the word “partner.” I meet her at the center and I bring along my friend Karl.
The Gay Agenda is, weirdly, sort of lost to history. Reports are that it came from a small church in California, before being distributed by The Family Research Council, but it’s all unclear now. It’s a short film, no more than about 30 minutes long. But the creators packed a lot of histrionics into that half hour. Footage from San Francisco pride parades featuring The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence waving dildos around. Interviews with “medical experts” who detailed a sexual practice referred to as “mud rolling,” which apparently involved literally rolling in and eating one another’s shit. Gay men — lesbians were mostly ignored — were also drug addicts who had sex with approximately 1,000 people each.
And, in case you didn’t know, we were coming to force the country to endorse our every move. No matter that in 1993 gay rights ordinances in the U.S. were as common as unicorns, that the AIDS crisis still dominated much of gay public discourse, or that marriage equality was a far-off distant daydream: we had immense power and we were going to force Christians to submit to us and, presumably, we were also going to feed them our poop.
Karl and I snickered a lot during the video, occasionally laughing openly. This upset my mother almost as much as the content of the film itself. “How can you laugh about this?” she asked, afterward. “Those people are cruel and sick!”
“Because they’re stupid,” I said. “No reasonable person, even if they aren’t comfortable with gays, is going to listen to that nonsense. I can only be amused by them. If I take them seriously, they get more power.”
Now it’s 2015. The LGBT community is, overall, somewhat better off now. The barge has moved slowly, but it has moved. And while anti-gay religious people are still after us, their tactics have shifted a little. There are some on the extreme fringes who’ve taken their horror show to African countries, or who stay here and openly lobby for our execution. But in general, screaming about totally made-up sexual practices is no longer in vogue for the mainstream conservative Evangelical movement. Persecution narratives, however, are really hot right now. Enter the film Light Wins: How To Overcome the Criminalization of Christianity.
Light Wins is a documentary produced, written and directed by Janet L. Porter. Porter is an activist and head of Faith 2 Action, a coordinating group for a variety of conservative causes. Part of their mission statement: “F2A is pro-life, pro-family, and pro-active — to win the cultural war for life, liberty, and the family.” You can guess the rest.
I’m a film critic, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that, as a piece of filmmaking, Light Wins is a shoddy, inept mess. Text spills off the screen. Talking head interview subjects are shot against weird green screen imagery, or else on-the-fly against the sides of buildings. Lighting isn’t consistent. Camerawork is of the use-whatever-is-available-at-the-equipment-rental-shop-today-and-hope-it-all-looks-kinda-sorta-similar-in-the-end school.
But it’s the words that really matter here, and Light Wins wastes no time in shouting them at you for 100 unstructured, disorganized minutes. Porter has gathered a staggering number of people to spout conjecture, panic, fear, medical and psychological misinformation, illogic, half-truths, and blatant lies.
There are the usual media-savvy suspects: Phyllis Schlafly (crowing about how she helped crush the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s), Matt “gays are evil” Barber, “Porno” Pete LaBarbera, and Scott “crimes against humanity” Lively. They’re mixed in with the regular folks: a pair of grieving parents who lost their son to AIDS, and some ex-gay/ex-lesbian/ex-trans people who’ve been broken down by the church, and who see their sexual orientation and gender identity as inherently selfish, a form of Satanic temptation.
And there are the usual charges: homosexuality is a mental disorder; homosexuals are basically the same as pedophiles and are out to recruit your children into having sex at very young ages; transgender people are confused about themselves and stalking the public restrooms; conservative Christians will be jailed for anti-gay views or worse (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christian martyr of the Nazi Resistance is cited); pastors will be forced to perform same-sex weddings and hand over their sermons for government approval; the Founding Fathers were specifically and literally guided by the hand of God; the all-powerful gay political lobby is guilty of hateful bullying; and the Stonewall Riots were rooted in homosexuals wanting to preserve underage prostitution. There’s more, of course, but again, you’ve heard all this before. Well, okay, actually, I had never heard the whole Stonewall-was-about-sex-with-teenagers bullshit, but I’m not surprised they’re trying to sell it.
Most important thing about this film, one that opens with a dedication to Anita Bryant and Roy Moore? It features two current Republican presidential candidates: Mike Huckabee — seen here with all smiles and praise for people like Phil Robertson and companies like Chick Fil-A — and Rand Paul, who spends his moment of screen time talking about tax deductions for no apparent reason, suggesting that he has no idea what’s actually being discussed.
Light Wins will be difficult for anyone outside the conservative Evangelical church to see. It is available only for sale on DVD by mail-order, which means that if you don’t drop $25 or belong to a church that did, then you won’t know to hold Huckabee and Paul accountable for their participation in what amounts to a call to arms against fellow citizens of the United States.
Weirder? It breaks the rules of its own faith by “bearing false witness,” telling lies about LGBT people (you could make a drinking game out of all the times the word “predator” is spoken). It refers to the LGBT community as “the opposition” when their own book demands that they be known as “neighbor.” In short, it refuses to love the enemy. It refuses to be Christian.
If she were alive today, I like to think that my mother would ignore this film, that she’d be a little more chill about this sort of assault on her son’s character, that she wouldn’t take these folks so seriously anymore. But knowing her, she’d probably be freaking out all over again. Then she’d yell at me for laughing.