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Countdown to Outfest 2010: The absorbing “Out In Silence” gives us a picture of small town bigotry and bravery

When watching the documentary Out In Silence the other day, I saw teenager C.J. Springer as someone I wish I had had the courage the be when I was in high school.

C.J. is gay and was content to pretty much keep that information to himself until one day in class, another kid was being relentlessly bullied by classmates. The teacher did nothing but C.J. stood up and defended the kid. When one of the bullies asked if he was gay, CJ “couldn’t deny who I was” and confirmed that he was gay. But why should it matter he wondered?

It did matter in the small town of Oil City, PA . where C.J.’s life at school instantly became “eight hours of pure hell.”

“I was no longer somebody that anybody liked,” CJ says in this absorbing documentary Out In Silence directed by Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson.

The abuse got so bad and school and district officials so unwilling to do anything that CJ’s mother was forced to have him enroll in cyber school and he rarely left the house because he could not go out without being hassled – likely by kids he had known and been friends with his entire life.

‘All of a sudden I was a sissy because of what I think looks hot,” CJ says.
Joe Wilson

CJ’s plight might not have ever become public if his mother, a heroic woman named Cathy Springer, had not reached out to former Oil Town resident Joe Wilson who had married Dean HamerĀ  (pictured above) in Washington DC and had a wedding notice published in the hometown newspaper.

Diane Gramley The wedding notice caused all kinds of outrage among the “Christians” in the town and of a horrid woman named Diane Gramley (pictured, left) who is head of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania.

Wilson and Hamer decided to return to Joe’s old town and document CJ’s story and along the way, chronicle a local lesbian couple’s attempts to renovate a run-down theater downtown which for some reason has incurred the wrath of Gramley and her followers.

The filmmakers do a good job of trying to present both sides of bigotry although Gramley never consents to a sit-down interview. By the end of the film, even her most stalwart followers would have to be able to see her for who she is – a miserable human being.

Local pastor Mark Micklos, who at Gramley’s urging had written a letter of protest to the newspaper when Wilson and Hamer’s wedding announcement was published, has grown by the end of the film and does not see the world so black and white. And neither do the filmmakers who have developed a genuine friendship with Micklos and his wife even if their differences are never fully resolved. one point, the Springers and the filmmakers pay a visit to Tim Dahle and his family who had fought a similar battle with their school district. It is during this segment that we see one of the most riveting moments of the film. Tim’s father, Ronald Dahle, emotionally admits that he once bullied gay people for sport. But his son being gay changed everything for him: “He’s my kid. I’m not going to turn my back on him. I won’t.”

But the real heroes and the people who I admire the most after watching this are CJ and Kathy (pictured, left). You can see that he is the outstanding young man that he is because he has this mother. She speaks and behaves in a very common sense way and she goes to bat for her son time and time again.

“Look,” she says of gay kids, “they weren’t put on this Earth to be tortured like this.”

The Springers, with the help of filmmakers and the ACLU, do bring change to their town and Kathy vows that she will continue to fight for the rights of LGBT people.

Out In Silence will screen at Outfest on Sunday, July 11 at noon at the Sunset 5. More information HERE.



(All comments are reviewed before being published, and I review submissions several times per day.)

3 Remarks

  1. Just wanted to say THANKS for such a thoughtful review!

  2. You’re so welcome Dean! Congratulations on such a fine film.
    – greg

  3. Evil, when rooted along religious fanaticism, is almost impossible to quench. Thank nature for the shortness of life, only remedy for that rot.

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