Years ago my favourite gay-themed film was a little number called Edge of Seventeen. It was released the year I turned 18 and it had a huge impact on my life. Its on-screen coming-out story (what I would now call cookie-cutter, gay coming-out film fare) shared similarities with my real-life story.
At least that’s what I thought at the time. Back then there were precious few films that even came close to mirroring my life. Gay people rarely appeared in the media, and Ellen had only just come out.
And so it used to be that if a young homo wanted to see himself represented on the big screen, he needed to sneak away to a gay film festival like Toronto’s Inside Out. Gay films spoke mainly to three issues — coming out, HIV/AIDS and parents dealing with kids coming out.
These days there are myriad gay themes in film, and in real life you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a gay person. And gay issues have been percolating to the surface in some of the strangest, most emboldening ways. Western politicians now openly and excitably call on developing world leaders to decriminalize homosexuality; the president of the United States supports gay marriage; and Mitt Romney — the US presidential candidate for the party whose supporters (and members) wrote the guidebook on homophobic bullying — was recently forced to apologize to a gay high school classmate he once picked on.
Attitudes, too, are changing. Angus Reid recently found that 81 percent of Canadians under age 30 support same-sex marriage. That number is 48 percent in the US.
On the surface it may even appear to some as if we’re hogging the spotlight. Up here in Canada, rightwing commentator and Rob Ford lap-dog David Menzies recently accused Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke of wrapping himself in the rainbow flag for PR purposes. That’s right: a straight hockey magnate using gay issues to get attention — positive attention.
While I don’t believe for a second that Burke’s You Can Play campaign is anything but a very touching tribute to his dead gay son — and a genuine attempt to make sports more inclusive — the fact a commentator can posit that it might be speaks volumes. It used to be the only public figure who proudly wrapped herself in a pride flag was Cyndi Lauper.
Yet as our gay star rises — and the most remarkable people are accused of hitching their wagons to it — we still don’t have to look far to see those who continue to reveal their true homophobic colours.
Gays and lesbians may have gained some rights and visibility in many parts of the Western world, but our counterparts in the developing world are increasingly seeing them taken away.
There are also worrying signs in our own country of a similar trend.
It used to be the only leaders in the Americas who proudly supported gay rights were found in Canada. Not so anymore. President Obama may openly support same-sex marriage, but Canada’s current leader and the mayor of our largest city do not.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s provincial legislature has been entertaining the views of dozens of bigots who claim instituting gay support groups in publicly funded schools is tantamount to slavery. These people have the ears of the opposition Progressive Conservatives and many like them recently sent their children to march on Parliament Hill to protest a woman’s right to choose.
So yes, as the 22nd Inside Out LGBT Film Festival opens, some of the plots and storylines are all too familiar to those who have been tuning in for many years. Yet like life, there will also be some surprises along the way.
Some of us may still buy a ticket because we enjoy watching our gay life played out on screen; others will attend hoping Grindr finds them a hot someone a few rows over. Still others realize buying a ticket for Inside Out is one small way to advance gay film and gay rights — here in Canada and in places around the world where seeing a gay movie may give lost closeted gay teenagers that small glimmer of hope that there are people out there just like them.
Most of us remember how important that first glimmer was.