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Project aims to document 2,700 years of gay history

Documentary filmmaker seeking seed money for Out of History

Filmmaker Harry Sutherland envisions a seven-part documentary series and an online gay Wikipedia-type resource.

Credit: Harry Sutherland

Documentary filmmaker Harry Sutherland believes that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And while that particular aphorism may have originally been the rallying cry to remember the atrocities of the Second World War, it can be just as easily applied to the struggle for gay rights.

“It helps get us to that next level, where everybody around the world has the same basic human rights. By exploring how we got into this situation in the first place, it will hopefully prevent us from getting into it again,” Sutherland says of his ambitious Out of History project to document the struggle for gay rights over the past three millennia. 

Despite the gains made in recent decades, particularly in the West, Sutherland points to the recent resistance in other parts of the world that he believes is a dangerous slope.

“We can’t ignore what is happening in Russia and Uganda,” he says. “What Putin and Museveni are doing is giving a formula for other dictators around the world to copy. We have to show them that it isn’t going to work, and to do that we first need to understand where the struggle for our rights came from.”

Sutherland says he’s been thinking about this project since the mid-1970s, but it wasn’t until he learned of a particularly heinous incident from the 18th century that he realized how little we actually know about gay history.

“I came across a 1730 court report of 30 men who were killed in Amsterdam because they had engaged in homosexual activity,” he recalls. “I started doing more and more research and discovered there was this huge story that had never been put together.”

Sutherland wants the project to include up to seven documentary films and an online element that he envisions as a Wikipedia-type repository.

Working backward through history, the first film will tackle the period from 1869 to 1969, which, he says, will allow him to create a more dramatic piece since it includes the invention of photography and film development. “It also includes the first use of the word homosexuality to describe a community and will allow us to explore the gains and losses during that time,” he says.

Sutherland is currently crowd-funding seed money for his project. He says the time is right to uncover the events and people that have contributed to the creation of our present-day LGBT community and to ensure we don’t lose what we have fought so hard to achieve.