Out of the Past

17-year old high school senior Kelli Masterson knew early on that she was a lesbian. Living in the state of Utah where such things are frowned upon (it’s okay to have more than one wife as long as they’re not doing each other), Kelli kept her mouth shut about her sexuality. She couldn’t turn to her parents or her siblings. She felt lost and alone.

outofthepastThen Kelli met other students at her high school who understood what she was going through. Kelli had finally found a voice in which to express what she was feeling and going through. Excited about the opportunity to openly discuss her new lifestyle with other teens her age, Kelli decided to start a “Gay Straight Alliance” at her school. Big mistake.

The media and political circus that followed was masterfully captured by documentary film maker Jeff Dupre, whose “Out of the Past” validates Kelli’s struggle by comparing it to various homosexual rights movements throughout history. Taking his cue from Ken Burns, Dupre uses photographs, journals, letters, film and celebrities to narrate these struggles of the past that helped shape our present.

It’s a fascinating cinematic device that helps put a face and voice to the people who helped make a difference for gay and lesbians. Stephen Spinella lends his voice to Michael Wigglesworth, a 16th century gay cleric who struggles with his own sexuality while condemning it in others. Wigglesworth turned to his personal journal for release, writing in code so no one would find out about his sexuality.

In Wigglesworth’s time, homosexuals were either banned from town or hanged as perverts. Yeah, and they burned “witches” back then too. It’s amazing what people will do in the name of religion.

By the turn-of-the-twentieth century things weren’t much better. Writer Sarah Orne Jewett (voice of Gwyneth Paltrow) and Annie Adams Fields (voice of Cherry Jones) discovered a form of tolerance in Boston. Since women were expected to keep their virginity until marriage, it wasn’t uncommon to see two women keep house together. No one thought twice about it, and the practice was labeled a “Boston Marriage.”

This allowed the two women to travel and live together, creating a thirty-year “marriage” that lasted until death. When the women’s letters are read aloud, it’s impossible not to feel love between these two women. How can something so strong, loving and so lasting be wrong?

Edward Norton lends his voice to early 20th century Gay activist Henry Gerber, whose attempts at securing rights for homosexuals was met with intolerance and hate. When Gerber began printing a pro-homosexual newsletter, he and his associates were thrown in jail for three days without charges ever being filed. Gerber, a postal worker, was fired from his government job because he was deemed unfit for government work.

Perhaps the documentary’s best calling card is the treatment that civil right’s activist Bayard Rustin (voice of Leland Gantt) received from Martin Luther King and others in the King camp. Rustin was the man who orchestrated King’s march on Washington, and even shared the same stage with King during the infamous “I Have a Dream” speech.

When it was learned that Rustin was homosexual, he was asked to leave the crusade. Some scum bucket in Washington wanted King stopped, and was willing to suggest that King and Rustin were lovers. There was no truth to the rumor, but it was enough for King to accept Rustin’s resignation. Talk about getting it from both sides.

“Out of the Past” frames these injustices with the present day plight of Kelli Peterson, whose request for a Gay/Straight club at her high school divided the state of Utah. When the club was approved, parents and students immediately began to protest. In no time the school district was holding secret meetings trying to come up with a solution to the problem.

Their decision? Instead of allow one club they didn’t like, the district had to cancel all school clubs. Goodbye chess club. Goodbye drama club. Goodbye Bible study. Much to the amusement of the rest of the nation, these people chose to ruin it for everyone instead of tolerating a few. I’m sure that’s in the bible somewhere.

The message behind “Out of the Past” is that with time comes tolerance. In all battles emerge heroes who go beyond the call of duty. “Out of the Past” honors six of those heroes in the continuing struggle for gay and lesbian rights.

“Out of the Past” is smartly edited and directed, and actress Linda Hunt narrates the film with conviction. I especially appreciated Dupre’s ability to usher us through a quick history lesson and still educate us. You may not agree with the agenda of “Out of the Past,” but you can not deny the documentary’s power to make you think.



A documentary produced and directed by Jeff Dupre. 65 Minutes. Not Rated.


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