This was also the subject of the Trans, winner the juror award for Best Documentary Feature. The film is a straightforward exploration of the plight of transgendered individuals in our society. While homosexuality is becoming more commonly accepted, transexualism is still a very uncomfortable topic for people, largely due to the fact that its very nature denies labels – and if there is anything that makes Americans feel comfortable it’s neat, tidy labels to stick on people. As a result, there are incredibly high rates of violence and suicide amongst transgendered peoples – but there are also burgeoning places of support for those struggling with gender identity. Lecture series, support groups, and even transgender-friendly churches are emerging, helping to bring acceptance to this group of people.
And acceptance is coming, though sometimes progress can be infuriatingly slow. Take, for example, the documentary Unfit: Ward vs. Ward. The subject is a custody battle in Pensacola, Flordia, in 1995 between Mary Ward and her ex-husband John. The verdict should have been simple: John Ward was a convicted murderer who had spent eight years in prison for killing his first wife (over a custody dispute, incidentally). It should have been an open-and-shut case… but this is the south, and the judge – and the public – didn’t like that Mary was a lesbian. Despite the fact that there is zero reputable evidence that shows that gay people are less capable of raising a child than straight people, the court ruled that the child would be better off in her father’s care. It is this kind of gross injustice which makes it so essential for all people, straight or gay, to support equality, because it can affect everyone.
While most people do what they can to promote change through voting or attending demonstrations, some people are in the position to have a greater platform than others. Thus is the subject of the documentary Wish Me Away, which received a standing ovation from the sizable audience. Chely Wright is the first mainstream country musician to come out as gay – a potentially career-shattering move, considering so many fans of this particular genre tend towards the conservative ideals. After a lifetime of hiding and struggling with her true identity, Wright wrote a memoir outing herself and appeared on the Today Show to do so officially in the public eye. Since then she has worked heavily with LGBT activism, using her celebrity status to bring awareness to this important issue.
Ms. Wright was in attendance at the festival for a Q&A following the film, and there was a lot of love in the room for her and her work. Many people took the opportunity to express tearful thanks for her support and her example. Wright is especially concerned with teenagers who don’t know how to come out and fear rejection. She herself once had a gun in her mouth – she has been in the darkest of the dark and understands the struggle on that deep level. Wright says she always encourages those who are “safe and able” to come out. Though it will undoubtedly be hard, those who are openly gay have the potential to alter the mindset of those who were previously misunderstanding of these people. It contributes to progress – and, as Wright said, “Progress is hard to hold back, isn’t it?”