Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oil City Urged To Adopt Human Rights Policy

Community also asked to embrace ‘Out in the Silence’ film

By Judith O. Etzel for The Derrick:

Oil City Council has been asked to embrace a film that explores tolerance in small American communities, specifically Oil City and Franklin, and recognize it as a major marketing tool for the community.

At the same time, local resident George Cooley urged the city to adopt a formal human rights policy and create a city events office to promote the arts and community activities.

Cooley, a West Second Street resident who operates an Internet business in his home and is an active member of the Oil City Arts Council, took the city to task for ignoring what he believes is a great opportunity to promote itself via the film “Out in the Silence.”

The award-winning 2009 “Out in the Silence” documentary tells the story of a gay high school student and explores small-town reaction to same-sex marriage. The film’s director is Joe Wilson, an Oil City native whose 2004 marriage to his partner, Dean Hamer, was announced in The Derrick. The announcement stirred controversy in the community and eventually led to the film that tells the story of a gay Franklin student who came out to his classmates and faced discrimination.

The film, supported by the Sundance Institute, the Pennsylvania Public Television Network and Penn State Pubic Broadcasting, also explores various aspects of the Oil City and Franklin area as the Wilson tries to connect with church and community leaders who are strongly opposed to homosexuality and finds others who are supportive.

Last month, the American Library Association reviewed “Out in the Silence” and recommended it for all viewers, noting “it deserves a place in all library collections, particularly those libraries serving small and rural communities.”

Noteworthy ‘art’

The film, said Cooley, “may be the most successful art project to ever come from Oil City ... (and) is a great public relations tool for Oil City” as it lobbies to bill itself as a community trumpeting its arts revitalization successes.

“Positive energy developed by this movie for our town is priceless, and much larger communities would pay a great deal for what we are getting for free,” Cooley told council. “Unfortunately, Oil City seems to have all but ignored this great opportunity.”

In describing Wilson and his film as supporting a movement “for fairness, equality and human rights,” Cooley said the arts council intends to recognize Wilson for his art and invite him to show the film in Oil City. There have been two recent showings — one private and one public — in the city.

In urging city council to “grab ahold of this opportunity,” Cooley suggested the city should honor Wilson in a “key to the city kind of recognition.”

Wilson’s message on the need to safeguard human rights should also be incorporated into Oil City’s organizational framework, said Cooley. He recommended council adopt a “statement of fairness, equality and human rights for all people” and create an ordinance to that effect.

Finally, Oil City should create an events office that would coordinate community activities. The new department should include a film office to coincide with the “Out in the Silence” film fame as well as the region’s Digital Film Festival and other local video projects. Initially, the events coordinator could be the city manager, said Cooley.

Mayor Sonja Hawkins told Cooley she and other city and school district representatives met with Wilson prior to a film showing here. Noting they had “a great conversation,” Hawkins suggested council should talk further about Cooley’s proposal.

Hiring an events coordinator would be fantastic, said council member Lee Mehlburger.

That was tempered by caution offered by council member John Bartlett.

“We share some of your desires,” Bartlett said to Cooley. “But, we face the reality of how to pay for it.”


Three gay Guesses said...

Does Oil City have that kind of courage? Or is this talk about art and civil right just a well-edited movie along wit some great PR spin by consultants hired by the city?

Ideas about homosexuality aside, people are more worried about the incredible loss of jobs and mortgages. They ponder Marcellus Shale as a possible boom, or is it another Gulf oil disaster?

Is this award for Joe for promoting the arts? Thus this makes Oil City look like a great place to live, with a fair-minded community? This in turn will draw business and smart people to the area.

Okay, I'm in favor of giving Joe the keys to the city, for that PR sake.

I'm in favor of passing a proclamation in favor or civil rights and art for PR sake, to encourage bright people to move here and invest here.

I'm in favor of an events manager who will be sure that these events get the proper internet attention, and finds ways to actually get people to show up.

Back home, I see everyone salivating, thinking well gee, why aren't we riding Joe's coat tails?

The lack of support for the film, that's not the real loss here in Oil City. It's just part of it.

The reason people fear exploiting his film is the reason posters have been torn down for events, harassment has happened towards anything gay, censorship has occurred to appease those who hate homosexuals, and a general dread of anything unusual beyond a fourth grade level has permeated the arts program.

That's your real loss here. You appease these people, to the point of watching your entire town physically go to ruin.

New ideas require courage.

Look at Seneca Street. This is where your old ideas have taken you. No it wasn't the Mexicans who made Seneca Street a mess. No it wasn't the homosexuals.

The town traded science and art for the safety of fear-based fundamentalist religion, fear based right wing extremist politicans lavishly mixed with a myriad of local bars.

And yes, there are lots of gays, lesbians and trans people here. They stay secluded. They lie about their lives. They hang out on chat rooms, and stay discrete.

Even the most brave of them know that the endless heterosexism of this town wears you down in a very short time.

Maybe when we will start valuing the ideas of ALL our smart people to start figuring out ways of this mess, including Mexicans, lesbians and gasp, artists, then we can truly honor Joe's film without it just being PR exploitation!

So what I'm saying is this. I have five abandoned house within a block of my house. I talk to my neighbors and listen to their stories. They aren't talking about Joe's film.

They talk about the lack of jobs, the fear of losing their mortgage, and losing their cars.

These are not mean people. They are scared people, but mean people know how to exploit scared people.

So when I see money coming if for art and civil rights projects I can see the advantage of long-term goals, of calling out for bright minds to return here.

But for DAMN sure when they get here they need to start being treated a tad better than the ones already arrived. Otherwise, I'm against further funding of the arts program.

You have incredibly talented artists being ignored in favor of the most banal ideas, because the banal ideas are safe and won't entice any conversation. Thus no one shows up.

You have a vast array of war memorials in town. So what did we get this week. Another one!

Does anyone have any new ideas around here? And if so, how long before they are squashed to keep things safe?

How do you change the hearts and minds of a community living in economic fear, and reactionary religious and political dogma?

What role do sexual and gender issues have to play in this paradigm shift of our economy and culture?

What role does city government play in breaking through some of these barriers?

What role the artist?

Joe needs to bring his cameras back, in my humble opinion.

Three Gay Guesses said...

I was truncated in my ideas due to lack of keystroke allowance....

At some point gays, lesbians and trans people in this county MUST come out of the closet and express themselves freely, SOBERLY, and with pride.

Because we can have straight allies like George speaking up, (and thank you for doing that George,) but it has more impact when it comes directly from our community.

And for the artists and scientists the same.

Speak up, soberly, courageously and defend the talents and skills you have developed. Or else this cesspole of superstition and slander will continue around here.

And for the political and social leaders the same.

You want new minds and new talents to come here and invest. You want sober, rational and creative people around here with energetic talents?

You have a street full of dilapidated business buildings, you have nine bars and a liquor store, and you have war memorials.

Isn't there more to life?

Then start opening your minds to interested scientists and artists and people with new technologies.

I want to bring up the street fair as an example, then I will finish. You have these fairs. No one shows up. Then you have more, thinking that more will make more people show up.

Very little is done in the way of advertising on the net. And what you present on the street isn't very interesting. It's safe, banal, typical stuff that people have seen a million times.

Add to that, that Oil City has a reputation for being run down and a little dangerous, and you're really working a tough crowd.

So why are people going to show up?

Yet, when a trans artist with a following, or a gay artist with a following, or a lesbian with a plan shows up, then you bash that person. You not only do not show up, but you do everything you can to get other people not to show up.

A street fair is just a stage. What you place on the stage determines who shows up.

You place banal junk, who wants to see that?

You place art that discusses the culture of the moment with talented artists and scientists presenting their ideas, then you're getting somewhere.

Of course that means allowing people to speak that you vehemently disagree with.

Oil City has some growing up to do with that one.

Okay, end of rant.

Cograts Joe on winning the Lincoln Center award.

Come back and do the sequel.

Anonymous said...

Three gay Guesses,
I live in a neighboring community and just saw Joe's film on PBS tonight. I found this board from a link from Amazon while purchasing a copy of the film. I was profoundly moved by the film - as I was by your comments. I was not aware of all of the controversy surrounding this making of this film and the other events depicted, being caught up in my day to day life. You are a very impressive individual. Stay hopeful and focused on your goals. There is more support out here than you can imagine. Talking is the first step. It will take some time, but better days are ahead of us because of people like you.

Jim said...

This proposal, as written in this statement, does not include a word about gays, lesbians, and transgendered people

If this resolution to the city does not include a statement about supporting the civil rights of gays, lesbians and transgendered people, and worse, specifically excludes such language to better market the PR of this film, then we should not support such a measure.

If this is an attempt to market the city arts program without discussing freedom of expression and civil rights for homosexuals and transgendered people, then we need to oppose this recommeddation.

It wouldn't be the first time the arts programs supported and condoned the hateful behavior of reactionary bigots in favor of good public relations. So we need to be sure the proposal isn't appeasing this element and is being totally open and proud of the LGBT community and our contributions to the town.

Without discussions of LGBT issues, and issues of freedom of expression for all people in this recommendation to the city, it's just more shame-based and exploitive politics.

That would be rather odd to honor a film titled "Out in the Silence," by remaininng silent about homosexuality and transgendered issues in favor of good PR.

But who knows. I have yet to see a copy of George's proposal in full. I have asked for one and when I get it I will post it on the Venango County Lesbian, Gay and Transgendered Alliance on Facebook.

An actual copy of George's proposal on here and other sites would be a good way for the LGBT community to read what's being proposed and then we can discuss it.

An actual discusson within the LGBT community about such a proposal would be a good first step to actually having an LGBT community here.

Is there a LGBT group formed that has written this proposal, or is this all just the idea of one person, with the backing of people hoping to make money from your film?

To my knowledge there is no such group, but if there is please bring the discussion to the Venango County Lesbian and Gay Alliance Facebook page. (All comments will be allowed. Nothing will be censored.)

If no discussion about this occurs within the LGBT community here, and this is all being done for good marketing, what's the point?

When the marketing works, and more people move here, they're just going to find the same old reactionary politics and the same old appeasement in the name of " traditional family values" and good PR.

A real civil rights discussion that includes sexual and gender issues might just make a difference. It would send the message that smart and talented people from all walks of life are welcomed and supported here, and that in turn is good for business.

But you have to come out of the silence and actually speak of lesbians, gays and transgendered people to do that.

It seems odd to have to say this, but I've seen how people play with these issues around here and avoid this discussion, all in the name of good public relations.

The end result has been a total failure. You end up with no business and really bad public relations within the arts and LGBT community.

Come out of the silence people. Talk about this as a community.

Venango County Lesbian, Gay, Transgendered Alliance Facebook page...!/group.php?gid=369861257978&ref=ts