We think we've come far in this era of a rapidly spreading marriage equality movement. Mark Jones' Tennessee Queer, newly out on DVD, serves as a wake-up call which reminds us how far we still have to go.
Jones and co-director Ryan Parker direct a simple sweet tale, which was written by Jones. Out and proud, Jason (Christian Walker) returns to his hometown of Smythe, Tennessee. Smythe is a place where time appears to have stood still. Jason decides to bring the local residents into the 21st century by organizing Smythe's first ever gay pride parade.
Little does Jason know that a right wing city councilman has joined forces with an anti-gay preacher. They plan to photograph all the parade participants and force them into gay conversion therapy, an evil plot which eventually blows up in their faces.
In the film's most moving sequence, two teen boys sit on the sidelines and watch the small but hearty band of Pride celebrants march through downtown Smythe. The boys give each other knowing glances, then they smile. Taking each others hands, they happily join the parade.
When he spoke to SFGN by phone from his home in Memphis, filmmaker Mark Jones said that the parade sequence moved audiences to tears at screenings of Tennessee Queer in the South.
Has Tennessee passed any LGBT equality laws?
Memphis and Nashville have ordinances protecting LGBT workers. There's no marriage, nothing at the state level.
Is Tennessee Queer an autobiographical story?
It's a work of fiction. It's not anything I've experienced. There was a lot of inspiration from local politicians in the City of Memphis, who have been jackasses in providing equality to LGBT people.
Are you a native Tennessean?
We lived in New York City while my partner was in school. It was cold! Other than that, it was nice to see so many gay bars and gay people as part of the city's nerve center. It was nice to be in a city where there are so many people like you. We have a nice parade in Memphis but the parade in New York was huge. You can't be a homophobic city council member in New York and get re-elected. You can here.
Is it difficult to be openly gay in Memphis?
We have a good community, a nice LGBT community center, but there's an "attack" vibe here. I think that cities like Memphis, and other cities and small towns across the south, are the next wave of LGBT activism. It's time we focused on the small towns in Tennessee and Alabama, etc. If you have 3-4 people in cities like New York commit to going back to the small towns for two years and help, you'd make things better for the kids here.
What is the message you want to convey with Tennessee Queer?
That one person can make a difference.
Tennessee Queer is now available on DVD.