2019 MFF: Out, in his image
Directed by Daniel Karslake
Saturday, May 4, 6:45 p.m., Clairidge 1
Sunday, May 5, 6:45 p.m., Clairidge 2
468 Bloomfield Ave.
Q&A with director Daniel Karslake and subject Sarah McBride.
Included in the New Jersey Films Competition.
By GWEN OREL
Daniel Karslake was getting threatening emails through the website for his film “For the Bible Tells Me So.”
The 2007 film, that was short-listed for an Academy Award, focused on Christianity and what the Bible says about homosexuality, including interviews with parents, and an animated segment, “Is Homeosexuality a Choice?” with scientific theories about sexual orientation.
So it’s not perhaps too surprising that the director got some hate mail.
What was surprising is that Karslake was receiving these emails eight years after the movie premiered.
“I said to my husband, ‘what’s going on in the U.S. that is empowering people to threaten me? What’s going on in college campuses and high schools?’” Karslake recalled. The couple
had moved to Berlin in 2014.
What was going on, among other things, was the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. The Republican convention took place that week. Karslake watched it.
“I hadn’t heard mainstream politicians be so anti-gay for a number of years,” he said. “I began thinking, ‘Things seem to be changing.’ Marriage equality happened in 2015, but so many anti-gay bills were introduced at the state level. I thought I should make a second film that includes the transgender experience around religion.”
Exodus International, at one point a large, interdenominational nonprofit organization dedicated to conversion therapy, which uses techniques to attempt to reorient homosexuals, had closed in 2013. Its president, Alan Chambers, renounced conversion therapy and apologized for the hurt the program had caused.
But other operations had sprung up in its place.
“Things just kept getting darker for the LGBTQ community,” Karslake said.
He began working on the documentary “For They Know Not What They Do,” which he directed and produced.
The documentary, which was recently at the Tribeca Film Festival, looks at four individuals who came out as transgender or gay to their families.
Ryan Robertson’s Christian family encouraged him to go to conversion therapy. Sarah McBride is a transgender student who went on to work at the White House. Vico Báez Febo’s Catholic grandmother locked him out of her home in Puerto Rico when she found out he was gay, but his macho father welcomed him home to Orlando. And Montclair’s Elliot Porcher self-harmed before he transitioned, with his parents’ blessing. An ex-minister from Exodus International, Randy Thomas, now out as a gay man, is also in the film.
Karslake found the subjects through friends and friends of friends.
He found Sarah McBride through Bishop Gene Robinson, who’d performed a marriage ceremony for Sarah and a transgender man who was fatally ill.
One of the producers of the film found out about Febo because he happened to be in Orlando during the Pulse massacre.
“Religion is all over that massacre,” said Karslake. “All those kids at the club wouldn’t have been welcomed in their parents’ Catholic church later that Sunday morning.”
But the Pulse massacre is only part of Febo’s story.
The unconditional love from his father is something the world needed to hear, Karslake said.
And his grandmother’s growing acceptance of her grandson is another. The same woman who locked him out later watches “RuPaul’s Drag Race” with Vico.
Karslake reached out to all the former executives of Exodus, because he wanted to look at conversion therapy. He met Thomas on Facebook. “I found him really interesting, and a bit melancholy. It was very clear he had made a huge mistake in his life. He regretted it and spoke well about it.” Thomas is sincerely repentant now, but at the time, he was preaching conversion, all while being a gay man.
Karslake came out when he was a senior in college. His parents were extremely conservative, and it was hard for them, he said.
“But I also knew, with my own faith… I came out because of my faith. Most people don’t come out because of faith.
“My faith taught me that I am made in God’s image. To be anything other than who I am and who He created would be sacrilege.”
He worried that the gay community would hate “For the Bible Tells Me So” because it’s nice to Christians, he said. That did not happen. “It was nice to Christians, so they would listen. You can’t change minds until you touch hearts first.”
He’s heard from a conservative family who rejected and now embrace their gay son. And thousands of kids have used the movie to come out to their conservative religious parents, he said. Churches have also used the film for Bible study.
While people listen to their ministers rail against gays, they also might think, “I have a gay brother,” he said.
And while some emails have been threatening, more have embraced him, he said, “I can’t tell you how many thousands of emails I’ve gotten from conservatives who saw it on Netflix because it has the word Bible in the title.”