Pride Month: Love speaks its name, in ‘Love Wins’
A short film by Robin Kampf
Saturday, June 15, 3 p.m.
Followed by a Q&A with interview subjects, LGBTQ+ activists Jan Moore and Emily Sonnessa.
Gallery exhibit, “Pioneering Voices: Portraits of Transgender People,” a photojournalism exhibit, will be available to film audience. Part of UUCM’s Out Front Alliance Pride Month activities.
Q&A will be moderated by Moore and Sonnessa’s son, Scott E. Moore, a UUCM member.
Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, 67 Church St.
By GWEN OREL
What keeps a couple together for 50 years?
According to Jan Moore, 82, it’s a sense of humor. Really liking your spouse.
And agreeing with your partner on hiding.
Moore’s spouse is a woman. In Rutherford 50 years ago, Moore and her wife, Emily Sonnessa, now 89, hid their true relationship from the world, and even from their children.
Though they had a civil union in 2007, they were only able to marry in 2013. That wedding so inspired filmmaker Robin Kampf that she convinced the couple to participate in the documentary “Love Wins.”
“At their wedding, when I saw them walking down the aisle, I was so overcome with emotion, everyone was,” Kampf said. “I said, ‘Please, for the love of God, can I tell your story as a filmmaker.”
Kampf knew the couple through their work in the human rights/gay rights movement in New Jersey. Kampf’s wife, Luanne Peterpaul, was co-chair of Garden State Equality.
The 27-minute film will screen in Montclair on Saturday, June 15, at 3 p.m., as part of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair’s celebration of Pride Month. Moore and Sonnessa will be there for a Q&A.
“Love Wins” received a special prize in the 2017 Garden State Festival, and aired on PBS as winner of the All About Women & Girls Film Festival.
At first the couple resisted Kampf, saying “What do you want with a bunch of old ladies?” Kampf told them the film would be important for future generations to understand their struggle.
Moore and Sonnessa were worried about exposing their three children (from Moore’s previous marriage to a doctor).
Finally, they said that if the family said yes, they would say OK.
The family said yes.
“Love Wins” uses archival photographs and interviews with the couple and relatives to tell their story. Moore and Sonnessa fell in love in 1969, when Moore was already married.
“She said I chased her, but I really liked her as a person,” Moore says in the film.
“You can chase a nice person,” Sonnessa replies.
Moore’s husband, Donald, never really came to terms with his wife’s leaving him for a woman, said his son Scott E. Moore. “I think he was devastated. I barely saw him in my
childhood. … I think all of it was too much for him.”
Each woman knew she was different, but not always what it meant, when they were growing up.
In the film, Moore recalls that her mother gave her the classic lesbian novel, Radclyffe Hall’s “Well of Loneliness.” She didn’t understand it.
Later, she continues, “It finally dawned on my dumb head that my mother knew, and I didn’t.”
When she and Sonnessa lived together, they had to be careful. Sonessa recalls, in the movie, wishing she could dance with her partner at a wedding.
Kampf found their story reflected in her own. “I remember going to company Christmas parties with guys, while my partner [Luanne] was at home. How ridiculous is that. I’m so angry at myself for doing that,” she said.
“Emily was a very strict parent,” said Moore. “Everything was the children. We weren’t allowed to have a life.”
“We were not openly gay,” said Sonnessa. “We did not even have friends over that were gay.” What gay friends the couple did have, they knew from gay clubs in the city. “Nobody ever saw us that came from the same town we did. If they did, that was tough. They also didn’t want to be seen. I’m sure people had their thinking of what we were, living near us, but we didn’t show any affection in public.”
But their house was very open and warm. The children brought all their friends home.
Scott agrees. “In many ways our family was more functional than most of the straight families I knew,” he said. “We were dysfunctional in normal ways.”
“Emily used to say, ‘Does anybody have their own home? How come they always come here?’” Moore said, laughing. “We lived the most closeted conservative life anybody could.”
They came out to their children just before Scott got married. When they came out to Scott and his fiancée, “We burst into spontaneous laughter,” Scott said.
He’d known since he was 7 years old, he said. After he finished laughing he hugged them.
But as a teenager, he resented the secrecy. “I didn’t push for them to open up, and I was mad at them for not opening up,” he said. “Nobody said the gay word or the lesbian word.”
Sonnessa recalled that Scott resented their lack of trust in him. “Who could think of trust at that point. We were just concerned with them getting bullied,” she said.
In 1997, not long after they came out to Scott, the couple moved to Ocean Grove, and became activists for gay rights.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
Kampf thought marriage equality was huge. “But we are taking steps backwards now,” she said. “There is so much damage being done. I get riled up when I talk about this.” For her this is an important time to tell this story.
Still, Kampf pointed out, New Jersey became the second state in the U.S. to mandate teaching LGBTQ history and curriculum in schools. California was first. “The film has become a teaching tool,” she said.
“It’s a whole new world out there,” Moore observed. “The movie gave us a platform to open up doors and speak openly to bias. We call it bridging the gap.
“We constantly ask young people, ‘What do you think?’ What do old gay people think of young gay people? What do old gay people think of transgenders?’”
Scott also finds that much has changed since he was a child. His own children have always taken their grandparents in stride. It’s especially important to show "Love Wins" in senior centers, because there is still a lot of stigma, he said. Many LGBT seniors are declined residence based on their sexual preference, and there is no legislation to protect them.
Moore and Sonnessa received the Robert Wood Johnson PROUD Award on June 12 for their advocacy for LGBTQ and for seniors.
Ultimately, the movie shows a love that has stood the test of time. “When you watch it in that way, it’s very apolitical,” Scott said. “That’s why it resonates with people.”
“It’s a love story,” said Kampf. “Everyone can relate to that.”