The Out List
The documentary, The Out List, debuted on HBO just after anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 2013. The director, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, is known for his documentaries including The Black List and The Latino List. The Out List has a premise quite similar to those films; he brings together a diverse population of Americans to discuss their experience as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer. But the initial draw of the film was its showcasing several out celebrities.
The documentary begins with Neil Patrick Harris talking about his early career, being gay, and yet still being cast as a straight character on How I Met Your Mother. He recalls that his experience in Rent allowed him to see the differing sides of acceptance and discrimination. “I thought oh wow you can kind of be who you are and let the chips kind of fall where they may. So I wasn’t really conscious of like oh my god if I come out I’ll never work again. I just wanted to make sure that I presented myself in a way that allowed me the most opportunity to work.” This statement could be the thesis of the film. Most of the participants discuss how they have recognized who they are but are not completely out to at least one person they know or how they are having to hide some part of themselves so they can be accepted even if they are out.
Janet Mock is a writer, an activist, and a transgender woman who talks about how her struggle is different because she is seen as lesser for being a transgender woman even in some gay communities. “We’ve had many many victories for our gay brothers and our lesbian sisters, but we can’t ignore the fact that transgender people are casualties in this fight. The Federal Government does not protect us from discrimination when we’re trying to apply for a job or keep our job.” She also has this impactful message for all young adults discovering themselves. “I overcame all of those things for a reason, to tell kids that you are beautiful and that nothing is unusual or strange about you because you’re gay or lesbian or transgender or gender queer or however you want to express yourself, that nothing is wrong with you.”
But others such as musician Jake Shears are more rueful about the issues facing the LGBTQ community and how the culture is becoming normalized. “…it makes me sad a little bit too. I mean I’m not going to lie. There’s something I love so much about…about being a homo and I feel like anybody that’s going to be wagging their finger at us is like fuck who cares, fuck off.” In this film Shears seems to be the only one who does not realize the intensity of discrimination LGBTQ people have faced and fought against. He feels like he can just flip off or curse someone who disagrees with his life. Even Larry Kramer who fought through the 1980’s AIDS epidemic is not as combative as Shears. He says, “I really truly felt that for some reason I had been spared to tell this story. Everybody I know is dead, all my friends. Well I shouldn’t say everyone, but almost. I’m still here…this is what I’m going to do to pay back.” This makes Shears feel less germane to the film’s message.
The beauty of this documentary is that it uses the voices of Americans with different backgrounds and attitudes about being queer to inspire a change in mindset. Each person in this film pushes for equality between the LGBTQ community and the straight community in his or her own way. The desire of all of the subjects in the film is rooted in having the same laws and protections as straight people and eliminating the feeling of being a lesser human being in the United States. Cynthia Nixon bookends the film perfectly saying, “Gay people are almost kind of the final frontier. This is what the gay rights movement is about, saying that I as a gay person am a part of We. It can’t be us and them anymore. We have to understand we are all Us.”