QDoc Saturday Film Review – On These Shoulders We Stand

Last night I took a friend who was visiting from New York to the airport.  We got in a great philosophical conversation about whether gay rights are the inevitable result of a free society.  At this point in history, it’s possible to view gay marriage and other advances as “just a matter of time”.  The truth is there are people who faced police brutality, unemployment, societal rejection, and death to make this conversation even possible.  There are people who still face these horrors, but that’s another film…

On These Shoulders We Stand puts us across the living room from a fabulous cross-section of the activists of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  There’s Ivy Bottini, founder and president of NOW New York.  She was sacked when the term “Lesbian Menace” was coined.

There’s Dale Reynolds, the Hollywood leading man who founded Gay Actors RAP to fight homophobia in the film industry.  Then there’s Reverend Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church who helped organize the first Pride Parade in L.A. a year after Stonewall.

There’s Mia Yamamoto, who was born in the internment camps and worked as a public defender to challenge a legal system that persecuted gays.  There’s Nancy Valverde who fought for the repeal of California’s “masquerading” ordinance after repeatedly being arrested for wearing mannish clothing… They are all amazing – you can check out the interviewees here.

The film is fast paced for a documentary, switching from one interviewee to the next rapidly as their stories unfold.  Eleven queers who filled diverse roles in California’s gay rights movement talk about their lives and tell stories in a personal and frank manner.  The narrator can be a little stiff and a touch preachy about how we should all respect our elders and what they did for us, but narration is a small part of the film.  It’s worth seeing simply to see the amazing photos and clips from gay bars, protests and gay-ins, but the real strength of the film is in the stories told by people who were there at decisive moments in gay history.  Like the Patch Incident, when an entire gay bar bought out a florist shop and walked into the police station carrying bouquets to bail out two of their friends, bringing media attention to the police raids.

If you want to know more about gay history, or feel like you should, but maybe you aren’t much of a history buff, this is a fabulous film for you.  It’s up there with the Celluloid Closet in terms of entertaining films about gay history.


On These Shoulders We Stand screens today at 2p at the Clinton St Theater

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