Documentary explores what it means to be LGBT and Mormon

KSL TV News, Utah/September 22, 2014

By Celeste Tholen Rosenlof

Provo -- A Utah filmmaker raised more than $66,000 to release a documentary aimed at improving the conversation around what it means to be LGBT and Mormon.

Kendall Wilcox, a documentary filmmaker and producer, understands what it is like for many of the people he interviewed. Wilcox, who identifies himself as gay and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, attended Brigham Young University and worked as a producer at BYUtv for more than a decade before coming out to his peers.

“Being gay and Mormon myself — but highly, highly closeted — I was very aware of the way my community was communicating around this issue and the quality, or lack thereof, of the conversation and how dysfunctional it really was,” he said. “I just never really had the guts to really, really jump in and get it done.”

In 2010, contentious discussion after a general conference talk about same-sex attraction led Wilcox to finally take action. He wanted to create a middle ground where people could tell their stories and others could empathize with them, rather than just fight over politics or religious beliefs.

“In the middle, there were people like me saying, ‘None of this really helps, guys — in fact, this hurts.’ It was so negative and dysfunctional that I knew I needed to either do something — whatever I could do as a gay, Mormon filmmaker uniquely positioned — or I needed to completely check out,” Wilcox said. “I was very literally suicidal. And for me personally, I thought it boiled down to an either/or; (I needed to) do something like this or I needed to end my own life. So I decided to do this.”

So, with the help of former coworker Bianca Morrison Dillard, he began asking people to tell their stories, hoping to educate the community about the people these conversations affect.

“I felt like I needed to figure out how I felt about it and what was going on from a church standpoint,” Dillard said. “It was also important to me that Kendall wanted it to be very even-handed. He wanted it to be telling a lot of different types of stories, not just from one perspective.”

They began filming the independent film “Far Between” in early 2011. Wilcox chose the title in “reference to what feels like an enormous gulf that has emerged between the experience of homosexuality and Mormonism.” Since then, the “Far Between” team has recorded more than 250 interviews from people who identify as LGBT, straight, Mormon and ex-Mormon. They have spoken with gay people who adhere strongly to their faith, others who have given it up, gay people living in heterosexual or homosexual relationships and nearly everywhere in between.

 “My No. 1 mission in making this documentary is to tell the whole story — the happy, pretty parts and the really sad, ugly parts of what it means to be LGBT and Mormon — and trust that the audience can handle that,” Wilcox said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a more accurate and a far more empathetic conversation about what it means to be LGBT and Mormon.”

The video interviews, all hosted on the “Far Between” website, range from 8 minutes in length to multiple 12-minute segments. Wilcox’s team is compiling the videos into a full-length documentary film to submit it to the 2015 festival circuit. The project recently surpassed its Kickstarter goal of $50,000, bringing in $66,858.

Wilcox’s intended audience is even more varied than his interviews.

“The intended audience for this film is not just Mormon and not just gay, it’s for a wide audience so non-Mormons can know what it’s like to be Mormon, so non-religious people know what it’s like to be religious. So straight people to know what it’s like to be gay,” he said. “Everybody has to reconcile the tension… Everybody has to wrestle with this.”

Wilcox and Dillard hold that the two facets of the story are equally important. They are asking people not to diminish sexual orientation or what they call “spiritual orientation” of people who face conflicts between their being and faith.

Dillard said of her faith:

“We don’t always talk about spirituality and faith tradition as being as deeply grounded and in our souls as our sexual identity or our gender identity. Mormonism isn’t just a set of beliefs, it’s a culture. It’s compelling for a good reason. It’s not easy for very many people to say, ‘I’m going to leave that behind.’ There are spiritual consequences for leaving your faith community, there are social consequences, there are familial consequences. I love my faith and I love my community and there’s a reason I stay too. And I don’t want to see people feeling like they have to leave if being in the pews is where they want to be. I’d like my community to be a place where everyone feels welcome.”

Wilcox is submitting the film to Sundance for 2015 festival consideration this month.

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