In 2004, Dallas County, solidly Republican, solidly conservative, elected its first woman sheriff. Lupe Valdez, the daughter of migrant farm workers, a Latina and an out lesbian, made history. Soon after her win, she was on an airplane and her seatmate, the mother of a young gay man who had struggled with his sexuality, immediately recognized her.
“With your election, you have validated my son,” the woman told her.
“And I wanted to scream. Why can’t we just get validated for being human beings?” Valdez says as she recounts the exchange in The Out List, the just-released HBO film featuring a cross-section of out lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender figures talking about their lives, loves, issues with self-acceptance and hopes for equality under the law.
Against the backdrop of a gay community waiting to see which way the U.S. Supreme Court would go on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8, high-profile subjects such as Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen Degeneres, Wanda Sykes, Oscar-winning filmmaker Dustin Lance Black, Scissor Sisters lead singer Jake Shears, former pro football player Wade Davis, New York City politician Christine Quinn, financial guru Suze Orman and several others speak candidly about coming out and about the challenges inherent in being LGBT in America.
“My hope is that this film is seen by a lot of young people,” says director and producer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, a Miami native who was in town recently for a premiere of The Out List at the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. A portrait photographer whose works are in the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum and The National Portrait Gallery, he is also director and producer of the films The Black List, The Latino List and 2012’s About Face, featuring conversations with aging cover girls and supermodels including Christie Brinkley, Jerry Hall, Isabella Rosellini and Paulina Porizkova.
“We screened [ The Out List] in Dallas last week and a friend of one of our producers brought her 12-year-old daughter, who had just come out,” Greenfield-Sanders, who grew up in the historic Miami neighborhood of Spring Garden, says over lunch at Café Sambal in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Brickell Key.
“She was very nervous. She was clearly overwhelmed. Can you imagine living in Texas, where there may be a gay world, but not for a 12-year-old girl? But on the screen were famous people she knew saying it’s OK to be who you are. Including the sheriff of her city.”
Even with the past week’s historic rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, major victories for same-sex marriage that set off teary, rainbow-hued celebrations from coast to coast, the fight for broad gay civil rights and for true acceptance, is hardly over. There are 37 states, including Florida, that continue to ban same-sex marriages. Across the country, gay hate crimes have been on the rise in recent years. Too often, LGBT kids who are bullied in school end up committing suicide.
But with several big battles won — the repeal of DOMA last week, the end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” in 2011 — the fight for true equality has gained major momentum. And as gay political leaders have long understood, nothing changes hearts and minds more than knowing that your neighbor, your co-worker, your health care professional, your elected official or your matinee idol is gay and living in the light.