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A Very Natural Thing (1974)

Director: Christopher Larkin

90 minutes

Eyebrows were raised back in 1974 when this tale of a gay man searching for love played in mainstream movie theaters. Though the fight for gay rights was already underway, no equality laws had been passed, and most straight people of that era had a uniformly negative view of homosexuality. It was therefore an act of courage to make A Very Natural Thing, to appear in it, even to go see it.

David (Robert Joel) is an ex-monk and a schoolteacher. He meets Mark (Curt Gareth) in a bar and the two move in together. They quickly learn that they’re not looking for the same things: David wants a monogamous relationship, while Mark continues to sleep around. He even goes so far as to try to involve David in his activities. This leads to their breakup.

Now alone, David attends the 1973 Gay Pride parade in New York City. There he meets the handsome Jason (Bo White), who shares his values. Will the two find happiness together?

The parade sequence was shot on location at that year’s actual parade. Director Christopher Larkin breaks the fourth wall, interviewing parade attendees who speak on camera about what being gay means to them.

A Very Natural Thing is a film that was many years ahead of its time. Shot on a low budget, it might be the first to feature gay characters who were comfortable and happy with who they were. It’s an uplifting film; David is a likable character and Robert Joel, who only had a small handful of acting credits, is quite good in the role.

In our era of marriage equality and Will & Grace, it’s fascinating to look back on a groundbreaking production like A Very Natural Thing, which was made by a hearty band of folks who dared to kick the closet door open more than a generation ago. They’re all people we can be proud of.

Pedro (2008)

Director: Nick Oceano

90 minutes

Pedro recalls the life of Pedro Zamora (1972-1994), one of the most extraordinary gay activists who ever lived. Zamora, a refugee from Cuba, was one of the stars of the hit MTV reality series The Real World: San Francisco. When he auditioned for the series, Zamora was quite honest with the producers about being gay and about his AIDS diagnosis. He was cast on the series.

The film, written by the openly gay, Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk), underscores the magnitude of Zamora’s courage. He talks about being gay and having AIDS in front of The Real World cameras. Keep in mind that this was 25 years ago. In one memorable episode, Zamora marries his boyfriend Sean.

At the time, The Real World had a huge audience. Millions were educated about HIV and about homosexuality thanks to Zamora’s efforts.

Sadly, Zamora never got to enjoy his fame. He became very ill while his episodes were airing and passed away soon after, at the age of 22.

Alex Loynaz offers a wonderful performance as Zamora. The actor paints a vivid portrait of Zamora’s determination to make his mark upon the world in a positive way, even though he must have known that his time on earth would be short. And Zamora indeed made quite an impact; his efforts attracted the attention of then-President Bill Clinton, who participated in the making of the film.

Pedro is a haunting story that viewers won’t soon forget.

Tennessee Queer (2012)

Directors: Mark Jones, Ryan Parker

90 minutes

Tennessee Queer is a sweet comedy about Jason (Christian Walker), a gay man in New York who returns to his small hometown in Tennessee, where he organizes the town’s first gay pride parade. He finds himself up against a local preacher and a city councilman who pretend to support him. In reality they want to see who’s going to march in the parade so they can get the participants into conversion therapy.

The film offers hilarious satire on the hypocrisy of the religious right, including a gut-bustingly funny video for a so-called conversion therapy camp.

But when the parade finally happens, it’s actually quite touching, as a small but hearty band of queers march through the center of the town, ignoring the protesters who tell them what “sinners” they are.

Tennessee Queer ultimately stands as a lovely example of how an independent film can transcend its low budget by telling a good story with a lot of heart.