3/18/08

A Love Story In The Face of Hate

As a writer, and as a person, I am constantly looking for inspiration. I didn't have to look very far once I met, and was lucky enough, to befriend Suzanne Moe.

I met her through my girlfriend April - and at once, I was struck by how humble this dynamic and talented artist is. The more I learned about how she came to film her first documentary about a lesbian couple fleeing hate legislation, the more I realized she HERSELF had a story to tell.



I pitched the idea and Suzanne, the couple profiled in the film, and numerous other people involved with the documentary agreed to be interviewed. As I collected all my notes and began writing, I had no idea when or if the article would be published. I simply hoped that someone would see the value in Suzanne's determination to tell this powerful story. Curve magazine did. They published my article in October of last year and the response was incredible.

I'm posting the article I wrote below because this story does not have a shelf life. States are still trying to pass hate legislation against same sex couples and this film is a tool that has been used, and should continue to be used, as a tool to fight back.

I stand in awe of Suzanne and her message that every person has not only a right to demand change, but the ability to do something about it.

Heather (aka the wishful writer)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
(Photo 2007 Suzanne Carr Rossi, The Free Lance-Star)

Suzanne Moe is a tattoo artist known for leaving memorable, lasting impressions on skin. She never planned on becoming a documentary filmmaker responsible for leaving her mark on the LGBT community, much less on the Constitution.

Despite the fact that Barbara and Tibby: A Love Story in the Face of Hate is shot with a small hand held camera, little lighting and zero sound equipment, Moe's documentary is quickly becoming recognized as the go-to educational piece for any state confronted with legislation prohibiting civil unions, partnership contracts or other arrangements between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage.

In Virginia, Moe's state of residence, it's the Marshall/Newman Amendment that sought to change the Constitution this past November, attempting to strip not just gay rights, but human rights. Her rise to political activist and Vote NO mouthpiece began with an e-mail from her friend Barbara, explaining that she and her partner of 40 years, Tibby, were moving to Maryland so as not to become the test case should the amendment pass. They had reason to fear, as Barbara had just been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and her health was fragile. After four decades of loving and living, they weren't willing to risk having their medical directives, wills, finances and other contractual agreements deemed null and void.

"That e-mail twisted me," Moe says. "I printed it and carried it around in my back pocket for three days. I read and re-read it. These women were pillars in my community and they were being run out of town. I became so angry I started shaking. I knew time was of the essence and as an artist, creating for a purpose that matters to me is integral to who I am."

Moe approached a weary and semi-closeted Barbara and Tibby with a proposal. Although she'd never worked with a camera, she wanted to tell their story, via video, to their church congregation so at least the people who cared about them most would know the truth about why they were leaving. Barbara and Tibby contemplated it for some time before agreeing to let Moe videotape them. They were scared, to be sure, but the video was to be shown just one time. They found some comfort in that.

"I started to tremble as I was filming them talk about their life together," Moe says. "I knew it was good and compelling. These women are completely non-threatening and relatable. At the time, I truly believed this video would only be seen one night, but I knew those who saw it would realize how special this story was and how important it would be to vote no."

Moe spent the next two months learning the software and editing the video. It debuted to 200 people, mostly straight, and concluded with a standing ovation and several "now I get it" revelations. Barbara and Tibby were blown away by the response. That one showing led to thousands of screenings at churches--it also premiered at an HRC function, was used as a tool in a law school and was the focus of hundreds of viewing parties across the country. Thanks to this documentary, people from all walks of life are becoming educated on the veiled wording of these types of amendments and learning how it affects all unmarried people, regardless of sexual preference.

"This documentary took off not because it's technically wonderful, but because it's the first piece of media telling this story," Moe says. "I was aware of my ignorance, and I didn't let it stop me. Sure, someone could have told it better, or made it look slicker, but the truth was nobody was doing it."

Although the amendment passed in her home state of Virginia, Moe refuses to be defeated. She had no aspirations of becoming a lesbian ambassador, but now that she is one, she's speaking out not only about the damning legislation, but also about the power one individual has to become an agent for change.

Suzanne Moe is proof you don't have to know what you are doing, you just have to know why.

To see a clip of Barbara and Tibby: Love in the Face of Hate or to get information about hosting your own viewing party, visit sumoe.com.

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