By Rob Owen -
Out in America."
The one-hour film, directed, written and produced by Andrew Goldberg, seeks to paint a portrait of lesbian, gay and transgender Americans in their everyday lives.
Hartman, who lives in Woodburn and works with horses on a farm in Eagle Creek, has been the face of rural gay America before. When "Brokeback Mountain" was up for an Oscar, he was interviewed for an article titled "The Real Gay Cowboy" in a publication whose name he can't recall.
"I really didn't understand the big deal," Hartman said, "and to be honest with you, I still don't."
Five years after the release of "Brokeback Mountain" and following such gay civil rights strides as the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the notion of a rough-and-tumble, gay horseman may indeed be less of a big deal.
And that's kind of the point of "Out in America": To show that not all gay people conform to a "Queer as Folk"-style, hard-partying image. Many of the Americans featured in "Out in America" live not-a-big-deal lives, particularly "the Harolds," a biracial couple in their 80s who have been together for five decades.
Goldberg said too often LGBT people are portrayed in the media in ways that don't mirror the lives of the vast majority.
"The drag queen is the most disproportionately represented person of any," he said. "We see them so frequently and they make up such a minuscule part of the population."
Goldberg set out to show how the lives of many LGBT Americans differ little from the lives of heterosexuals: "I make latkes," "I go to church," "We went and bought a cake and ate it."
"These are mundane, simple tasks, and yet hearing these people talk about them is almost new information for a viewer," he said.
In addition to the less known characters featured -- Mike Hartman, the Harolds, lesbian couple Ruthie and Connie -- the film also spends time with higher profile personalities, including "Watch What Happens Live" host/Bravo executive Andy Cohen, comedian Kate Clinton, country music singer Chely Wright and author Armistead Maupin. Participants offer a glimpse of their daily lives, their coming-out experience and observations on the past 60 years of changing American attitudes on gay civil rights.
"The scales fell from my eyes when I moved to San Francisco and discovered what a simple, beautiful thing it was to love another person and to feel that in my heart," Maupin says in "Out in America." "It's that sense of completeness when you're with somebody that you care about."
"Out in America" will air nationally on PBS in June -- timed to coincide with Gay Pride month -- but OPB is airing it now because KOPB is the presenting station for the program. Pledge breaks will be recorded during Thursday night's broadcast and will be used by some other PBS stations when they air "Out in America" this summer.
Goldberg said he has always been interested in making films with brush strokes of social justice as a theme -- past subjects included documentaries on genocide, bigotry and anti-Semitism -- and when conversations with PBS programmers turned to a portrait of gay Americans, he was eager to present stories of people that might be surprising to viewers who see "the gay community" as a monolithic block.
"There is no one community," Goldberg said. "I loved the idea of doing a show that would explore and celebrate the fact that people just want to be themselves." He also wanted to dispel stereotypical depictions of LGBT life he regularly encounters in media.
"I would watch TV and think to myself, there are three (groups) of people you can make fun of publicly: Muslims, the overweight and LGBT people. Those are three allowable targets. It reinforces stereotypes. Even with the minuscule amount of damage one may do, the collective, overall chorus of voices is very destructive."
He also had a personal reason for making the film. Goldberg's college roommate came out as gay in the late 1980s while the pair were in school in Chicago.
"It was difficult for him at times in ways that seemed to me it shouldn't be: The responses from family members, from peers," Goldberg said. "This was in a public environment which was much more conservative and more judgmental on a regular and consistent basis than you might see today."
As he set to work on the film, Goldberg found himself drawn toward the stories of some older LGBT Americans after many people he talked to said a handsome, 30-year-old white male is the regular face of the LGBT conversation.
"I also thought being older and gay is somewhat counterintuitive to many Americans," he said. "When we were screening the film with various advisers and producers, the audio mixer said to me, 'Ruthie is my aunt Clara, just as a lesbian.' It was sort of an ah-ha! moment he had, the idea that Aunt Clara doesn't always have to be married to Norman. It's no different, just a different person and there's nothing else that matters."
Despite an increasing American acceptance of same-sex relationships, as borne out in recent polling, Goldberg said a few potential participants declined to go before the camera.
"We had a lesbian couple, they were both Hispanic and lived in a fairly tough neighborhood, and the one said, 'I don't mind going on the air but I am worried about my kids,' and they changed their minds and decided not to do the interview," Goldberg said.
Hartman has never had such concerns. His story is briefly featured in "Out in America," and more of it may be included in extras on a DVD release later this year. He says in the film he was so busy with work, he never considered that he might be gay until his late 20s after having relationships with women.
"I know how crazy that sounds," Hartman said from a horse show in Scottsdale, Ariz. Despite disapproval from some family members who he remains close to, Hartman said he's felt accepted since moving in 1990 from Idaho to Oregon.
"It hasn't been a big deal. If I've felt kind of uncomfortable in any way, it's more that I don't think I really fit into the gay world as well."
Hartman said he has no regrets about being open about who he is.
"I really don't think I have anything to hide," he said. "Life is short. Even if you have a good one, who wants to hide for the sake of someone's approval? I've just never been willing to do that, not from Day One."