Last night I went to see the UK premiere of I Am Michael at BFI Flare, the London LGBT Film Festival. The film tells the real-life story of Michael Glatze, an American former gay rights advocate who now identifies as heterosexual, denounces homosexuality and is the Pastor of a church in Wyoming.
This is a film that turns LGBT cinema on its head; it presents a ‘going in’ story rather than the well-trodden coming out story. But, perhaps surprisingly, it does so in a way that is empathetic. I Am Michael doesn’t aim to vilify or condemn Glatze, instead to understand and accept.
With that in mind, I can’t help but make a connection to our approach here at Diversity Role Models. Ultimately our workshops teach young people to empathise with those who are different. We’re clear that it doesn’t matter whether you think being LGBT is right or wrong, LGBT people are still people and deserve dignity and respect.
Of course this cuts both ways. Many LGBT people have had negative experiences of religion. And this can colour their opinions of religion, even if these experiences are counter to religious teaching.
It’s for this reason that I personally found I Am Michael quite challenging. It’s very easy to dismiss someone like Glatze. To claim that he’s been emotionally manipulated, been taught a misinterpretation of scripture or brainwashed. But then I wouldn’t want to be judged in that way, so why should I judge anyone else’s life journey?
I’m often inspired by how open-minded and accepting young people are in our workshops. For many of them it’s the first time they’ve met someone who is open about their sexuality or gender identity. This challenges their misconceptions, builds their empathy and ultimately reduces homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.
I Am Michael challenged my misconceptions. Much like our workshops, I see it as a lesson in empathy, and I hope I can be more understanding and accepting as a result.
For more on Michael Glatze, I recommend the article ‘My Ex-Gay Friend’, published in the New York Times in June 2011.
Questions about religion and sexuality from our workshops: