This film was born out of our personal frustration with the anti-LGBT religious propaganda we witnessed around Prop 8 (the California proposition that constitutionally banned same-gender marriage) in 2008. At that time, we'd become good friends with several deeply religious Seventh-day Adventists who were also gay and wanted to remain true to themselves while also being part of the church and religious culture they also felt were core to their identity. We were also raised in the Adventist church with family ties that go back several generations, so we understood how strong the pull of that religious community with its deep cultural practices and distinctive beliefs could be. Even for someone with good cause to leave (like most LGBT Adventists), the church is a way of life, a community not easily left. There is much to love.
We realized that this intersection of faith, identity and sexuality would make for an interesting film. Three years ago, we started out making an issue film and spent three months on a road trip around the country interviewing theologians and other experts. But somewhere along the way a different film emerged, one that is now entirely character driven. We found ourselves caught up in the depth, authenticity, and raw humanity that emerged as the main subjects of the film wrestle with how to reconcile their faith and their sexual orientation. And we’ve kept our editorial style extremely restrained in the film in an effort to keep the focus of the film on the stories of the film subjects. These are stories rarely heard either in conservative churches or in the gay community, and they are deeply moving. Our film subjects feel on the margins of all of their communities of belonging because they hold deeply to their faith and their sexual identity. For them, faith and identity are a “both/and” scenario instead of the “either/or” choice that has often been seen as the only option in the shallow God vs Gay rhetoric of the culture wars.
The documentary now tells the story of three gay and lesbian Seventh-day Adventists whom we followed for nearly two years. David, a young man originally from the Midwest, has spent five years in "ex-gay therapy" and is just starting to explore accepting himself as both a gay man and a Christian; Sherri, a lesbian mother from Ohio wants to raise her two young girls in an Adventist church with the traditions she grew up with; and, Marcos, a Brazilian who now lives in the Bay Area and is trying to find his way after being fired as an Adventist pastor for being gay. They all desire a way to reconcile their faith and religious identity. Their voices, especially combined with the verité style of filmmaking, add a not-often-heard perspective to the conversation about identity and religion in America. There is a grace towards their heritage faith that is surprising--and--inspiring.
When Prop 8 passed, we were deeply disappointed, not just because we’d worked hard to advocate for full inclusivity for LGBT people within faith communities, but also because we were expecting our first child, a daughter who is now three. The enormity of trying to raise her in the world with a loving, inclusive spirituality still boggles us most of the time, and somehow making this film has been part of helping to make our world the sort of place we envision her growing up in. Ultimately this journey has been a hopeful one for us. Even though there is still great injustice done in the name of religion around this topic, we’ve seen a shift towards reconciliation, even in just the past three years while we’ve been in production. Stories, like the ones in SEVENTH-GAY ADVENTISTS, provide a new lens and frame through which to engage and act.
Daneen and Stephen have been working together on projects since they met in college 15 years ago. Their first feature-length documentary, Living With Fibromyalgia: A Journey of Hope and Understanding, examines the challenges of living with debilitating chronic pain in a culture that values achievement and physical perfection. That film has been screened on every continent except Antarctica and received the 2008 Communicator Award of Excellence, the Platinum Remi Award at the Houston Worldfest International Film Festival, and the National Health Information Gold Award. Even though raising a toddler and "birthing" a film are all-encompassing tasks, Daneen tries to find time to play, dance, and just be a mom.
Stephen has worked on numerous film productions in a variety of roles (producer, sound designer, editor, production office coordinator, camera operator), and he finds all aspects of filmmaking both artistically and technically rewarding. Stephen recently taught film at Pacific Union College in the Napa Valley for several years, but is currently focusing on producing independent films along with Daneen that foster an awareness of our shared humanity and reinforce our connections to each other. In addition to documentary filmmaking, Stephen enjoys working on short films and recently won the Best of Fest award in the San Francisco-based Scary Cow Film Co-op for Echo’s Wonder, a short film he co-produced. Along with Daneen, he co-directed and produced the 2006 feature-length documentary, Living With Fibromyalgia.
Daneen and Stephen helped organize the 2008 Adventists Against Prop 8 activism campaign in response to the fear tactics being used within churches to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. This film is the outgrowth of that project and the stories they encountered.