KUED Explores Divisive Issues Surrounding Homosexuality in Utah
Mere mention of homosexuality elicits strong emotions in many Utahns. Here, as in many places throughout the nation, debate over acceptance and inclusion of openly gay and lesbian people has divided communities and families. While the headlines and public debate bombard us, it is within the intimacy of their homes, neighborhoods, schools, and churches that many Utahns must contend with the frustration, pain, and outright anger this issue often evokes.
KUED's documentary, Friends and Neighbors: A Community Divided, tells the moving stories of Utah families who struggle with issues of homosexuality, offering a balanced examination of the complex subject. The program was produced by KUED's Colleen Casto, with associate producer Elizabeth Southwell. The orginal music featured in the documentary was created by Eddy Zenn.
"Local news programs don't have the air time to get at the core of the problem, to see how gay and lesbian issues affect people on a deeply personal level. So public television is the place for a long-form, balanced dialogue on all sides of the controversy," says Casto.
Touched by the issue in her own family, Casto created the program to explore how homosexuality affects not only individuals, but also families on both sides of the debate.
"People struggling on both sides of the issue feel their voices are not being heard," says Casto. "If the discussion is lopsided, it's not going to accomplish anything or promote understanding."
The program begins with a moving letter written by Rob and Kathryn Steffensen, who express frustration at the way homosexuality is misunderstood in their Utah community: "Because our son Eric is gay, we are very involved with issues relating to homosexuality...This is a subject which is difficult to ignore. Most of us have an opinion about it. We would like you to know ours..."
Using the Steffensens as a model of expression, the program goes on to represent numerous viewpoints from people throughout the state, including those involved with the debate over the East High Gay-Straight Alliance student club and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who both embrace and condemn homosexuality. In Utah, where membership in the LDS church is over 70 percent, the complexities of homosexuality are compounded by the church's conservative stance on the issue.
Retaining balance throughout, Friends and Neighbors allows for disparate viewpoints to be better understood. Casto worked to find a broad cross-section of people in the community who wanted to express their beliefs – from a Brigham Young University professor and an East High teacher to gay and lesbian teenagers, activists, and confused parents. All provide candid, insightful interviews that demonstrate the personal nature of the issue.
The documentary is an extension of KUED's commitment to increasing public understanding of individual diversity, according to Casto. "Understanding diversity means coming to terms with differences not only in race but also in sexual orientation, economics, physical ability, age, and education," she says.