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LGBT rights documentary shines light on sophomore’s family Supreme Court battle

Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Allied in Pride’s programming officer Spencer Perry anxiously sat in front of the Supreme Court to support his mothers last year, and now he gets to watch it again on screen.

Next week, Allied in Pride will show the award-winning documentary “The Case Against 8,” which follows Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case that struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Perry is the son of the plaintiffs in the case.

The film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, where directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White received an award for their directing. It was screened at a handful of other film festivals, including the 2014 SXSW festival, where it received an “Audience Award,” before hitting theaters briefly and airing on HBO in June.

Allied in Pride will hold the screening Oct. 1 at 6 p.m., the first time the film will be shown on a college campus. Perry said he hopes to bring the movie to more universities across the country to spread its message to as many people as possible, especially those who do not support same-sex marriage.

Following the screening in Funger Hall, there will be a panel discussion featuring Perry’s mothers, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier. Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Right’s Campaign, will also attend the panel, which will be moderated by Stephen Forssell, director of GW’s Graduate LGBT Health Policy and Practice program.

Cotner and White discovered the lawsuit in its beginning stages, but didn’t find a compelling hook for a film until the two lawyers that led the legal team, Republican Ted Olson and Democrat David Boies, came together from opposite sides of the political spectrum to work on the case.

“It also helped that it was an issue that impacts us both personally,” Cotner said, explaining that he and White are both gay residents of California.

After capturing more than 600 hours of footage, the directors cut the tape down to an about two-hour film.

“It just felt like a privilege getting to be flies on the wall for such a historical venture,” White said.

The film closely follows the plaintiffs and legal team over the five-year period in which Proposition 8 was introduced and Perry’s mothers filed a lawsuit against county and state officials after they were denied a marriage license. Eventually, his family’s case, and that of another same-sex couple from Los Angeles, reached the Supreme Court.

Perry said that while many have followed Hollingsworth v. Perry in the news, the film offers a behind-the-scenes look at major developments in the case. For Perry, this included moments that were “painful” to watch, such as when his family listened to death threats that were left on their answering machine.

“It really takes a focus on the human aspect of a very polarizing issue for a lot of people,” Perry said.

The Supreme Court also struck down Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act, which required the federal government to recognize marriage as between a man and a woman, but Section Two, which defends certain states’ rights not to recognize same-sex marriage, is still intact.

The movie emphasizes how Olson, who defended President George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore, and Boies joined forces because of the case’s “civil nature and its human impact,” Perry said.

“My hope is that people who might have been on the fence or maybe haven’t had a large exposure to LGBT individuals in their lifetime can come to this event and see two people who went through this entire Supreme Court case talk about their experiences and what it means to be married,” Perry said. “I think that’s really powerful stuff.”

He hinted at the types of scenes viewers might see in the film with an anecdote about the pink and red “equal sign” images that many people circulated on social media to show their support for the case.

“It was thought up on the bus ride to the announcement that the case had been picked up by the Supreme Court,” he said, by someone involved in the Human Rights Campaign.

He added that the film provides many similar glimpses into the “wealth of work and thought” behind seemingly small efforts that pushed the case forward.

Forssell met Perry at the 2013 GW LGBT Health Forum, an annual event that brings attention to health issues facing the LGBT community worldwide, the summer before Perry came to GW, and he was one of the first people to see the film when it was released at Sundance.

“I thought it was hilarious seeing Spencer in the movie playing video games when he was in eighth grade because I know him personally,” Forssell said.

Perry said the smaller, “human” moments in the film were also some of the most striking for him.

“There’s an enormity of things that the media doesn’t report, that the media doesn’t deem newsworthy but are still impactful,” he said.

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