March 7, 2016

Recap: 'Queering Our Traditions'

By Renato Ruiz

On Sunday, March 6th, the School of Cinematic Arts hosted Queering Our Traditions: LGBT & Faith Identities in Film, an event that showcased five short films, a feature length documentary, and panel discussions.

The program began with LGBT Short HITS, which stands for “Holiness, Identity, Tradition and Sexuality” and was introduced by Eric Gutierrez, Health Policy Director at the Los Angeles LGBT Center—one of the co-sponsors of the event. Each of the short films selected represented a different aspect of religious life—from Transmormon, a documentary that chronicled the struggles of gender identity within the Mormon faith, to The Seder, a narrative about coming out on one of the Jewish high holidays. Other HITS shorts touched on the religious traditions of Islam, Native Americans, and Christianity.

The screening was followed by an interfaith panel discussion that was moderated by Dr. Varun Soni, Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California. Panelists were the Reverend Doctor Kelby Harrison, Director of USC LGBT Resource center; Rabbi Lisa Edwards of the Los Angeles congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim; and writer/director of The Binding of Ishmael, Taofik Kolade, whose film was one of the shorts screened. They started the discussion with formal introductions and their own personal experiences of practicing their religious traditions as well as their relation to the greater LGBT community. Taofik Kolade discussed how his fascination with religion—being non-religious himself—factors into his filmmaking. “The most important thing to have when making a film or telling a story is to have a message,” he said about his learning experience when making The Binding of Ismael.

Kolade also pointed out that the main theme throughout all five short films was the relationship between the younger generation and their parents, and their struggles with sexual identity within their own families. Dr. Soni described the films as an “Intergenerational conversation,” noting that about 40 percent of under-35-year-olds do not consider themselves part of any formal religion, yet for their grandparents the statistic is only 5 percent. For LGBT filmmakers, the subject of “coming out story or some story of connection with parents…often happens to be the first or earlier film for LGBT filmmakers,” said Lisa Edwards, who also observed that “people become interested in religion once they find out there is more openness to it.”

The program culminated with the screening of A Sinner in Mecca, directed by Parvez Sharma, an openly gay Muslim filmmaker. The documentary recounts the filmmaker’s challenging journey to Mecca, where not only is filming prohibited but also his faith condemns homosexuality, which is punishable by death.

In an interview, Eric Gutierrez said the one-day film festival was just a beginning. “We are starting with this event as a way of beginning the dialogue and expressing both a positive and sometimes difficult and challenging nexus of religion and LGBT identity,” he said. That best sums up the overall tone of the program and, in the bigger picture, filmmaking’s role in helping to establish the intersection of faith and sexual identity, and to encourage dialogue.

The Los Angeles LGBT Center is building a world where LGBT people thrive as healthy, equal and complete members of society. For more information, please visit:

Other sponsors of the event:

Level Ground creates safe space for dialogue about faith, gender, and sexuality through the arts. For more information, please visit:

USC’s Office of Religious Life sponsors a variety of opportunities for exploring the spiritual dimensions of your life and learning. For more information, please visit: