Out on the field

Scott Bloom was closeted during his high school wrestling career, but he found 4 brave gay student athletes to come out for his new documentary

MARATHON MEN | Getting teen athletes and their families to feel comfortable coming out on film was a challenge for documentarian Scott Bloom.

DAN WOOG  | Contributing Sports Writer
outfield@qsyndicate.com

There are three keys to successful documentary filmmaking: A good subject, a good story line and good luck. Scott Bloom found all three.

His goal in making Out for the Long Run — a movie about gay high school athletes — was to go beyond “the regular coming-out stories.” Bloom, a former closeted wrestler who had been terrified of being outed, ostracized or beaten up, knew there were “extraordinary individuals” out there. He wanted to highlight their accomplishments, and provide hope to LGBT people of all ages, everywhere.

The first problem was finding those young athletes. The second was convincing them — and their parents — to be filmed.

He asked organizations like GLSEN and PFLAG for help. But although he’d produced one film on Metropolitan Community Church founder the Rev. Troy Perry, and another on the “oldest gay organization in the world” (a motorcycle club), he admits he was “an unknown quantity.”

The project stalled. Then Bloom saw a Facebook page for gay athletes. With permission from creator Lucas Goodman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology rower, Bloom asked for volunteers.

He got a dozen or two responses. Some of their parents objected, and blurring faces or filming in shadows would undercut the idea of openness. Plus, Bloom hoped to include the parents’ stories, too. In the end he settled on four athletes, with a cross-section of experiences.

When he began shooting, some of Bloom’s old fears resurfaced. “I worried all over again about being ‘thrown out of the locker room,’” he says. “But everyone was very gentle to me.”

He learned that today’s gay youth “have fewer hang-ups than my generation did. They define sexuality more fluidly. That’s refreshing. It gives me hope. I was definitely not as self-aware at that age.”

Bloom’s lucky break came when he found Austin Snyder. The track star was entering his senior year at California’s Berkeley High School. (The other three athletes were already in college.) He had a great, supportive family. He was smart, popular and embraced by his teammates.

Snyder’s story would provide a counterpoint to Brenner Green, a Connecticut College runner whose father had a hard time accepting his son’s sexuality, and who stopped being invited to team dinners after coming out in high school; Goodman, who had difficulty coming out to teammates; and Liz Davenport, a soccer player from Maine whose love for sports was undermined by the bullying she endured. (She ended up “probably the most heroic,” Bloom says, “after struggling and maturing the most.”)

Snyder, a very articulate teenager, lives through what is in many ways a typical high school year. He desperately hopes to get into Brown University — but an injury causes both physical and emotional stress. The usually self-confident runner wonders if he is being punished for his sexuality.

It’s not easy being a senior — especially when you’re gay. “I’m a big romantic,” Snyder says. “High school is all about the guys getting the girls. Running helps take away the hurt of not having someone.”

Then Snyder gets the news: He’s into Brown. He goes from “the lowest low to the highest high.” In a scene repeated in homes across the country, he is giddy with excitement.

But as graduation approaches, Snyder says, “All my friends are happy and dating. I want that!”

He creates a Facebook group for cross country and track athletes heading to Brown. He joins another group for all admitted students where, he says, “all the gay men have found each other.”

Suddenly, Snyder finds someone special: a swimmer from North Carolina. Online they flirt, then talk seriously for weeks. Then, in a plot twist that would sound unbelievable in a real movie — except it’s true — Snyder qualifies for a national race. In North Carolina.

Bloom films their meeting. It’s a truly sweet scene. Later, his new boyfriend gives him a tender pre-race kiss.

The final scene also seems right out of a teen flick. Snyder delivers a graduation speech at Berkeley High. He talks about diversity and change, and urges his classmates: “Use your open-minded spirit.” Snyder’s coach says, “Austin’s story gives hope for what can be.” His father adds simply, “I’m extremely proud of Austin.”

Out for the Long Run is a powerful film. “I never expected a sports film to make people cry,” Bloom says. “But people tell me it makes them remember the fears and emotions they buried years earlier.”

And, echoing Snyder’s coach, it generates hope in unlikely places. Five rural school districts in Louisiana have bought copies for each middle and high school. The counseling director will use it as a teaching tool.

Which means its lessons will be remembered by students — gay and straight — for a long, long run.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

WHAT’S BREWING: Elizabeth Taylor dies, Apple pulls ‘ex-gay’ app, Chick-fil-A exposed

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Actress Elizabeth Taylor, a longtime celebrity advocate in the fight against HIV/AIDS, has died at 79 from congestive heart failure. From Wikipedia: Taylor devoted much time and energy to AIDS-related charities and fundraising. She helped start the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) after the death of her former costar and friend, Rock Hudson. She also created her own AIDS foundation, the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation (ETAF). By 1999, she had helped to raise an estimated US$50 million to fight the disease. In 2006, Taylor commissioned a 37-foot (11 m) “Care Van” equipped with examination tables and X Ray equipment and also donated US$40,000 to the New Orleans Aids task force, a charity designed for the New Orleans population with AIDS and HIV. The donation of the van was made by the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation and Macy’s.

2. In response to an outcry from the LGBT community, Apple has removed Exodus International’s “gay cure” app from the iTunes store. “We removed the Exodus International app from the App Store because it violates the developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people,” an Apple spokesman told FoxNews.com. More than 146,000 people had signed an online petition launched by Truth Wins Out calling for the app to be removed.

“This is not a question of free speech, but of stopping a virulently anti-gay organization from peddling false speech at the expense of vulnerable LGBT youth,” said John Becker, director of ommunications and development for Truth Wins Out. “Exodus may pose as the victim, but they are a victimizer that has left a trail of shattered lives and broken families. We are grateful that Exodus has lost at least one platform with which to disperse its dangerous message.”

3. An investigative report published Tuesday by Equality Matters shows that from 2003-08, Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm gave more than $1 million to anti-gay groups: When two Missouri organizations, the Clayton Chamber of Commerce and FOCUS St. Louis, decided earlier this month to cancel a presentation by Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy over his company’s controversial affiliations, they made the right decision. Although Cathy has unequivocally denied being anti-LGBT and claimed that he and the company have “no agenda against anyone” and “will not champion any political agendas on marriage and family,” Equality Matters research proves just the opposite. In fact, the company has strong, deep ties to anti-gay organizations like Focus on the Family and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and its charitable division has provided more than $1.1 million to organizations that deliver anti-LGBT messages and promote egregious practices like reparative therapy that seek to “free” people of being gay.

—  John Wright

UT Arlington GSA honors David Mack Henderson

Joshua Little, David Mack Henderson and Zachary Murphy

On Thursday, Oct. 28 the Gay Straight Alliance at the University of Texas at Arlington celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the founding of the campus’s first gay organization.

As part of the celebration, they honored David Mack Henderson of Fairness Fort Worth. That organization was created in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid and has worked with the city to become more inclusive.

Henderson was one of the founders of the UTA Gay/Lesbian Association when he was a student at the school. He is a tax accountant and Realtor and is a facilitator for the diversity training that all Fort Worth city employees must take. In the 1980s, he was a member of the Dallas Gay Alliance board and a founder of Resource Center Dallas.

The Certificate of Appreciation was presented by GSA President Joshua Little and Vice President Zachary Murphy.

The GSA meets every Wednesday at noon in the Upper University Center, usually in the Guadalupe Room. The group is open to all students. UTA policy prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Homage is another LGBTQ organization at UTA. Homage meets Thursday evenings in the University Center.

—  David Taffet