Forever changed

'Ballot Measure 9' brilliantly captures LGBT lives in real time

By Cornelius A. Fortune

As cautionary tales go, the documentary "Ballot Measure 9" might well be a time capsule more relevant today than it was in 1995.

The events depicted in the film echo Michigan's struggle to rally support against the passing of Proposal 2 in 2004, and provide a kaleidoscopic view into the mid-'90s.

As tech-savvy and as "progressive" as we've become - with a woman and a black man now serious contenders for the White House - we're still fundamentally struggling with the same issues that plagued us over a decade ago.

This 72-minute exploration into the inner workings of Oregon's Ballot Measure 9 is mesmerizing, both for its simplistic approach to the subject matter and its ability to handle the material without preaching at the viewer or cajoling them.

Directed by Heather Lyn MacDonald and originally released in 1995, "Ballot Measure 9" chronicles the gay-rights battle that sparked fear, anger, death threats - and left many lives forever changed.

The film, shot during a nine-month period leading up to the election, examines Measure 9's attempt to revoke civil-rights protections for homosexuals (or those perceived to be gay). And it delivers a lot with very little.

Those already familiar with the outcome still will feel a great deal of dread for the people interviewed. For them, it's not recorded history; this is their lives captured in real-time, and they didn't know then how any of it would turn out. As a dramatic device, we know what the participant doesn't - which makes the journey far more important than the destination.

The Oregon Citizens Alliance, the group behind the legislation, comes off as a bunch of misinformed, hatemongering zealots, as they continually try to make a connection between child abuse and homosexuality - as in homosexuals being more likely to prey on younger minds. More frightening is the idea that giving rights to the LGBT community is akin to taking away the rights of heterosexuals.

Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island are the only states in the country that currently have neither a statute nor a constitutional provision prohibiting same-sex marriage - which means "Ballot Measure 9" will continue to be a source of inspiration and an educational tool to those who encounter it.

Extras include a commentary with director MacDonald and guests Donna Red Wing, director of the First Freedom First project, and Kathleen Saadat, an LGBT-rights activist. There's also the film's trailer and some bonus scenes from the cutting-room floor.

Thought-provoking and provocatively-presented, this DVD should be required viewing in every middle- and high-school class in Michigan - and across the country. B+

Cornelius A. Fortune is a freelancer writer in Detroit. To comment on this story, send an e-mail to chris@pridesource.com.

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