June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. For the LGBT community and supporters, this is a time to celebrate how far the gay rights movement has come as well as continue work towards realizing full civil rights in our country. From the covers of major magazines to high school video productions, the conversation on LGBT rights is growing louder than ever before.
I recently had the opportunity to meet Cindy Abel, director of the groundbreaking documentary, “Breaking Through.” This film explores the reality of what it is like to be an openly gay elected official in America. Abel shared her thoughts on why telling these authentic stories is so important during Pride Month and throughout the year.
Aundrea’s Interview with “Breaking Through” Director Cindy Abel
Interview conducted, condensed, and edited by Aundrea Gregg
TLWC’s Aundrea: What led you to start the “Breaking Through” project?
Cindy Abel: Well, a number of things. The main thing is that about four years ago the media was, for a minute, paying attention to all these young people who were being bullied because they were gay or perceived to be gay. I remember when I was a kid coming out. I felt so alone, and I didn’t have any role models. I thought if I could help other young people and older people who are still in the closet by showcasing role models who have lived their dream and overcome all kinds of barriers–including being gay, lesbian, bi, or trans–I wanted to be apart of doing that.
TLWC’s Aundrea: What was one of the most moving stories you heard while making the film?
Cindy Abel: People surprised me with the vulnerability they showed. These are elected officials–people used to working off of their talking points. One of the really dramatic moments was speaking with the Mayor of Houston. She shared that when she was a teenager she was so depressed and anxious that the only way she could deal with her parents separating her from her first girlfriend was to cut herself. She pulled up her sleeve to show the scars and her communications director about fell off of her chair. She had never talked about this publicly.
TLWC’s Aundrea: Though it has long been celebrated, do you think President Obama’s recent declaration of June as LGBT Pride Month signifies a cultural advancement for the Gay Rights Movement?
Cindy Abel: I think on the surface yes. For people who have a certain level of accomplishment and privilege, or live in urban areas–yes. We hear the President say that all people should be respected no matter who they love, and that they should have the same rights and responsibilities. It’s great to hear that, but if your mom and dad, or the kids at school, or whomever are saying that these are not things that are acceptable, then it is really still rough.
TLWC’s Aundrea: Through the making of the film what do you see as some of the remaining barriers to overcome for the movement?
Cindy Abel: We firstly need to pay attention to the areas where there is still no legal equality. Secondly, we need to pay attention to how laws shape out on the ground. It’s one thing to have laws, it’s another thing to have the necessary cultural shift to make these laws real for people. We need for not only LGBT people to come out, but also people who are supportive of LGBT equality to come out and be active in the cause.
TLWC’s Aundrea: What is the one thing viewers of ‘Breaking Through’ should take away after watching the film?
Cindy Abel: Listen to your own voice and believe in yourself. Take one step forward towards living your life totally authentically. Whatever it is that we may be hiding or feel shame about, take one more step forward towards being open about whatever that thing is. That’s where the joy is, living authentically.
While I have never experienced discrimination because of my sexual orientation, as a woman of color I identified with Ms. Abel on many points that seem to transcend the Gay Rights Movement. For anyone who starts life in a darker space by virtue of where she was born, accessing strong role models and supportive friends can make all the difference for living with 100% conviction about who you are. Whether you are LGBT yourself or not, June is the perfect time to reflect on what it means to live authentically in your own life and help someone else make that first step towards doing the same.
An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.
Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.How do you live authentically?