Monday, July 29, 2013

Why Out Lesbian Nuns Are Missing from 'Band of Sisters'

(Sister Carol Coston, top, and Sister Miriam Therese MacGillis, who appear in the film. Courtesy photos.)

A new documentary by Mary Fishman about several Catholic nuns engaged in social and economic justice work since the 1960s, "Band of Sisters", was shown this month at the Yerba Buena Screening Room. Because of competition event, I was able to see only one-hour of the 90-minute film, which I found over all very illuminating and engaging without preaching.

Some of the more impressive sections showed the sisters fighting for better prison conditions for people incarcerated and against deportation of undocumented individuals. These woman are not the least bit coy in their advocacy on lots of controversial issues.

However, there was nothing said or shown related to LGBT matters either within the church or society, and none of the women who registered on my gaydar discuss their sexual orientation. I contacted Fishman to express my admiration for her documentary and asking questions about why gay and lesbian issues and out people were omitted. Fishman replied:

To address your questions briefly- there are many important human rights issues related to the Catholic church that the film does not address: women's reproductive rights, the sexual abuse crisis, to name a few. There are also many social justice ministries that Catholic sisters work on that are not in the film- human trafficking, anti-racism, etc. No documentary could cover all the issues, and every filmmaker has to chose from among many good possibilities.
There is already a film that I am sure you are familiar with, IN GOOD CONSCIENCE, about Sister Jeannine Gramick's wonderful work in support of gay and lesbian Catholics. I did not want to go over the same ground. Jeannine is in my film, talking about El Salvador and the Pope's visit. I thought that was a way of giving her fans another side of her work that was not in the previous film.
As for whether any of the sisters come out as lesbians in the film- why should they? The film is about the transformation of sisters after Vatican II, their work for social justice, and their spirituality. Throughout the film, and especially at the end, there are strong statements about the oneness of creation, the need to accept and welcome our diversity, and in fact to encourage our differences. 

The sisters in the film express their support for diversity, and by extension, LGBT people, and that is what is relevant to the film.
In my response to Fishman, I noted that I've not seen or heard of "In Good Conscience", and that it would have deepened the impact of "Band of Sisters" if a simple acknowledgement about the out lesbians were included, regardless of that other doc.

Regarding why the sisters should come out, well, Fishman herself gives the answer in reaffirming that the film is about their transformation after Vatican II, a transformation that included stepping out of the closet.

The fight for queer visibility is a constant still-with-us dynamic, even with all the advances in recent years and I was reminded of this two-weeks back when the Bradley Manning Support Network was soliciting money for a full-page ad in the New York Times and his gayness was not mentioned.

Our LGBT stories need to be told over and over, and our lives and social activism work made abundantly visible at all times.

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