In an articulate new film, out lesbian Chrissy Gephardt and her parents join families and experts who testify that unconditional love triumphs over homophobia based in literal readings of the Bible.
One of the most effective and memorable lines in For the Bible Tells Me So, an engaging documentary about the relationship between homosexuality and Christianity by Emmy-nominated director Dan Karslake, proposes, “There’s nothing wrong with a fifth-grade interpretation of God, so long as you’re in fifth grade.” This statement by Reverend Dr. Laurence Keene, a Pepperdine University sociology professor and Disciples of Christ minister, warns against the literal interpretation of Scripture. When removed from its specific historical and cultural context, argue he and other clergy members such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the film, the Bible can be misunderstood, and even used, to justify bigotry and violence against LGBT individuals.
The antidote to religious-based discrimination, according to For the Bible Tells Me So, involves the two-pronged approach of a more informed interpretation of ancient text, and the unconditional love of parents for their gay and lesbian children. This is where Chrissy Gephardt and her family enter the picture, so to speak. The prominent lesbian activist recently spoke with GO about her personal life and her role in the film, which premiered at Sundance in February and opens nationally on October 5th after award-winning turns at the Outfest, Provincetown and Seattle film festivals.
Political observers know Gephardt, 34, as the daughter of former U.S. Representative Dick Gephardt, the long-serving House Minority Leader from Missouri and a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004. During that high-profile campaign, in which she acted as her father’s liaison to the LGBT community and performed critical fundraising work, Karslake asked whether she, along with her father and mother Jane, would appear in his film to relay the experiences of mainstream Christian families in America with homosexuality.
“How could I not be a part of something like this?” Gephardt recalls thinking. “It’s a powerful film that touches on an issue that hasn’t been discussed, and it’s a pretty hot topic,” she says.
The Gephardts join four other families in the film who exhibit varying degrees of comfort with their children’s homosexuality. Interviewees include the parents of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop to be consecrated by the Episcopal Church; Randi and Phil Reitan and their son Jake, activists with the religious-oriented Soulforce organization; minister couple Brenda and David Poteat and their daughter Tonia, an African-American Ivy League grad; and Mary Lou Wallner, who became an ally of LGBT individuals after the suicide of her lesbian daughter, Anna.
Although each family differs in its level of religious commitment and the extent to which the parents accept homosexuality, all concur that unconditional love and support for their children ultimately overrides more negative impulses, which Karslake presents with admirable frankness. Brenda Poteat, for example, admits that when her daughter first came out in college, she spent hours consumed by distressing thoughts about the details of Tonia’s sexual activities with women.
Dick and Jane Gephardt, a Baptist and a Catholic who agreed to raise their three children Catholic, seem to have readily embraced Chrissy, the middle child, when she came out to them in April 2001 before People broke the news in May 2003. The film gives the sense that her parents expected her announcement. “She was a good athlete,” Mr. Gephardt observes about her childhood, pointedly adding, “She also wore pants more than skirts and dresses.”
That’s not to say that coming out was easy for Chrissy, who describes herself as a spiritual person repelled by the restrictive messages she began to hear from the church in high school. She was briefly married to a man she met in college at Northwestern University. However, when she attended graduate school for social work in 2000, she met and fell in love with her partner, Amy Loder, 36, and she realized, painfully, that she would have to end her marriage to an otherwise wonderful man. “We don’t talk. I think he’s still mad at me,” she states about her former husband.
Immediately after she came out, Chrissy jumped into leadership roles with political organizations such as the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and the National Stonewall Democrats. Her father readily incorporated her help for his presidential bid in 2004, during which time Chrissy personally tried to reach out and find common ground with Mary Cheney, the openly lesbian daughter of the Vice President. She says her call to Cheney’s assistant was never returned.
Today, Gephardt and Loder live in Washington, D.C. as registered domestic partners who held a commitment ceremony attended by their families. As a part-time law student at Georgetown University and executive vice president of the Gephardt Group, a consulting firm that helps clients gain access to labor markets, Chrissy finds that her work and school schedule prohibit LGBT activism beyond her speaking engagements on the college circuit. Still, this passionate advocate feels eager to immerse herself in electoral politics again.
”I would like to get more involved in Hillary’s campaign,” Gephardt says of the Democratic presidential candidate endorsed by her father. Citing the advantage of Clinton’s experience despite her lack of support for full marriage equality, she says, “I really believe in her. I think she’s great on social issues. Is she perfect? No.” Gephardt admits that she considers her own run for public office someday, but she hesitates because she knows firsthand how politicians’ careers can affect their families. Now that she and her partner are preparing to adopt a child, she says, “I would love to figure out how to make the two work, but I’m not sure.”
For the time being, Gephardt is happy to spread the message of love within families that abounds in For the Bible Tells Me So.