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Prince Research Excerpts on Gay Rights & Mormonism – “21 – 8: The Mormon Proposition”

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21 – “8: The Mormon Proposition”


“In February, interest in the film exploded for the first time in headlines across the world after Utah’s ABC affiliate showed footage of Cowan’s interview with anti-gay Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. In this footage, Buttars — known for his controversial remarks about gays and lesbians — compared gay people to terrorists, claimed that they engaged in ‘pig sex,’ and called them ‘the biggest threat to America going down that I know of.’…” (“Trailer for Documentary about Prop. 8 and Mormons released,” Q Salt Lake, October 27, 2009)


“While the 80-minute documentary is still in production, a trailer posted on the Internet has caught the eye of both sides of the debate, viewed by roughly 70,000 people in its first 78 hours online. And the Web site that hosts the video has had nearly 28,000 visitors since it went online last month.

Cowan contends that the church was the most influential force in the campaign and paints the faith’s theology and culture as historically anti-gay.…

Church officials have seen the trailer and other online materials about the film, LDS spokeswoman Kim Farah said, and ‘it is obvious that anyone looking for balance and thoughtful discussion of a serious subject will need to look elsewhere.’…

Cowan said he ‘begged’ for church participation — through both official channels and personal connections — but was rejected. ‘I got an immediate no,’ he said.…” (Jennifer Dobner, “Film on LDS gay-marriage stance stirs debate,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 15, 2009)


“It was a conversation between him and a sibling about her support of Proposition 8 cemented his commitment to make the film: ‘8: The Mormon Proposition.’

‘I thought, if this is the dialogue in my Mormon family, then what is like in other Mormon households.’…

Cowan contends that the church was the most influential force in the campaign and paints the faith’s theology and culture as historically anti-gay.

Internet commentary on the trailer is divided.

Depending on the source, the movie is either an emotional and scathing indictment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or an unfair characterization of the Utah-based church’s beliefs and motivation for political involvement.…

LDS spokeswoman Kim Farah said, and ‘it is obvious that anyone looking for balance and thoughtful discussion of a serious subject will need to look elsewhere.’…

Cowan said he ‘begged’ for church participation — through both official channels and personal connections — but was rejected. ‘I got an immediate no,’ he said.…” (Jennifer Dobner, “Film documents Mormon role in gay marriage debate,” Associated Press, November 15, 2009)


“’8: The Mormon Proposition’ was the first documentary to completely sell out in this year’s slate of films [at the Sundance Festival]…” (Michelle Garcia, “Prop 8 Doc Screenings Sell Out at Sundance,” Advocate, January 14, 2010)


“Latter-day Saint leaders have given many interviews on the church’s involvement in Proposition 8, but did not want to participate in something they view as biased, Kim Farah said.

‘It appears that accuracy and truth are rare commodities in this film,’ Farah ssid. ‘Clearly, anyone looking for balance and thoughtful discussion of a serious topic will need to look elsewhere.’…” (Jennifer Dobner, “Prop 8 film debuts at Sundance,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 24, 2010)


“[Reed] Cowan received two sustained standing ovations Sunday for his documentary ‘8: The Mormon Proposition’…

‘The Mormon Church won this battle,’ said one man in the audience, ‘but they’re going to lose this war.’…” (Sean P. Means, “Moviegoers applaud Prop. 8 film critical of LDS Church,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 25, 2010)


“Instead of stooping to the level of Focus on the Family’s misleading Prop. 8 ads, the pic damns the LDS Church not with lies, but with their own words.…” (Peter Debruge, “8: The Mormon Proposition,” Variety, January 26, 2010)


“’Our publicity guy later told us that in 13 years of working Sundance he had never seen a standing ovation!’ he added, noting that the film received a similar ovation during every screening at the festival.…” (Joselle Vanderhooft, “Proposition 8 Documentary a Hit at Sundance,” Q Salt Lake, February 1, 2010)


“For his second film, [Reed] Cowan initially intended to focus on gay homeless teens in Utah. But as he did research, he was approached by a man he refers to as his ‘Mormon Deep Throat,’ a gay man who had worked in the archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had uncovered documents detailing the church’s strategy for using the ballot box to stop gay marriage.…” (Amy Kaufman, “The roots of ‘8: The Mormon Proposition,’” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2010)


“Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, whose portrait of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk won an Academy Award, was approached for informal talks by Mormon officials after he narrated a documentary critical of the church called ‘8: The Mormon Proposition.’ Church officials were surprised to learn that he, a young, gay man, deeply wanted a family. ‘That was this big ‘ah ha’ moment,’ he said.

But Black said the initial invitation came only after the church was pilloried in public. ‘They didn’t contact me after making ‘Milk’. They contacted me after making ‘8: The Mormon Proposition’,’ said Black, who was raised a Mormon. He since has introduced HRC leader Griffin to church officials, at the December dinner and a concert following, while continuing talks.

Church spokesman Michael Purdy said its hospitality did not signal a change in position. ‘Being committed to marriage between a man and a woman does not mean that we do not love and care for all of God’s children. Having conversations with gay rights leaders, speaking about compassion and respect for all, and inviting people to attend a concert do not equal pulling back from supporting traditional marriage due to negative publicity during Prop 8,’ he wrote by email.” (Peter Henderson, ‘Insight: Silent or supportive, conservatives give gay marriage momentum,’ Reuters, March 25, 2013)


“[Greg] Are you able to share any of the unused material that you accumulated during the filming of ‘8’ – things such as interview transcripts?

[Reed] I have no transcripts any longer of unused material.

[Greg] Do you know of anyone who either is or was on the inside of the Church administration during Prop 8 who could give the perspective from that side of the issue? I don’t want the book to be one-sided, so getting that voice will be crucial.

[Reed] None that have ever agreed to talk.” (Reed Cowan to GAP, August 22, 2014)


Cowan: These documents had been given to every news reporter—let me be more accurate.  These documents had been given to a news report from every media outlet in Salt Lake City a couple of years before they ever saw the light of day, but nobody took them to air, nobody printed them, nothing.…

I came at this from a very personal perspective.  All of the press materials that the publicists put together say that “Reed Cowan started out doing a film about homeless gay teens, and then he came upon these documents.”  That was manufactured by the distributor.  That was not the truth at all.  I knew that the documents existed.  I knew the Mormon Church had been way more involved than even some of the more informative articles and publications had said.  But I didn’t really take action on them, Greg, until I felt highly injured in a personal sense.…

Yes.  Two days prior to Wesley’s funeral, there was an article that revealed that the Church was involved in the campaign in California.  The Church came out with a statement—I don’t remember what the article said.  I could find it.  But the reason that’s material to my own sort of visceral experience and reaction is that Elder Rolfe Kerr of the Seventy, who has a gay son and who is related to Gary and Millie Watts, who are very involved in the movement, was supposed to so-officiate my son’s funeral, with Jon Huntsman.  I uninvited him because of that article that came out and the statement the Church made and read to their congregations.  It was all very loving, but I just said, “Look, I love you as a person, but if you are going to come as an ambassador of the Quorum of the Seventy to a funeral for two gay dads, you represent a very painful position that is not welcome at my son’s funeral.”  He understood.  They were kind.  It wasn’t like I told him to f-off and walk.  It wasn’t like that at all.

It was all around that same time that the Church was making public statements, they were having things read, we were having this very personal experience of feeling like we were embraced, and then realizing we weren’t, losing a child.  So when it passed, that’s when I decided—I looked around at my peers in all of journalism and I thought, “Nobody is doing anything!” and I felt a moral imperative to jump in and do the film.  It wasn’t motivated by money, it wasn’t motivated by prominence or notoriety; it was motivated from a very real place of “You hurt me in a really real way.  You know me, General Authorities.  You know who I am.  I have been in your homes and I have hung out with you.  I have a child who was killed in an accident, and you will do this to somebody who is very wounded.”  So I did the film from a very visceral standpoint.

Prince: Did you bootstrap it initially?

Cowan: We did the whole way through.  Had we had the budget, had I not been working fulltime in Miami for the Fox affiliate there, had we had a real production, we could have swept the Oscars the year it came out.  What ended up being created was done fast and furious by the seat-of-our-pants because we wanted to get it into Sundance, and because they wanted to shoehorn it through.  So it’s not a great film.  I know that.  It could have been.…

As far as the documents go, I’m very hurt and saddened by the Church, and wish I could just look them in the eye and say, “You knew me!  At a minimum you knew me as the person on-air for seven years, doing good in your communities.”  And I did good.  I was the most requested public speaker for my TV station in history.  I spoke to 40,000 with the Huntsman’s every year.  I did so much good in this community.  But I went from being the darling, to being the one that the Church lied about when they went forward in their statement saying, “We have not seen the film, but judging by what we know of it, it’s not truthful or accurate.”  They kicked me in the journalist balls, Greg, and they did so in a worldwide press release that I still am haunted by in my career.  And yet, they have never refuted one sentence in the film.  They have never accepted an invitation to sit with me.  I told them well in advance of its premier at Sundance, “I’ll sit down with you and I’ll go over every word, and if there is anything untrue, I’ll take it out.”  Nothing.  Nothing.

(Reed Cowan, June 8, 2014)

Prince: Reed [Cowan] said that you approached him not long before the documentary was to be screened at Sundance.

Jay: He had already announced the screening, and based on that set that I had given, that went off to Karger, and then Karger got in touch with Reed, and that became part of this film.  I thought it would come out in the news, but I wasn’t expecting that.  So I contacted Reed and said, “If you’re going to be screening this at Sundance, it would be nice if you would let me just sit in the back row of the theatre and watch this on the screen.  It would be interesting to see how you play this all out.”

When he realized who he was talking to, he flew me out to San Francisco within two days.  He sat me down for an interview, and he wanted me in the documentary.  I said, “The Church wants to know who I am, for obvious reasons.”  But I wasn’t comfortable doing that at the time.  My dad was an institute director.  At the time of the screening he would be three months away from retirement.  So I said, “For my family’s sake, I don’t want added publicity, for fear of what might happen.”

Prince: Were you still working in the archives then?

Jay: I was not at that time.  I was out.  Reed really wanted me in the film, but I said, “I’ll do back-lit, but I don’t want you to show my face.”  So based on that, he opted to not put me in the film at all, because he wanted everybody to be up front.  He has approached me since, a couple of times, about using me for articles or things that he had been working on, and said, “Are you now comfortable?”  It comes back down to it that I am fine with sharing anything, with giving the material to anyone; I just feel that I am not the story.  I don’t want to be the person who was in the archives—it’s what was in the archives that is more important.

(Joseph Jay, June 15, 2014)

Karger: I remember when I was at Sundance and I saw the movie for the first time.  When I went to the premiere, I thought, “Boy!  I have been aggressive, but nothing like this.  I can’t believe it.  Maybe he went a little too far.”  Well, that very night I was at some event for Sundance, and somebody came up to me who had seen the movie.  It was a young man, and he was practically weeping at the time.  He said, “My brother, who was gay and who was nineteen, just killed himself last week.  Thank you so much for what you are doing.”  We just started crying together, and that was the moment I realized that the movie was not too tough, if we are going to get the Mormon Church to change its ways, to treat people with dignity and equally.  It’s good cop/bad cop.  You have to be aggressive.  Not everyone takes that style, but I know how change is made, and that is one of the ways to do it.  I will continue to do that.

(Fred Karger, July 8, 2014)