The lights die down. A hush falls over the modest crowd seated together in the red cushioned seats and black walls of Theater 2 in Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre. A cartoon drawing of popcorn flowing out of a rainbow bag, the logo of the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, flashes across the screen. Then a goofy romcom about a lesbian couple, “Freelancers Anonymous,” begins.
Back in October, the 21st year of the film festival, three days of LGBT-centered screenings and community receptions, took place. Though organizers considered it a success, it lacked one crucial demographic: Almost no one was below 50 years old.
One of the youngest attendees was Nicole Musalo, a 29-year-old coordinator for the LGBT Network for elderly services. Musalo, who is pansexual (attraction to all genders), theorized that the lack of young people at the event was due to poor advertising, saying that she “hadn’t seen any advertisements for this festival.”
“So I would imagine that people aren’t really seeing it as much,” she said.
Steve Flynn, the director of the festival, thinks most LGBT groups congregate online rather than rallying together in person. “There’s not the same thing of people meeting in a church basement,” he said.
Young people may also enjoy more mainstream acceptance now than they did in the past. Without the need for a specific gay community, fewer people show up to LGBT events, Flynn believes.
“Acceptance is good,” Flynn said. “But when you’re not accepted, what it does bring out is people coming together to right the wrongs, like they did for AIDS, like they did for Pride, like they did for many, many things, and also out of repression comes art. Good art comes out of repression.”
Flynn and other programmers from the festival picked films highlighting different issues such as transphobia, gay-conversion therapy and the historical fight for LGBT rights. Movies included “Transmilitary” and “Mr. Gay Syria,” two documentaries about transgender people in the armed forces, and about gay Syrians trying to enter the international Mr. Gay World pageant.
Tom Calma, a Californian visiting his niece, said more people should see movies like “Transmilitary.” “Especially the straight people who don’t understand what the heck these people are going through. They’re human beings.”
The film festival brings in local entertainment to make the event more interactive with the public. “We really attract almost every LGBT community group on Long Island at some point in their existence,” Flynn added. For this year, five groups participated in the festival.
Receptions were held after every movie in the Center’s Sky Room Cafe. The Long Island Pride Chorus and Long Island Community Fellowship’s Gospel both performed choir songs, and Rusty Rose, a veteran of the 1969 riot at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, told a poem onstage about that fateful June night.
“We donate our time,” Cindy Quart, music director of the Long Island Pride Chorus, said. “When we do an event like this, we really do it because we want to give back to the community.”
Despite Flynn’s push to create a community atmosphere, he noted the shift in the representation of gay culture on Long Island.
“20 years ago the gay community was different than it is now. Back in 1998 to 2008, there were 12 to 13 gay bars on Long Island,” Flynn said. Now there are only about half.