After several hours of people pointing their fingers in her face and telling her she was going to hell, Keturah Cappadonia cracked.
In tears, the 28-year-old librarian in Coudersport, a rural town of 2,500 people, sent an e-mail to Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, canceling the planned screening of their award-winning PBS documentary about the challenges of being openly gay in rural Pennsylvania.
Wilson and Hamer are traveling the state with their film “Out In The Silence,” and Perry County is on the list of future venues.
The film recounts the men’s return to Oil City after a plea for help from the mother of a gay high school student being bullied at school.
It has been reviewed favorably by the American Library Association and Christianity Today, but it’s getting resistance in some of the rural counties where Wilson and Hamer think it most needs to be seen.
Several churches in Potter County launched a campaign to force the local library to cancel, and the president of the Potter County Tea Party called for the library’s funding to be revoked if it didn’t comply.
The 58-year-old library board president, Jane Metzger, decided she would have none of it.
Regardless of what she thought of homosexuality, she was not going to compromise the library’s mission “because of the very loud voices of a few folks.”
“Basically we’re looking at intellectual freedom,” said Metzger. “That’s the bottom line. That’s what a library is for.”
A quick series of calls to the other members of the board resulted in a unanimous decision: the screening would go forward as planned.
The leader of the Potter County Tea Party, through a local blogger, claimed the library was allowing conservative Christians to be “attacked for our beliefs at a public library we support with our tax money. This is wrong and cannot be tolerated.” Later, he apologized for using the tea party name to express his personal opinion.
In the meantime, the filmmakers issued a press release, and the local blogosphere lit up in a bonfire of anonymous comments and accusations.
By the time people began to arrive for the screening two days later, Cappadonia looked shell-shocked.
“I don’t like controversy,” she said. “I know it’s a conservative community, but I never imagined it would get such a knee-jerk reaction.”
Some were saying Christian views would never be allowed an airing at the library because of separation of church and state. But the the library has six shelves of Bibles and Christian books in the non-fiction section, and Christian fiction is “wildly popular,” said Cappadonia.
Many Christians in Coudersport support the library. One said, “This is not a town that burns books.”
Cars quickly filled the library parking lot. Then they filled the lot for the neighborhood park next door. Then they began pulling onto the grass.
When the lights went down, all seats were full. People were sitting on the floor, sitting on bookshelves, standing between the stacks and against the wall. Many could not see the screen, but stayed just to listen.
As the film neared its conclusion an hour later, there was a flash of lightning outside, a sharp clap of thunder, and a double rainbow filled the sky.
Inside, a few opponents of the film offered their brimstone and walked out.
Applause erupted when a woman told the library board, “I think it’s good what you’ve done here.”
Some attempted to speak at length about “God’s Law,” and expressed frustration when they were asked to let others talk, too.
Openly gay members of the town — teenagers, adults and senior citizens — spoke briefly. Some said they felt embraced by the community and lucky to live there; others much less so.
Walter Baker, former chairman of the local Republican party and a member of the vestry at the Episcopal church, has owned a hotel in the center of town as an openly gay man for over 30 years.
“The people here are probably the most friendly people around,” he said. “They’ve been more than generous to me knowing who and what I am.”
A man from a town nearby said his church was very important to him, but when he came out of the closet “the people who considered themselves the most religious wrote me horrible letters.”
The discussion got loud a few times, but the consensus afterward was it was worthwhile.
When everyone was gone, Keturah Cappadonia locked the door.
Library board member Terri Shaffer sat on the floor and began ripping up the tattered duct tape patching the carpet.
The carpet “was good stuff when it was put in,” said Metzger. “June 1973 to be exact.”
Although the local tea party official claimed “$1.5 million of local taxes” go to the library, the reality is its total budget last year was $117,000 – with less than $42,000 from local governments.
“I think it was a good experience,” said Shaffer. “Who cares if people get a little loud and speak their mind?”
Maybe the experience will bring in some donations — “especially from Harrisburg” she quipped.
Just then, there was a knock at the door.
It was one of the local ministers who spoke against the “homosexual lifestyle.”
When Cappadonia opened the door, he apologized to her.
“I feel badly about people coming in and badgering you,” he said.
Then he addressed Shaffer, saying “Terri, I hope I didn’t disappoint you too much.”
“It’s not my job to judge you,” she said with a smile.
About the film
Find out more about the film at this website.