Documentarian Daniel Karslake wowed audiences with his 2007 documentary For The Bible Tells Me So, which chronicles the journey of several conservative families coming to terms with their children coming out as LGBTQIIA+. That film resonated with me not because of my own struggles, but due to those of my older cousin, Kelly. We were very close. He was practically a brother to me. Half of my family’s reactions to his coming out were quite similar to those in that film, which is a total lack of acceptance, fear, and unfortunately some occasional ridicule.
For They Know Not What They Do can be seen as somewhat of an extension of For The Bible Tells Me So, except it’s more about how things in some ways have improved for the LGBTQIA+ community, but the backlash has become worse in some arenas. It discusses how Conservative Christians in the United States reacted to marriage equality. We see the lovely Kim Davis again, and beloved Evangelical wackadoo, Pat Robertson, who has once said that clothes from thrift stores are possessed by demons…so it makes perfect sense that he has his own television network, but I digress.
The sociopolitical implications of marriage equality are pretty much well known on the larger public scale. Karslake examines some of that but focuses more on the personal microcosm of individual families who were faced with a child who comes out. All of the parents could be considered devout, if not evangelical Christians.
“…focuses more on the personal microcosm of individual families who were faced with a child who comes out.”
There are the Robertsons with their son, Ryan who came out as gay at the age of 12. Then there are the McBrides whose son Tim came out as a transgender woman, Sarah while serving as student body president of American University. Followed by the Báez Febo family, whose son Victor didn’t exactly come out as gay to them directly as much as he was discovered arguing with a boyfriend by his grandmother who then proceeded to lock him out of the house. He was also present for the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. Last but not least, there is the Porcher family, whose daughter was always a real tomboy, but it never occurred to them that their daughter actually identified as their son, Elliott, for as long as he could remember. The families’ reactions run the gamut from shock, fear, depression, panic, and then finally—for the most part, acceptance.
In addition to the families stories, there are also progressive religious scholars who differ from the norm of “IF YOU’RE GAY YOU’RE GOIN’ TO HELL.” They have commentary on the individual families, in addition to such topics of conversion therapy, the “bathroom bills,” and more. These include Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop; Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis out of New York who advocates for gay rights and has one of the most progressive congregations in NYC; Reverend Dr. Delmon Coates out of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church out of Clinton, Maryland, who unlike almost every other megachurch pastor, doesn’t believe that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin (newsflash, it doesn’t, but that’s a story for another time); and finally Reverend Cynthia Alice Anderson of Christ Church Unity in Orlando, Florida.
Overall, For They Know Not What They Do is by turns full of hope and full of heartbreak. It makes a case for acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly the younger people. There’s a shocking number of gay and trans teenagers who contemplate or attempt suicide. The film shows people who might think otherwise that these kids are the same as straight kids, they go through the same struggles, and more. As if being a teenager wasn’t hard enough.
“…by turns full of hope and full of heartbreak. It makes a case for acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community…”
I wish that my cousin Kelly could’ve seen this documentary, and more importantly that some of the least accepting members of my family could have. He might’ve ended up being much happier. However, he came out in the days of Freddie Mercury and unfortunately passed away From AIDS-related cancer in 2015. I’m not trying to make this review about my personal life, but so many of the circumstances in For They Know Not What They Do remind me of my beloved cousin. Therefore this review is dedicated to him.
Even if you don’t have a personal connection to an LGBTQIA+ person, which the likelihood of that is slim to none, honestly; you will feel for the families and especially the kids in their journeys to find love, acceptance, and balance in a world. Despite all our best efforts, we still manage to have more than enough blind hate to go around. Daniel Karslake and writer/editor Nancy Kennedy are excellent storytellers, and I’m forever grateful to them and the families who participated for hopefully helping the world take a step in the right direction, away from discrimination and towards equality.
For They Know Not What They Do (2019) Directed by Daniel Karslake. Written and Edited by Nancy Kennedy. Starring Rob Robertson, Linda Robertson, Lindsay Robertson, Don Mueller, Randy Thomas, David MacBride, Sally MacBride, Sarah MacBride, Vico Baez Febo, Victor Baez, Annette Febo, Vicnette Baez Febo, Iris Delia Collazo, Robin Maynard-Harris, Harold Porcher, Colleen Porcher, Elliot Porcher, Bishop V. Gene Robinson, Reverend Dr. Mel White, Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Reverend Dr. Delmon Coates, Boris Dittrich, Paul M. Smith, Reverend Cynthia Alice Anderson. For They Know Not What They Do screened at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
9 out of 10 stars