I was born in Cleveland, OH to parents who were both wonderfully Catholic and wonderfully Ohioan. Both live no more than a 30 minute car ride away from their childhood homes. I spent 13 years attending Catholic school, 4 years volunteering, and at times running, the Catholic community at my college, and 24 and a half years never missing a Sunday mass. (In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m 24 and a half years old and have been attending weekly mass into my adult life.) I was, and to some still am, the good little Midwestern Catholic girl. But to my parents, I lost that title when they learned of my involvement on EastSiders the Series.
We were a strict, but not suffocating, Catholic family. Whenever the church said something was one way, that’s the way it was, no questions. But the seeds of a black sheep mentality were planted in me even as early as high school. A lot of my good friends, despite being at a Catholic school, came out as gay. Luckily, the teachers that knew were supportive, as was I. Secretly though, I still didn’t believe they should get married and I was uncomfortable around them because I believed most of the propaganda against gays. Part of me even thought that this was just a phase they were going through. I even once got deeply offended when someone thought my best friend and I were lesbians.
In college, I befriended even more people who identified as gay, and it started to become difficult to justify my Catholic beliefs on the subject to myself. In an effort to try and understand what internal moral battle I was waging, I made a project for my Nonfiction Film Production class that discussed the Catholic view of homosexuality and how every day Catholics and every day gays felt about it. After that, I felt as if I had no reason to strongly believe anything one way or the other and I adopted an “agnostic” sensibility when it came to gay issues.
Enter EastSiders. For me, getting involved with EastSiders was never about the LGBT message. I was a new member of the film and television industry looking to get any and all kinds of work I could get my hands on. Kit Williamson was a friend of mine who wanted to collaborate with me AND give me a producer credit. Even though the story centered on a gay couple, it was a great opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. I would be getting my first “producer” credit, which I thought would be the shining gem on my resume. I knew there was a lot I would learn, and eventually I did. I ended up creating the production’s schedule and budget, managing paperwork for insurance and distribution purposes, communicating with the cast and crew about their specific needs, and doing basically any task necessary to bring the words on the page alive.
But I was hesitant to say yes. My father always encouraged me to stay true to my values no matter what opportunities presented themselves. He has this dream of me changing the raunchy “Sodom and Gomorrah” Hollywood into something society can believe in and trust again. Like the good old days. My father’s voice was a constant resident in my thoughts, but I had loosened up a lot from my strict moral mentality since moving to LA a year prior so I saw little harm in accepting the position. However, I was still in my “don’t ask, don’t tell, because I still don’t know how I feel about LGBT issues” phase.
To top off this hesitation, I was facing an impending Kickstarter campaign to finance the first season. In my research leading up to the campaign’s launch, I knew that friends and family were one of the largest sources of support. But knowing where I came from I was afraid of how my friends and family would respond. In reality, when it came time to spread the word in the hopes of generating some cash, I got a lot of “I’ll definitely spread the word,” but not a lot of dollars and cents. We made our goal, so it turned out to be a moot point, but I was truly worried about my ability to finance based on my background and the subject matter.
Once EastSiders production started, I was surprised to be shaken that out of all my worries. All at once I was finally able to form some sort of opinion on the whole matter. During an average, ordinary shoot day, I had an epiphany. I had recently gone through a breakup when production of the show began and it all of a sudden struck me how strongly I related to the story of the show. I specifically remember shooting the conversation between Cal and Kathy in the first episode and thinking “I know exactly how Cal feels.” It was through the story of EastSiders that I found how I felt about the LGBT community. If God is love, and if a person is compelled and inspired to love another person (no matter what genders are involved) then that’s God working in this world and that is a beautiful thing.
I tell people that my favorite part about the message of EastSiders is that it doesn’t take a stance one way or the other on LGBT rights. The relationships just exist without any grandeur or attention to the fact that it’s a gay relationship. It’s a loving relationship, and it just happens to be between two men.
I’m proud of the fact that this project has received the attention that it has because I believe it’s the kind of attention the LGBT community needs. And the attention has been quite the eye opener. I always thought the press would reach out to you about stories, I mean, we’re doing something groundbreaking over here, right? Producing something completely independently that gives voice to an important part of the LGBT community. That deserves attention, right? In reality we had to reach out to each and every person that wrote an article about us to let them know we existed. It helped a lot that we had some stars attached including Van Hansis (As The World Turns), Sean Maher (Firefly), Traci Lords (Cry Baby), Stephen Guarino (Happy Endings), and Brea Grant (Heroes). Luckily our story struck a chord with the press like it struck a chord in me and we were able to tell our story to a wonderfully supportive audience.
Our luck continued. We were picked up for distribution by LogoTV.com (which brought with it its own mountain of paperwork), received awards and nominations from LA Weekly, LA Webfest, and the International Satellite Awards. Once people heard about us, it seemed that the story was just as important to them as it was to me. Little did I know that in saying yes to produce EastSiders I would become a semi-celebrity in LGBT media. That I was definitely not prepared for, and, to be honest, I don’t necessarily brag about it to anyone and everyone.
I’m still not 100% honest with everyone I know about my involvement with the Catholic Church and EastSiders. I don’t discuss it with my family, because I know they don’t really want to acknowledge my involvement. I know my Catholic/Christian friends would frown at me and think I’m living a life of sin. And I know my more liberal friends would tease me for believing in archaic teachings and practices. I mean in all honestly, you can call me a “pick and choose” Catholic. There are many teachings I believe in and there are many teachings that I don’t based on my experiences and my will to love everyone.
What inspires me to be confident in what I’ve learned and how I see the world to be is Jesus’ core message: Love God above all else and “love your neighbor as yourself.” I know I have no right to judge my neighbor, no right to condemn my neighbor, but every right and every responsibility to love them. I think I’m very much fulfilling my dad’s dream of changing Hollywood, just not in the way that he expected. I hope that my work on EastSiders is a way for me to spread a little love to those who feel like they’re in the minority of this world, and I hope to continue spreading this message in my future work.