Historical 'Before Homosexuals' Closes 9-Day Hartford LGBT Film Fest

In its 30 years, the Connecticut LGBT Film Festival has shown scores of documentaries, usually profiles of famous LGBT men and women, tragic stories about AIDS and stories about 20th- and 21st-century gay rights activists, who worked in atmospheres of suppression and intolerance.

"Before Homosexuals" — one of the films in this year's nine-day festival, which runs June 2 to 10 mostly at Cinestudio in Hartford — is an interesting anomaly. John Scagliotti's historical doc tells stories of same-sex love dating all the way back to the ancient era.

In a phone interview from his home in Vermont, Scagliotti says much of ancient LGBT history was not discussed for centuries, until recently.

"There was this massive sea change in the '90s, where there were gay academic unions and anthropologist organizations getting grants to study the history," Scagliotti say. "There is this rich history, a lot of stories out there, not just Sappho, but many others."

The legendary lesbian poet from ancient Greece is discussed in "Before Homosexuals," as are gay subcultures in ancient Rome, Persia, China, India, Japan, North America and Egypt. The film profiles prominent LGBT historical figures such as Frederick the Great, who was forced by his father to witness the execution of his male lover; Michelangelo, whose love letters were rewritten by his nephew to change the gender of the recipient; Sweden's Queen Christina, who dressed in men's clothes and had female lovers; Walt Whitman, who had many intense relationships with men; and Oscar Wilde, the reigning famous martyr of pre-20th century gay culture.

Particularly fascinating are stories Scagliotti tells of cultural phenomena established to acknowledge LGBT people and let them contribute to society, such as Xochipilli, the Aztec patron saint of homosexuals, the same-sex passages of the Kama Sutra, the "cut sleeve" subculture in ancient China, the 4th-century B.C. Sacred Band of Thebes and Native Americans' recognition of "two-spirit" people.

The film even discusses a devoted same-sex relationship found in the Bible, in 1 Samuel 18: "Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt."

Christians, however, are the primary villains in "Before Homosexuals," because the spread of that religion brought with it persecution and execution of countless LGBT people living in countries whose pre-Christian societies tolerated them. "Why are we stuck with this silly statement from the Bible, from Leviticus, when other places in the world didn't have these rules and regulations and let you be different?" Scagliotti said. "It changes your history to know these things."

The word homosexual was used for the first time in 1867, in a book by Austrian novelist Karl Maria Benkert. By that century, homosexuality had been firmly pushed into the underground. It flourished in later years with the work of pioneering gay-rights activist Magnus Hirschfeld in Germany, but still struggled for mainstream recognition well into the 20th century.

"It's a question of visibility. For so many years, our visibility was absolutely nonexistent. ... If the subject of homosexuals came up, people would say 'Tthere is nothing to talk about here, now let's move on,'" he said. "But this stuff has been going on forever. ... In a way, [the research] fills a niche where people didn't even know there was a niche."

"Before Homosexuals" will close out the festival on June 10 at 3 p.m. at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor St. in Hartford. Scagliotti will be present.

Most of the festival's films will be shown at Cinestudio, 300 Summit St. on the campus of Trinity College in Hartford. On closing day, films will be shown at Real Art Ways; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 600 Main St. in Hartford; and Spotlight Theatres, 39 Front St. in Hartford.

Here's the full schedule. Unless otherwise noted, screenings are at Cinestudio. An opening night gala follows the first film screening at Trinity, and the courtyard at Wadsworth Atheneum hosts the closing night gala on June 10. Admission to the films is $10, $8 seniors and students, two for the price of one for "Just Charlie." A Festipass, which includes all shows and both parties, is $75. a three-show pass, which excludes opening and closing nights, is $25. For details, including possibly last-minute changes of venue, visit outfilmct.org.

June 2

"Center of My World," a German-language story about a teen boy with a dysfunctional family and a crush on a new student at school. 7:30 p.m. Director Jakob Erwa will be present.

June 3

"A Million Happy Nows," a drama about a soap star whose diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's challenges her and her girlfriend. 3 p.m.

"A Date for Mad Mary," an Irish drama about an ex-convict who is pressured to find a man to take her to a wedding. 7:30 p.m.

"Handsome Devil," an Irish drama about a talented rugby player who was kicked out of his previous school for a mysterious reason. 9:30 p.m.

June 4

"The Lavender Scare," a documentary about purging of LGBT employees from federal-government positions, starting in the Eisenhower era. 3 p.m.

"Uncle Gloria: One Helluva Ride!" a documentary about a man with a tumultuous life who transitions into a woman at age 67. 7:30 p.m.

June 5

"Where the Boys Are: Men's Shorts," 7:30 p.m.

June 6

"Girls' Night Out: Women's Shorts," 7:30 p.m.

June 7

"Hello Again," a musical romantic comedy starring Audra McDonald and Martha Plimpton. Reception at 6 p.m., film at 7:30 p.m. Director Tom Gustafson, writer/producer Cory Krueckeberg, composer Michael John LaChiusa and actor Al Calderon will be present.

June 8

"Just Charlie," a British drama about a top teen soccer player who realizes he wants to be a girl. 7:30 p.m.

June 9

"The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin," a documentary about the creator of "Tales of the City." 7:30 p.m.

"I Dream in Another Language," a Mexican drama about two men who are the last speakers of a dying language, and their longtime grudge. 9:30 p.m.

June 10

"Before Homosexuals: The Prequel to Before Stonewall." 3 p.m., Real Art Ways. Director John Scagliotti will be present.

"B&B," a thriller about two men who return to a B&B that once banned them and the terrifying events that follow. 7:30 p.m., Spotlight Theatres. Director Joe Ahearne will be present.

"Signature Move," a comic drama about a Muslim woman, her agoraphobic mother and her new girlfriend. 7:30 p.m., Wadsworth Atheneum. Director Jennifer Reeder will be present.

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