For They Know Not What They Do: a review

By Samaya Borom
Version 2
film still, courtesy of QueerScreen

For they Know Not What They Do

Directed by Daniel G. Karslake

 

Following the United States Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality in 2015 there has been a concerted campaign to curtail LGBTQI+ rights, notably under the guise of religious freedom. Daniel Karslake’s film For They Know Not What They Do is an insight into the way in which religion, such as the values of the Evangelical Christian American, deeply impact the culture and politics of the US around LGBTQI+ identity and sexuality.

Taking the title from ‘The Gospel According to Luke 23:34’, which is often referred to as the ‘Words of Forgiveness’ the documentary focuses on the story of individuals who have come out to families who are deeply religious and who share their stories of trying to navigate not only familial expectations but community expectations as to their own identity. Some, such as Ryan Robertson seek solace in controversial conversion therapy that proclaim to ‘cure’ through scripture any non-heteronormative identities. Others, such as Sarah McBride who became the first transgendered women elected to public office in Delaware, become strong transgender advocates and raise awareness around LGBTQI+ rights in what can be argued to be a very politically conservative country.

The impact of religious attitudes towards LGBTQI+ rights are evident where there exists the ‘No Promo Homo Laws’ in some states such as Arizona and Texas which prevents teachers from discussing anything to do with identity and sexuality that is not heteronormative. Other states aggressively passed legislation under the guise of protecting religious freedom as a constitutional right which conversely limits LGBTQI+ rights in allowing for discrimination, examples included bills debated such as the ‘bathroom bills’ in North Carolina allowing for ID checks before entering into a bathroom designated as either ‘male’ or ‘female’.

Using fear and discrimination to propel community discussion around transgender identities saw political advertisements freely played on television stations across the nation and it’s apparent that the fearmongering creates a palpable level of concern amongst communities as to their own safety. Indeed, the danger surrounding the LGBTQI+ community in the US is also explored with Vico Baez Febo’s experience of a hate crime in Florida as well as Elliot Porcher inflicting self-harm on himself.

For They Know Not What They Do also interviews family members who themselves were grappling with their children’s sense of identity and explores how it might challenge their own deeply held belief system. Interspersed with interviews from other human rights advocates – including religious figures seeking to denounce religious extremism cloaked as piousness – the film examines the increase in hate speech and discrimination since the controversial 2015 ruling.

For They Know Not What They Do is compelling watching, not just for the individual stories who offer forgiveness and hope and understanding but in order to understand the massive issues that they face in contemporary US society – where religion is used actively to discriminate and to create fear and mistrust.

 

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