Q&A With Mark Goshorn Jones, Writer and Director of Tennessee Queer
The inspiration for Mark Goshorn Jones' quirky comedy Tennessee Queer was anything but funny.
The Shelby County Commission in Memphis wanted to pass an equal rights law in 2009 that protected LGBT city workers from job discrimination. They eventually did, but they were met with harsh and heated opposition for all the usual reasons. One of those critics included a county commissioner who said in a press conference that the bill was immoral because "They see the traditional family as a folly. The Bible states very clearly in Leviticus that homosexuality is an abomination, that it's a sin."
That gave screenwriter and director Mark Goshorn Jones an idea: What if a small Southern town tried to put on a gay pride parade of its own? That led to his third film Tennessee Queer about a prodigal gay son who returns to his super small hometown of Smythe and accidentally gets the city's blessing to hold its first gay pride parade right down the middle of Main Street. Jones talked to Mixmaster about his inspirations for the story of characters of his movie, which will play at 7 p.m. Monday at The Texas Theatre.
Was there one idea that sparked the story for this movie or just an idea you always wanted to try?
This is my third film, and I started writing this in 2011 and about this time three years ago, there were a couple of different things that sparked my imagination. It mainly had to do with really conservative politicians in Memphis and Shelby County and the state of Tennessee. We had one man who was part of the Shelby County Commission and in 2009, the County Commission was going to vote on giving LGBT workers some just basic equality protection. This guy had a huge press conference in front of the Shelby County building with six ministers and just banned gays to hell and just sort of said how evil and bad it would be to give gay workers any sort of protection. I just sort of filed that away. It was pretty horrific. I watched it. I was there. It was just horrific to watch that occur in the 21st century.
Then in a Memphis City Council meeting, we had an occasion where a councilwoman labeled all of the gays in Memphis sinners because she was talking about the issue of giving gay city workers protections. There was also a guy, a state senator in East Tennessee, who introduces a bill every cycle called the "Don't Say Gay" bill that prohibits schoolteachers from kindergarten through 8th grade from talking about anything gay. So "Johnny has two dads," she can't really address that. If you're studying Walt Whitman, you can't bring up the fact that he's gay. There are several examples. I could just go on and on. I guess in 2011, it actually passed one of the chambers, either the state Senate or House. So just some lone guy now, one of the chambers approved and of course, it takes two chambers and the governor to sign it and thankfully, the other chamber did not pass it. It got so much negative press and became a laughing stock.
The last thing was back in 2010, it seemed like there was a teenager who committed suicide because they were bullied just every two or three months and we would read more and more about another child somewhere. The one that I can remember is the young man from Rutgers University who killed himself in 2010 because his roommate taped him. So there was no one thing, no one big bang but it was several things just rambling around in my empty head that took hold and I wanted to show something positive, that one person can make a difference. The character of Jason ultimately does help and change the lives of the LGBT members of the town.