When Kelly White was younger, she left her small town in Oklahoma for the bigger cities of Tulsa and Oklahoma City. There, she was pleasantly surprised by the inclusiveness the LGBTQ community encountered. When she returned to her hometown about 15 years ago, she decided to try to bring some of that inclusiveness with her.
Now, 15 years later, she's still at it. White is the co-founder of a new LGBTQ film festival in McAlester, a small Oklahoma town better known for being the site of the state’s penitentiary than for its LGBTQ community.
“I think with Pride month anywhere from June to September, it’s a great time to celebrate Pride," White said. "We don’t have a Pride event here in McAlester, so this is our way of providing a diversity weekend."
The festival, called Glitter!, opened on Wednesday and continues through Saturday in McAlester, population 18,000. The festival highlights full-length features, documentaries, shorts, screenwriting and more. An estimated 40 filmmakers from all over the country are taking part in the inaugural festival.
Each night there is entertainment, including drag shows. Fat Mary’s Lounge and Cabaret is hosting the event with a few screenings at a local coffee shop as well.
“Fat Mary’s Lounge and Cabaret is basically the only gay bar in southeast Oklahoma,” White said. “It’s such a diverse club, because the majority of people who come here are probably straight. The straight community keeps this bar going, which is amazing. But we’re trying to grow on that and get more awareness through it. We need that here.”
Many in the community community will drive to Oklahoma City or Tulsa to find likeminded people, White noted, and while things have improved, it can still be difficult for some LGBTQ people.
“Times have changed, and things have gotten dramatically better with all the laws that have passed, but it’s still hard for some gay couples to go to the regular nightclubs without being looked at, talked about, things like that, so it’s nice that we have a club here where everyone can come and be themselves and feel welcome and everyone is just happy here,” she said.
Aside from promoting art and culture, the film festival seeks to bring greater awareness to the community, she said. Because Fat Mary’s is a 21-and-over club, some of the screenings are taking place at a different venue so all ages can attend the free event.
The films being showcased include “Unimaginable,” which explores gay domestic violence, as well as “Upstairs Inferno,” a documentary about an arsonist setting fire to a gay club in New Orleans back in 1973.
“The youth aren’t even aware of some of the LGBT history that happened in the past, and I think it’s important to show that, because education is key, and sometimes that’s what people are missing,” White said. “They base their ideas off what the media tells them to believe or what they see online. They don’t know the history. It’s an important education tool to learn what has happened.”
Cedric Thomas Smith, a filmmaker from San Antonio, had two of his films accepted into the festival: “Unimaginable” and “Symphony of Silence.”
Smith, who has been making films for seven years, said he hopes to discover some new LGBTQ talent, and, he added, earning an award would be a nice extra perk.
He also noted that he has found everyone in McAlester to be very friendly.
“Sometimes when you live in a big city you forget that people are actually welcoming,” he said.