Joshua Grannell could hardly keep his emotions in check as he listened to teenage girls go wild for openly gay actor Chris Colfer as he stepped onto the stage for the Glee Live! concert this spring at the HP Pavilion in San Jose.
San Jose is not, after all, San Francisco, and yet here were hundreds of girls giving the loudest screams for Colfer, who plays Kurt Hummel, a gay character on the show.
"I didn't know this was happening," Grannell said. "Maybe being gay and famous wasn't quite as scary as it once was."
Then again, the San Francisco filmmaker knows better than that. There are still plenty of closeted actors in Hollywood who don't dare openly disclose their sexual orientation for fear of what coming out might do to their careers, Grannell said.
"Most of the gay actors aren't allowed to be openly gay," said Grannell, who participated Sunday in a panel discussion on the differences and evolution of gay and queer media at Damn! These Heels film festival, which wrapped up Sunday at the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City. The panel was hosted by SLC Film Center, the Salt Lake Film Society and Equality Utah.
Also on the panel were Jennifer Dobner, of The Associated Press; Troy Williams, host of KRCL's Radioactive show and co-creator with Charles Lynn Frost of the Sister Dottie S. Dixon character; Salt Lake Tribune columnist Peg McEntee; Josh Moon, Equality Utah board member; and Fran Pruyn, artistic director for Pygmalion Theatre Company. Jan Lovett, an Equality Utah board member, was the moderator.
Some panelists had an expansive view of what constitutes "queer media," describing it as anything that is "pushing boundaries, exploring the fringes." It's alternative, more radical, more underground and not necessarily about or aligned with the mainstream goals of today's LGBT movement.
For Grannell, that might include filmmakers such as John Waters and Cheryl Dunye, both of whom have explored sexual orientation in their work. But it also would include SLUG Magazine and HBO's hit show "Big Love," which he said was essentially about "closeted people."
The term queer, once an anti-gay epithet, still carries a negative connotation for some that makes its use problematic, which surfaced in Sunday's discussion.
"I don't use the word queer anymore because it confuses straight people who want to be nice to us," said Moon.
Grannell said wide acceptance of gay themes and characters in plays, film and television has "sadly" not changed the political landscape. People may love "Glee," but they still voted to ban gay marriage, he said.
"It's changing, but how much is it changing? I don't know," said Grannell, who also performs in drag as "Peaches Christ."
The gay movement is now almost so mainstream all about domesticity and consumption that it risks falling into the same pattern other groups have followed as they assimilated, becoming "conservative and uber patriotic," said Williams. "That is my big concern about our community for the future."
Gone are the days when a play or film that featured gay characters and themes was sure to guarantee controversy and lots of media coverage. "As a lesbian living in this community, it is so much better," Pruyn said. "As a theater producer, not so much."