In 2006, film director Katy Wilkerson’s son, Sam, a member of the Palm Springs High School “Spirit of the Sands” Marching Band, was asked to voluntarily participate in the Palm Springs Gay Pride Parade.
The controversial response, the historical impact, and ultimate social message in favor of equal rights and acceptance inspired the documentary film, The Pride of Palm Springs.
Co-directed and filmed with her son, now a working cinematographer, Katy and Sam’s documentary will debut at the 2013 Palm Springs International ShortFest, which runs June 18-24.
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“High School marching bands, children, and community parades are as American as apple pie,” said Katy Wilkerson, “and the Palm Springs Gay Pride Parade is a community event that is about support, love, and appreciation of others. But as far as we can tell from our research, in 2006 no one had ever seen a high school band in a Pride parade, anywhere, in our nation. If so, it’s been a very rare occurrence, and this is a story that needed to be told.”
Initially, parental reaction to the high school band’s participation in the 2006 Palm Springs Pride parade was mixed.
“I, myself, had never been to a Pride Parade and I was a little hesitant,” said Kate. “I had friends that were fearful about what our children would be exposed to, but I have LGBT friends in the community. I knew they would not let anything bad happen to my kid. And I wasn’t going to keep my son from doing something that he lives for like all musicians – applause and crowd feedback.”
Upon the inception of filming, Katy was unaware her views were not shared by other parents or that of the general pubic.
“I had no idea, at the time, of the death threats to our band’s leader (Brian Ingelson) and these were never shared with the kids or parents,” she said. “It is amazing the amount of courage it took for Brian to face the ‘blow back’ with such a stance to have our kids perform.”
Angered by “horrific statements” about gays and current gay marriage coverage, Katy, a former social studies teacher, was moved to create some historical perspective to an event that directly affected her family.
“It makes me scream, seeing such racism.” Katy said. “If they would put another minority reference in context, there would be outrage. For some unexplained reason, nobody is or was speaking out against this hate speech against gays. I was and still am, absolutely enraged.”
As the film documents, the band’s teachers and the band member’s parents talk about their experience at the Palm Springs Gay Pride Parade. The teens interact with the crowd with a fun musical, dance presentation that engages audience participation and energizes the band in an emotional and positive way.
Katy’s film is very clear in its view: “We are all someone's child. And as a parent you want your own child to be accepted and respected. In return, you want to raise your own children to be accepting and respectful of others. Everyone, LGBT or straight, is someone’s baby.”
Katy hopes the film will promote tolerance and understanding, and put these teachings spoken in schools into practice. She wants to change the perception about a gay pride parade, as not a spectacle but an upbeat happy event to promote business, celebrate diversity, and encourage people to support everyone in their communities.
“There is no reason not to be in a Pride Parade, it's just fear,” Katy said. “I want people that see this movie and particularly, people that have children, to cry a little bit and say why aren’t we doing this in our community. Look at how much love and appreciation these kids have received for doing something they love; where they are giving support, giving back to the community with their participation.”
As the U.S. Supreme Court is about to rule on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between one man and woman, Katy is thrilled with the timing of the Palm Springs ShortFest.
“We didn’t plan this, but watching what has been going on in the court and media, seeing the walls of intolerance tumbling, we couldn’t time this better,” Katy said. “This is a happy accident. I hope to edit the film to include an epitaph that documents the overturning of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and Prop 8.”
"The Pride of Palm Springs" screens at 5 p.m. June 19 at Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs as part of an LGBT evening of short documentaries. The 2013 Palm Springs International ShortFest features 330 films. For more information, visit www.psfilmfest.org