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Valentine Road: Hollywood Comes to Alabama

Earlier this month I thought I was a victim of a very cleaver prank when I received an invitation to attend a Hollywood premiere of an LGBT movie scheduled to be shown in, of all places, Montgomery, Alabama. Usually I just delete these types of "spam" but this invitation was so well put together I decided to save it and give it additional scrutiny when I had more time. Upon further examination, I was shocked to begin to understand the invitation was legit and the return e-address was valid. This peaked my curiosity. I kept thinking: What and Why!

Valentine Road

Two initial contacts proved to be very important for me: Valerie Harris of HBOs Atlanta office and Penny Weaver of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery.

HBOs debut of Valentine Road, a documentary on the murder of Lawrence King at Green JHS in Oxnard, California, will take place this October. However, the premiere viewing will happen at the Capri Theatre in Montgomery on September 17. These two events are connected by Montgomery's Southern Poverty Law Center.

It is common knowledge that the SPLC champions the causes and rights of the oppressed, suppressed, the disadvantaged and is a voice for the disenfranchised. However, these associations are generally linked to issues of civil rights, fighting extremist groups, and combating discriminatory state laws. For some of us, the SPLC's role regarding the rights of the LGBT community is often overlooked.

Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC, reminded me that the SPLC was established to "seek justice for the most vulnerable of society" and research has shown that today the group most discriminated against in America is the LGBT community.

Valentine Road

I have always found Cohen to be an extremely knowledgeable person; a walking encyclopedia of facts with a pleasant voice. I could easily see how he was selected to argue various points at the United States Supreme Court and various state and federal courts.

Cohen's "Intelligence Project" charts and documents extremist and hate groups, this is pretty much common knowledge. Perhaps what has not received the press it deserves is Cohen's "Teaching Tolerance" projects. Part of the "Teaching Tolerance" project are no fee school programs designed to prevent school violence and discrimination against differing minority groups.

Cohen pointed out that from the inception of the "Teaching Tolerance" program LGBT issues have been addressed. More recently the SPLC has presented court briefs against DOMA; argued for the right of the LGBT community to serve in the military; fought for the federal recognition of spouses of gay couples; sued a Minnesota school district for allowing a "hostile atmosphere" to exist after the suicides of four gay students who were the subject of vicious school bullying. More information of the SPLC's LGBT programs can be located at:

Two of Cohen's "Teaching Tolerance" films, "American Civil Rights Movement: A Time for Justice" (1995) and "Mighty Times: The Children's March" (2004) won Oscars for short documentary films and are available free to teachers and school districts.

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Cohen stated that the struggle for LGBT rights is "another stage in the march to justice" and that the premiere of VALENTINE ROAD in Montgomery was appropriate as "Montgomery was the birth place of the civil rights movement."

Actress, dancer, choreographer Marta Cunningham was so moved by the "Teaching Tolerance" reports, especially the details of the Lawrence King murder in her home state of California, that she decided to inaugurate her filmmaking career with Valentine Road, a documentary of the King murder.

Cunningham's efforts were immediately recognized at the Sundance Film Festival and by HBO. Speaking to Cunningham is like a breath of fresh air as she attempted to give credit to everyone involved with "her" endeavor: the SPLC, Sasha Alpert, Jonathan Murray, Eddie Schmidt, Lisa Heller (HBO), Sheila Nevins (HBO), the Ford Foundation, et al.

"We wanted to spark conversation by examining issues of race, gender, bigotry..." Cunningham told The Hollywood Progressive, "...the blame is rooted in prevailing values of the dominate society that are no longer valid...which allows individuals of gender non-conformance to be attacked and murdered..."

Cunningham stated she had not been to Montgomery before but was looking forward to the trip and especially to continue her recently established working relationship with the Southern Poverty Law Center to "promote social outreach...provide screenings of VALENTINE ROAD for educational purposes...and to create speaking engagements to discuss these relevant social issues..."

james rhodes

Montgomery, Alabama -- soon to be hotbed of Hollywood producers, HBO executives, LGBT activists. I would not miss this for the world. Report on the premiere will follow!

James Rhodes

Friday, 6 August 2013