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The home front in the battle over gay rights

Times Staff Writer

What happens when fundamentalist Christians have gay children?

Filmmaker Arthur Dong, who has explored conflicts faced by American homosexuals in the documentaries “Licensed to Kill” and “Coming Out Under Fire,” addresses that explosive question in the latest variation on the theme, “Family Fundamentals,” a “P.O.V.” presentation at 10 p.m. on KCET.

Armed with his digital camera and unwavering curiosity, Dong takes viewers into the private and public lives of three families that have responded to gay offspring by actively opposing homosexuality. Heartfelt but evenhanded, “Family Fundamentals” is a battlefield report from America’s disquieting culture war over gay issues.

Susan Jester is the lesbian daughter of Kathleen Bremner, a Pentecostal church leader in the San Diego area who responded to her daughter’s coming out by forming a Christian parents ministry and organizing conferences to promote faith and “reparative therapy” as a cure for homosexuality.

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Brett Mathews, who was discharged from the Air Force because of his sexual orientation, is the son of a Mormon bishop in Erda, Utah. Mathews’ family reacted to his coming out by sending him a steady stream of letters pleading with him to change. The film project led to a tense, tentative reunion, but resentment grew when the parents withdrew after one day of shooting.

Brian Bennett’s story reveals a different kind of family. For more than a decade, he was a key aide to former Rep. Bob Dornan of Orange County, one of the nation’s most vocal foes of gay rights. Bennett even lived with his political mentor for six years, calling Dornan “Poppy.” But when Bennett came out in 1997, the close bond was shattered.

Though you would expect Dong to empathize with the offspring, he shows that they can be just as intolerant as their parents at times.

Dong finds that these families face almost universal struggles and regrets, as unusual as their stories seem.

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“I’m so sorry she’s missed out on 25 years. She put up the barrier,” Jester says of her mother. “There is nothing to talk about.”


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