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Heartland Community College marks Lesbian Visibility Week with queer indie films by Catherine Crouch

A woman with gray hair squints into a video camera. She stands on a beach with waves behind her.
courtesy of
Catherine Crouch
Filmmaker Catherine Crouch has spent more than two decades on the indie circuit, writing, directing and producing films from a distinctly lesbian perspective.

Rainbow shirts and socks at Target are a sign of how far the pride movement has come in just a few decades. But one study estimates that as many as 83% of LGBTQ people worldwide are still hiding their identities. As one writer puts it, the “Global Closet” is huge.

“Although certain shifts are for the positive, we still don’t have that kind of visibility that we’re looking for,” said Mark Harper, a film professor at Heartland Community College leading a course on queer cinema this semester. As part of the curriculum, Harper organized a public Lesbian Visibility Week film screening of works by lesbian independent filmmaker Catherine Crouch.

Lesbian Visibility Week takes place each April. Harper said lesbians are half as likely as gay men to be out at work.

“That’s why I’m so excited to be doing this where I work,” Harper said. He and Crouch have known each other for decades. With funds from Heartland’s Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Innovation Grant, he created the public program as well as a private screening and discussion with his students.

On Tuesday afternoon, Crouch will introduce and screen five films in what could informally be called a career retrospective, starting with a film she created using scratch technique while still in film school. In addition to glimpsing Crouch’s adeptness with various techniques—she’s shot on pretty much everything from Super 8 to 60mm film, to MiniDV, to HD animation—more to the point is that Crouch’s films confront gender identity and inclusivity and lesbian visibility head on.

Crouch’s “One Small Step” and “The Gendercator” specifically probe gender stereotypes from a lesbian perspective. Considered together, they also show how views have evolved over time.

“The 8-year-old child in ‘One Small Step’ is having love feelings for little girls,” Crouch said. “She’s not conflicted by it, but everyone around her is. She wanted to be a boy because her mother said girls marry boys.”

By contrast, “The Gendercator” is a sci-fi film about a woman who falls asleep at a party in the 1970s and wakes up 75 years later to a world where women can marry women.

“We’ve seen this in our lifetime,” said Crouch.

In Crouch's dystopian future, folks who don’t align with stereotypical gender norms are forced to undergo body modification to conform with one of two options: macho man or Barbie babe. “The Gendercator” received harsh pushback in San Francisco the year it was made. It was pulled from the 2007 Frameline festival in response to criticism that the film promoted transphobic views.

Harper stands by the film. He’s not received any pushback—and does not anticipate any.

“I’ve been teaching at Heartland long enough to know that students are less likely to pushback and more likely to raise their hand and ask a question,” Harper said. “There’s a dialog there; there’s a difference of experience that films bring. You reach resolution maybe 15% of the time, but people have a chance to say, OK, I got to say what I wanted to say.”

Dissent over Crouch’s film is part of a larger dialog between transgender and lesbian activists. Lesbian Visibility Week was rebranded several years ago to be more inclusive of transgender women who identify as lesbian. “The Gendercator” was thought to be critical of gender affirming care, with most of that criticism coming from people who had not seen the film.

“When you see it, the whole feeling gets tampered down,” Crouch said. “It’s really a silly stoner movie.”

Perhaps, but “The Gendercator” also sends a message about religious extremism in countries such as Iran, where one way to eliminate homosexuality and variance in gender expression by forcing gay and lesbian people to undergo sex reassignment surgery against their will.

“I love it that we’re still having this conversation,” Harper said, “not necessarily over Catherine’s film, but that Catherine’s film brings up a topic that is still part of the dialog. What about bodily modification, what about gender reassignment—what is it about this that seems to touch the hot buttons?”

For Harper, that kind of dialog is exactly why events such as this are important toward expanding people’s views of LGBTQ representation in film.

“The idea of having Lesbian Visibility Week, to me, means this is an opportunity to remind people there are so many different alphabet letters. Let’s pay attention to all of them.”

“Lesbian Visibility through Five Short Films,” featuring the cinema of Catherine Crouch, takes place 3-5 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, in the Astroth Community Education Center Auditorium on the Heartland Community College campus in Normal. The event is free and open to the public.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.