With her struggle for self-acceptance coming at a time when she decided to be politically active, it seems natural Abel would channel her interests into working for equality for all people.
“I thought maybe we can make a difference [with Clinton’s election]. And to me that’s what the political process represents. We can change and fulfill the promise of America. I felt like we, the regular people, could have an impact,” Abel adds. “I saw that again with President Obama. Another generation of people who said that if we get involved, fired up, engaged, we can create change.”
Her passion for politics and the people who make change, specifically for LGBT Americans, prompted her to pursue a career that included serving as executive director of Georgia Equality and then as co-chair for the board of the national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund from 2003-2005 and as Victory Campaign Board founding co-chair from 2007-2008. The Victory Fund is an organization with the mission of helping openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people get elected to public office.
Working in the political arena, Abel heard many stories that inspired her — stories of people who overcame obstacles and barriers to reach their dreams. In 2007, she founded Atlantis Moon Productions. She has produced “Disturb the Universe,” a tribute film to the late Allen Thornell, her close friend and a strong LGBT, HIV and progressive activist. Thornell ran for the Georgia House in 2006; he died in 2009 at age 38.
Abel is now filming a documentary titled “Breaking Through” that profiles numerous openly LGBT elected officials including Alex Wan, the first gay man and first Asian to serve on the Atlanta City Council; U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI); U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.); Arkansas State Rep. Kathy Webb, the first openly gay person elected to office in the state; and U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the fourth openly gay person elected to Congress.
“Breaking Through” also features interviews with other openly gay politicians such as Houston’s first openly gay mayor Annise Parker and Georgia’s own state Reps. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) and Simone Bell (D-Atlanta).
“The movie is about breaking through barriers to live happy, passionate, fulfilled lives. The prism, or the lens, through which we’re looking is openly LGBT elected officials — it could be any group of people but this just happens to be a group I am so inspired by,” Abel says. “What we really want to do is show you can be anything you aspire to be.”
Politicians share personal stories
The stories being told in what Abel says is the first full-length documentary about openly gay elected officials are not just about their campaigns and what they hope to accomplish in office. The stories Abel compiles go beyond the surface to focus on what these people had to overcome — including being gay or lesbian — to achieve their goals.
“The backdrop is politics but these are human stories. We have Kathy Webb’s sister in tears talking about how she worried she would be hurt while running for office. This film is about the human stories, about how people feel different and somehow a spark was lit in them and they dared to believe something other than what the world was telling them,” Abel says.
Another example is Alex Wan sharing how he was bullied in high school for being a geek, for being Asian and for being perceived gay.
Tammy Baldwin’s father left the family when she was a baby and her maternal grandparents raised her. Her family life etched into Baldwin a desire to be a “super achiever” and when she realized she is a lesbian, Baldwin shared that she was devastated because this was just another way that she was “different.”
“When Kathy Webb was growing up she wanted to either be a baseball player, not a softball player, or a U.S. senator,” Abel recalls. And Webb shared her story of being so proud when Geraldine Ferraro, who died in March, became the first female vice presidential candidate. But when Webb also came to grips with being a lesbian, she too felt a sense of devastation because it was another potential roadblock.
“She thought at the time that a woman can be vice president, even president, but not a lesbian,” Abel says.
“My goal is to get these elected officials to open up, go deeper. When Tammy Baldwin gets angry enough to lower her voice and lean in and say she is infuriated at us not having equality, that to me feels like I’m doing my job,” Abel adds.
While interviews are being filmed, Abel and her team are also fundraising at the same time. The budget for the film is $284,000 and to date some $50,000 has been raised. The fiscal sponsor of the project is the Victory Fund, which allows people to make tax-deductible donations to its non-profit arm that can be used for filming. Donations can also be made on the “Breaking Through” website.
But it is the generosity of people who donate airline miles or the rooms in their homes while on location that has humbled Abel, she says.
“People keep telling me this needs to be done. These stories need to be shared,” she says. “These are people we owe such a debt of gratitude to by doing this work to make sure we all have equality.”
Top photo: Atlanta filmmaker Cindy Abel is interviewing out LGBT elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin and Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan for the documentary ‘Breaking Through.’ (Courtesy photos)