Gay Conway couple documented in film. Hendrix junior debuts Pink Houses
BY DEBRA HALE-SHELTON ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
CONWAY To get to the home of John Schenck and Robert Loyd, no address is needed. Just ask almost anyone in Conway for directions to the Pink House, and that person can point the way, like it or not.
And they may not.
The two-story Queen Anne house, actually pink and blue, has a "Teach Tolerance" sign above the front entrance. It is home to gay hairstylists Schenck and Loyd.
In the past year the two have gone from relative unknowns to political activists. Their sexual orientation has landed them at the head of a gay-pride parade along the streets of Conway, in the center of more than a little controversy not to mention manure and now in a film documentary.
The film, produced by Hendrix College student Jonathan Crawford, is titled Pink Houses.
"I used Pink Houses to say this is more than one household of people. Its just presented through... this couple," said Crawford, a junior English major. "Its about the gay population and their rights" or the fight for those rights.
The 51-minute film, already presented twice at Hendrix, is scheduled for a May 3 showing in New York. The film, Crawfords first, will be among nearly 300 featured at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival.
Before that, it will be shown Friday and Saturday at the University of Central Arkansas as part of Reel Attractions: Arkansas LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender ) Film Festival.
The New York festival showcases films from around the world. Past festivals have included the works of Susan Sarandon, the late Rod Steiger and Meryl Streep. The festival is promoted as "dedicated to making things happen for emerging filmmakers and screenwriters."
Crawford, 22, made the film last year as part of an independentstudies project. He had interned at Arkansas Educational Television Network but mostly learned "by trial and error and books and asking people... kind of shoestringing it," he said in a recent interview.
He said that between him and his parents, he probably spent $4,000 on the film, mostly for the camera.
"We were impressed that a heterosexual male would take the time and trouble to investigate and validate our lives," Loyd said in an interview last week.
"I was absolutely floored that anybody would be brave enough" to do this film, added Schneck, who grew up in Long Island, N.Y.
If the film makes people think about prejudice, it will have accomplished something, he said. The documentary opens with the camera scanning the couples attractively decorated home: lace curtains, Hollywood photographs and autographs, elegantly framed personal pictures including one of their "wedding" on the state Capitol steps and their Canadian marriage license.
The dialogue opens with the tall, slightly heavyset Schenck and the much smaller Loyd, both 55, sitting in their home and assailing President Bush and Gov. Mike Huckabee for opposing gay marriage.
The men, partners for 30 years, view their Capitol "wedding," one of several ceremonies theyve had, as a necessary protest.
"It was not a real wedding. It was not a legal wedding. But it was a morally correct wedding, and it was a statement against a government that should not be sticking their noses into our business anymore," says Loyd, a Vietnam veteran whose graying hair was a bleached blond in the photograph.
While the film is presented from the viewpoint of these two men, it also includes comment from a representative of the Family Council a Little Rock-based organization that promotes traditional family values and television footage of Greenbrier farmer Wesley Bono talking about his decision to spread a dump-truck load of manure along streets around the Pink House on the day of last summers gay-pride parade.
"It didnt stop us," Schenck says in the film, while standing outdoors with Loyd. "It smelled horrible for a couple of days, but were used to dealing with manure."
The film also shows footage from the parade, including its more than 100 marchers as well as scores of praying, sign-toting protesters.
Schenck and especially Loyd dont mince words in the film. The take swipes at some of the areas residents, including those they consider bigots. They say they received death threats after a newspaper ran a story about their efforts to teach tolerance in a class at UCA.
"We were just trying to bring the community together, educate the children a little bit so they wouldnt grow up to be the same rednecks and haters that their parents were," says Loyd, who grew up in Damascus.
In their 19 years in the Pink House, the two say, people have driven by and shouted derogatory names, shot at their house, broken their car windows and destroyed holiday decorations.
"One year we had a 9-foot Energizer bunny," Loyd says. "It was decapitated Easter morning. I thought that was a little extreme."
Loyd and Schenck fire a few verbal shots themselves, at police and the Robinson & Center Church of Christ, whose building sits across the street from the Pink House.
Theyve filed a federal civil rights lawsuit that names the Conway Police Department, Faulkner County sheriffs office and an officer in each agency.
The lawsuit stems from a Jan. 18, 2003, incident, when the men say a county officer was verbally abusive after they complained about a car blocking their driveway.
They say that officer and a city officer later pushed open their salon door and handcuffed them. Although they were jailed and charged with disorderly conduct, the charges were later dismissed, Schenck said in a brief interview Friday.
A Conway police spokesman, Lt. Danny Moody, declined to comment Thursday on the allegations. A sheriffs spokesman, Lt. Jack Pike, could not be reached for comment.
In the film Loyd says he and Schenck have "always had trouble" with the neighboring church members.
In the interview the two men complained about some teenagers making insulting comments. Schneck said they talked with the churchs youth minister, though, and "that ended."
"We still get stares. They dont go out of their way to be nasty anymore," he said.
In a statement Friday, a church minister, Danny Holman, said, "We have taught the members here the importance of being respectful of all men, even those with whom we have disagreements, and the homosexual community specifically."
He said Schenck and Loyd complained in 1998 about one youths comments. Holman said he advised that youth to "disagree respectfully."
Kevin Asman, a Hendrix English professor acted as Crawfords project adviser on the film, called it "a fabulous first effort."
"He used very limited resources to produce a film that has a lot of artistic merit to it," Asman said.