The film depicts real-life stories of lesbians in the Deep South that include pain and perseverance, strength and humor – sharing a mosaic of a powerful, diverse community living with both frustration and hope. The documentary, inspired by the highly acclaimed photography exhibition, Living in Limbo: Lesbian Families in the Deep South, photographs by Carolyn Sherer, provides intimate stories of the community represented by the exhibition’s portraits. The film honors the diversity of race, socioeconomic background and age groups that form the rich texture of Birmingham’s lesbian community – a mutually supportive community that thrives despite having no legal protections provided by the state.
State & Union follows three lesbian families in Alabama whose stories exemplify the work that is still left to do in the fight for full LGBTQ equality. Despite historic gains in marriage equality in 2015, Alabama is one of many states where LGBTQ people can still be legally and openly discriminated against, including being fired from their jobs or denied custody of their children.
When Cari Searcy was denied access by the medical team caring for her infant son who needed open-heart surgery, she and her wife Kim realized how vulnerable they were. Cari and Kim are not alone in Alabama. This film follows Cari and Kim’s decision to fight for the adoption of their son, taking it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and facing off against a politically ambitious State Supreme Court Chief Justice who rejects federal authority over the states.
Why lesbian families? Despite the lack of legal protections, the majority of same-sex households with children are lesbian families located in the Deep South, according to The Williams Institute. The invisibility and lack of awareness about the issues that disproportionately affect lesbian families extends beyond Alabama.
Patricia Todd, Alabama’s only openly-gay State Legislator, embraces her role as a fighter and activist. She herself lost a job because of her sexual orientation. After the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down in 2013, Patricia married her partner in an out of state wedding, but recognized that nothing was going to change in her home state of Alabama unless she helped move the bills through the statehouse herself. The film follows her work to advocate for LGBTQ anti-discrimination legislation, but then finds her on the defensive against recent state “religious liberty” laws which aim to roll back LGBTQ gains on the federal level.
Kinley's story addresses one of the key reasons this film focuses on lesbian families. Despite the lack of legal protections, the majority of same-sex households with children are lesbian families located in the Deep South, according to The Williams Institute. Kinley is fighting for custody of her son who was physically abused to the point of hospitalization by his stepmother at the home of the boy’s father. Though the child’s safety should be the concern for the family court, the years of hearings and postponements have hinged on her sexuality and not the abuse. The invisibility and lack of awareness about parental rights that disproportionately affect lesbian families extends beyond Alabama.
Marriage is settled law, and represents a long and hard-fought victory for same-sex couples. However, in 27 states across the country, The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) documents the “struggle to reach even a basic level of equality for LGBT people” (Feb 2016). In Alabama, the reaction to the marriage decision was swift: Two days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country, the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court took the pulpit in the Kimberly Assembly of God Church on June 28, 2015, and exhorted the congregation to resist. It was God and Country Sunday and we were filming as the new battle lines for LGBTQ equality were being drawn. On January 6, 2016, Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered the probate judges who report to him to stop issuing marriage licenses. Alabama lawmakers introduced bills that would authorize discrimination in marriage licensing and adoption and it is one of six states that have passed laws restricting the inclusion of LGBTQ topics in schools. The HRC report says they expect to see religious refusal bills resurface this year.
In Alabama, same-sex couples are able to get married in the morning and get fired from their jobs in the afternoon. Or be denied housing. Or in the case of the families whose stories we follow most closely in this film, prevent children in same-sex families from having a legal relationship with their own parents. State & Union’s families are engaged in the next wave of the LGBTQ struggle from church pews to the State House to attain legal protections for themselves and their children.
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“State and Union shows and tells the stories of lesbian families in the South -- their love, their humor, their struggle, and their strength -- and will help spark the conversations that grow support and lead to change. It's stories like these that explain why Southerners, like other Americans, are coming to understand better the lives and commitment of gay families in the community and why they value the freedom to marry -- and joining the nationwide majority for the marriage.” – Evan Wolfson, President of Freedom to Marry
“LGBTQ families in the South have the same dreams and aspirations for their children as the rest of the country. Family Equality Council continues to raise our voices toward fairness for all families, and we are proud to stand alongside Living in Limbo for this instrumental documentary that delivers the opportunity for these Southern voices to be heard.” – Gabriel Blau, Executive Director, Family Equality Council
"The moral obligation of our movement is to make certain that no one is left behind. While many of us have enjoyed amazing progress, in many parts of this country there are huge gaps. The vision of Dr. King that "none of us are free until all of us our free" is our new rallying cry. To not answer that cry would be a substantial moral lapse. This important film shows that our work is not yet done and that we owe it to our entire community to assure that we ALL hit the finish line together." – Kate Kendell, Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights
"Equality Alabama is excited to announce our support of Living in Limbo and its upcoming documentary, 'State and Union.' Birmingham, Alabama is home to a large community of same-sex, married and committed couples who quietly live their lives together just as their straight counterparts do. This documentary gives much needed attention to the realities of living life in a 'state of in-between,' or as the film title suggests... living in limbo. We are thrilled to be a part of this project and know that it will have a profound impact on how we, and others, view our community.” – Ben Cooper, Chair of Equality Alabama