Reed Cowan remembers exactly where he was when his son, Wesley, died on April 23, 2006.
As a Salt Lake City news station’s on-call reporter that day, he was the one who received the page to report on a child’s accidental hanging death. Until Cowan arrived at the scene he did not realize the child was his own.
“It was horrible,” recalled Reed, who now lives and works in Miami, Florida. “As I screamed and wailed in grief and cried, the cameras were rolling, and the people behind the cameras were my peers” who, like Cowan himself, were now just realizing the reporter’s relationship to the dead child.
In the days and months following that day, Cowan and his partner Gregory decided that they would not let the child’s death be in vain. In the past two years they created The Wesley Smiles Coalition, an organization named after his son, which has built water treatment facilities, medical centers and schools for AIDS orphans in Kenya. The couple also created On The Other End of the Lens, a documentary about Cowan’s experience of becoming the subject of national news, instead of a reporter. The film has been entered in several festivals including the Nashville Film Festival, an Oscar-qualifying venue.
Now, Cowan is turning his camera lens back to the state where he experienced such deep personal grief. For his second documentary effort, he will be focusing on Proposition 8 and the activism surrounding it — among gay people as well as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who contributed over $22 million to the controversial measure’s passage.
And he is looking to hear from you.
“I want to hear from Mormons (gay and straight) who sat in church and felt the pinch of authority telling them to do something that was against their own beliefs about LGBT issues,” Cowan wrote in a press release. “I want to hear from those who are former Mormons, who have been rejected by their faith community because of their sexuality. I want to hear from those who have not only been victimized by the short sited [sic] mindsets that got Prop. 8 through — but also those who have triumphed over it all in the spirit of optimism that will eventually see Prop. 8 overturned.”
On Jan. 30, Cowan plans to be in Salt Lake City to interview people on all sides of Proposition 8. And he hopes to hear from more than just a handful of people.
“What I really want is to see everyone who turned out for the November protests and who will turn out for other events to be there,” he said. “I need to see them there. If they’ll commit to me to be brave and tell their stories, I’ll commit to them that their stories will be seen.”
Proposition 8 matters to Cowan, he said, not only because he is gay, but because he and his partner have a deep connection to Utah — both grew up in Roosevelt. And while Cowan recognizes that other communities of faith participated in raising support for Proposition 8, he said he wants to tell the Mormon side of this story because this is the community he knows.
“I know what it’s like to be young and gay in a Mormon-dominated community,” he explained. “I know what it’s like to be sent home bloodied because of it. My partner knows what it’s like to be thrown out of his own home because of his sexuality. And the thought that, in many Mormon congregations over the country, young people heard discussions on this matter, and I’m sure gay ones felt a hot rush of blood to their cheeks in knowing that in their own place of faith they were somehow less than [makes me] duty bound to help the upcoming generation that felt this.”
Along with gay and lesbian people who experienced pain when Proposition 8 passed, Cowan said he is also interested on talking to those who helped pass it—people like Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, and Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka, whose anti-gay rhetoric is well-known throughout the state.
“This is not going to be a propaganda film,” he explained. “I’m a journalist, so I hold up the very high value of getting all sides told. It’s going to show all sides of it because I believe the human spirit is able to filter and see all sides, and we all gravitate to light. I believe those who are open to this film, and who see all sides of the coin, will gravitate to the truth.”