In “The Dads,” the men bond over fishing and their love for their transgender children
In August 1998, Dennis Shepherd went hunting with his son Matthew for the last time during a family reunion in the Bighorn Mountains. A few months later, Matthew, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was brutally murdered. His death brought widespread attention to the struggle for LGBTQ rights and hate crimes legislation in the United States.
Now, more than 25 years later, Dennis is one of six fathers featured in a short documentary that premiered November 17 on Netflix.
Directed by Lucina Fisher (“Mama Gloria”), “The Dads” follows the lives of the elder Shepard and five fathers of transgender children — Steven Chukumba, Frank Gonzalez, Jose Trujillo, Peter Beatz, and Wayne Maines, whose daughter made history as the first transgender superhero On TV. on The CW’s “Supergirl” — which bonds over a weekend hunting trip in rural Oklahoma. As they throw their ropes into the river, the men find common ground around their unconditional love for their children, whose rights are in danger of being rolled back across the country and around the world.
“I think we always think that unconditional love is like instant acceptance, and often it’s about going through that journey of figuring out how to love the child that’s standing in front of you — not the child that you were wishing and hoping and dreaming about,” but the child who’s trying to tell you, “This is Which is who I am,” Fisher, who has a trans daughter, told NBC News in a joint interview with Maines. “I always say that when a child is transitioning in a family, the rest of the family is transitioning as well, and it’s also important for them to have those outlets to talk about their experience and what they’re going through.”
In early 2020, while attending the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to THRIVE Summit, Fisher overheard Shepherd, Gonzalez, and Maines discussing a potential hunting or fishing trip with other parents of LGBTQ children. Since mothers — and women in general — are often seen as the primary advocates for LGBT youth, Fisher recognized a unique opportunity to highlight supportive parents who are on the front lines of the battle against anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation. .
Last year, Republican state representatives introduced more than 500 bills targeting the LGBT community, and 84 of them passed into law, according to the ACLU. The majority of these bills target the transgender community, barring student-athletes from competing and denying minors access to certain types of gender-affirming health care.
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For Maines, whose daughter was the plaintiff in the Maine Supreme Court case that helped establish a precedent for allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, “Parents” offers a new opportunity to win the hearts and minds of audiences who may not be familiar with the values that They share it.
“There are a lot of good people we need to reach out to,” Maines recalled telling his daughter in a recent conversation. “They don’t know us. They’ve never broken bread with us. They’ve never gone hunting with us. They don’t know I love to hunt and shoot like they do. We’re not extremists, leftists, crazy people who abuse our kids. We’re good Americans. I’m a veteran. I want them to know that we We love our children.”
This love is particularly evident in the poignant conversations the fathers have in “The Dads,” an 11-minute film that belies the emotional power of the different personal stories they share. Maines, for example, is not the only father to express remorse over his delay in accepting his child’s gender identity, and the men discuss how their children’s coming out forced them to grapple with their views of masculinity and the way they were raised and raised. Socially like young people.
During the memorable weekend in Oklahoma, “we talked a lot about vulnerability, and how if you can’t do it here, you’ll never get where you want to go,” added Maines, who testified in court. Texas Legislature on Transgender Rights and teaches a ‘Transgender 101’ class at the Austin Texas Police Academy. “I want to do that again with more parents and just say, ‘Hey, what are you afraid of?’ Let’s talk about that. And I want to talk to my senators and representatives: “Tell me what you’re afraid of and we can solve it, but you have to be willing to be honest.” There are no more secrets in my soul. Whatever you want to know, I’ll tell you.’
In June, Netflix acquired the distribution rights to The Dads, with former NBA star Dwyane Wade on board as executive producer.
“‘The Dads’ shows us the power of parents who love and support their LGBTQ children, breaking down barriers of bias, embracing diversity, and coming together to have these important conversations,” Wade wrote in a statement announcing the acquisition.
Since his daughter Zaya came out as transgender in 2020, Wade and his wife, Gabrielle Union, have become vocal allies and advocates for LGBTQ youth. Although she has yet to meet Wade in person, Fisher revealed that according to Wade’s producing partner, John Markus, both Wade and Union expressed their love for the documentary because it “captured a conversation they were trying to have.”
“I think a lot of people have approached him about telling his daughter’s story, but this is his daughter’s story that he has to tell, just as the kids in ‘Parents’ have their own story” to tell, Fisher said. “This is the story of a fathers’ journey, and this was something Dwayne could relate to in so many ways. He said he felt like they were literally taking the words out of his mouth.
She added that Wade’s involvement as producer “means that the film will continue to reach different audiences, which was always our intention from the beginning.” “We didn’t want to have this conversation among ourselves, among people who already had an understanding or were supportive.”
Since that film premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March, Fisher has noticed that several audience members have approached the film’s producers and subjects in tears. “A lot of them are young people who say, ‘I can’t wait to show this to my parents.'” I think for a lot of people, it’s a conversation starter. It’s short enough that you can take 11 minutes of your time to watch it and open your heart. “I always feel like “Telling stories is how I try to make the world safer for my child and other trans youth.”
Although she originally set out to create a short documentary that would make the messages “as accessible as possible,” Fisher has not ruled out the possibility of turning “The Dads” into a documentary series or feature film, which would allow her to delve deeper into the matter. I delve deeper into each of the fathers and further diversify the men depicted. Ultimately, she said, it’s about “creating empathy” for people who are often dehumanized and reduced to their gender identity or sexual orientation.
“I hope people within the community will see themselves reflected and find a little joy. If their parents aren’t involved yet, they have six foster parents here who can’t wait to give them a virtual hug,” she said. “And for those people who don’t really know a trans person — And trans people make up 1% of our country, it’s really a small group — I hope they see the story of what support looks like, what love looks like, and the importance of that, no matter who your child is or who they become.