Members of the International Gay Rodeo Association. (courtesy of the Autry National Center)
At the Autry National Center of the American West, there’s an exhibit of items from Western films. It includes the pistols used by Chevy Chase in “Three Amigos,” a coat worn by Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven”… and now, the long sleeved shirts worn by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in the Oscar-winning film by Ang Lee, “Brokeback Mountain.”
The shirts are there because of the work of writer and filmmaker Gregory Hinton. Hinton had been doing some research at the Autry and he wondered what information existed on the experiences and contributions of gay men and women in the West. He didn't find much at the museum.
And so he launched a quest to recognize the contributions of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders to Western culture. That mission resulted in a new series at the Autry National Center called Out West, supported by HBO.
This series of programs, scheduled to take place over the next twelve months, will feature Western scholars, authors, artists, politicians, musicians, and friends of Western LGBTs in discussions and gallery talks at the Autry.
“What Ever Happened to Ennis del Mar?” is the first program in the Out West series. When Gene Autry issued his ten-point “Cowboy Code” in the 1940s, he could not have anticipated the story of Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, the two main characters in "Brokeback Mountain." But the messages of tolerance, fairness, and integrity the Code promotes speak to the acceptance for which the "Brokeback Mountain" characters longed. Their story is the departure point for this first discussion.
Scheduled for December 13th in the Wells Fargo theater, the panel will be moderated by Virginia Scharff, author and professor of history/director of the Center for the Southwest at the University of New Mexico. The program focuses on the representation of homosexuality in the West before, during, and after the era depicted in the movie, and explores the Academy Award–winning film’s significance in renewing the Western film for contemporary audiences.