2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘For They Know Not What They Do’

April 25, 2019

by Carla Hay

For They Know Not What They Do
Ryan and Rob Robertson in “For They Know Not What They Do” (Photo courtesy of the Robertson Family)

“For They Know Not What They Do”

Directed by Daniel Karslake

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 25, 2019.

In his 2007 documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So,” director Daniel Karslake examined how right-wing conservatives use the Bible to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Karslake’s documentary “For They Know Now What They Do” takes a more personal approach by spotlighting conservative Christian parents and how they handled finding out that one of their children is LGBTQ. It’s an emotionally charged film that will bring tears to most viewers’ eyes, no matter what you think about LGBTQ issues.

The four sets of parents are Linda and Rob Robertson from suburban Seattle; Dave and Sally McBride from Wilmington, Delaware; Victor Baez Sr. and Annette Febo from Orlando, Florida; and Coleen and Harold Porcher from Montclair, New Jersey.

The Robertsons have the most heartbreaking story to tell about their son Ryan, who came out as gay when he was a teenager. The revelation caused the parents to send Ryan to a “gay conversion” center, and they cut off contact with one of Ryan’s beloved uncles just because the uncle is gay. These actions had long-lasting negative effects on the family, and how the Robertsons are coping with it is sobering and unforgettable.

The McBrides, who have three children, also had to come to grips with finding out that not all of their children are heterosexual. Their eldest son is gay, and their youngest child came out as a transgender woman while she was a senior at American University, where she was president of a fraternity. That youngest child is Sarah McBride, who has since become a political activist, and she experienced a major tragedy not long after she started her new life as a trans woman.

Coleen and Harold Porcher thought that the biggest obstacle their only child had to face was being biracial. (Coleen is black, and Harold is white.) But as the Porcher parents discovered when the child reached puberty, the girl they thought they were raising came out to them as a boy, and told them that he wanted to live his life as a male.

Baez and Febo, who are from Puerto Rico, found out that their son Victor Jr. is gay after he had been kicked out of his grandmother’s home, where he had been living at the time. Up until Victor Jr.’s grandmother had discovered his secret, he had been living a closeted life and was afraid of being disowned by his family if he came out as gay. Not long after coming out of the closet, Victor Jr.’s life took a tragic turn in 2016, when he became a survivor of the Pulse nightclub massacre that killed some people who were close to him.

Through interviews with the straight and LGBTQ members of all of these families, “For They Know Not What They Do” has emotionally powerful and sometimes shocking testimonials from those who know firsthand how coming out can be painful for many families but doesn’t have to be destructive. Clergy people such as Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis, an ally of the LGBTQ community, are also interviewed for the movie, which gives an optimistic view of how homophobic family members can best learn to accept a family member who is LGBTQ.

Although the movie does an excellent job of weaving these families’ stories together in a cohesive manner, the documentary might get criticism for leaving out stories of other people in LGBTQ community, such as people whose parents never accepted their sexual identity. Cisgender females who are lesbian or bisexual are also not included in the movie’s stories told from the children’s perspectives. Those omissions don’t take away from the movie’s intended message that even the most hardcore bigots can change when love triumphs over fear and hate.

UPDATE: First Run Features will release “For They Know Not What They Do” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on June 12, 2020.