Review: Political Animals

Just in time for LGBT Pride Month, Political Animals explores the careers and impact of the first four openly gay state assemblywomen of California - Carole Migden, Sheila Kuehl, Jackie Goldberg, and Christine Kehoe. In this day an age where many news outlets focus on the White House, it is easy to underestimate the impact of state legislatures and local offices. Among these assemblywomen's many achievements were the establishment of the domestic-partnership registry and protections for school students against discrimination for sexual orientation. But as easy as it is to simply list their accomplishments, it is just as important to witness the effort involved in passing these pieces of legislation.

While California Assembly floor debates may not seem all that riveting, the footage of their debates to get bills passed in this documentary was emotionally gripping, and reflected the emotional strength it took for these women to pioneer the legislation that made huge steps towards LBGTQ equality in California. The directors were able to capture the suspense, passion and hope that these women felt through each vote. Political Animals often swings from heart breaking to heart warming, as you bare witness to endured the insults hurled at these women on the floor.

In these debates, gay men were compared to hormonally imbalanced cattle. Homosexuality was considered to be as perverse as necropheliacs and pedophiles. One state senator remarked that the gay “lifestyle” was the most dangerous lifestyle, far worse than smoking, or driving without a seatbelt. Many of these detractors quoted biblical texts to support their beliefs. These hurtful and demoralizing statements are still painfully relevant to today’s political rhetoric and shed light on the origin of many stereotypes held today.

At its core, the film shows how, for these women, separating the personal from the political was not an option. Their bills were about more than taxes, school protections, and hospital visitation rights--they were a defense of their right to live and love freely. Throughout the film, we watch these women be attacked not for their ideas, but for their mere existence. Yet we are able to see how their supporters and their painful experiences with discrimination gave them the will to continue their advocacy.

Political Animals pays homage to the unsung heroes who paved the way for many LGBTQ activists today. The freedoms these women sought beyond the right to marriage--they advocated for the right to be accepted, to be considered normal. When it is easy to vilify those you don’t know, these women sought to redefine the perceptions of a demonized community. The portrait of these women in this film is intimate, gripping, and emotionally raw, while highlighting how the courage of these women laid the groundwork for other “political animals” to expand rights for the LGBTQ community across the nation, and for those today who continue to push the movement forward.