In 1989, documentarian Pam Walton released “Out in Suburbia,” a 30-minute short film about the lives of 11 lesbian women – aged 25 to 67 – living in the South Bay.
Pam, who lived in Palo Alto and Mountain View, featured friends, neighbors and other local women in one-on-one and group interviews. They discussed everything from how they knew they were gay and the difficulties of coming out, to their thoughts on religion and expectations within relationships.
Released amid the AIDS epidemic and the disbandment of the Moral Majority, “Out in Suburbia” aimed to capture the ordinary lives of these teachers, students, lawyers, activists, wives, mothers, daughters and ordinary women, beyond stereotypes and assumptions of how lesbians live and love.
“A lot of (the feedback) was, ‘Oh, it’s shocking to see that lesbians look like regular women,’” Pam said. “That’s what we wanted to accomplish.”
Becoming a filmmaker was an act of coming out for Pam. Growing up in Los Altos Hills, she remained closeted while teaching high school English for 20 years, prior to returning to Stanford University for a master’s in film and video production in 1985.
“When I got to Stanford, I thought, ‘I’m going to come out big time,’ and decided that my thesis film would be about the women I knew in suburbia, more or less in my neighborhood,” she said, “When I would go to the gay and lesbian film festivals in San Francisco or LA, I was sort of appalled that I never saw me or my friends in the festival, so I decided to make one that showed more of my life experiences.”
The women featured on-screen were Wiggsy Sivertsen, Elizabeth Birch, Jo-Ann Birch, Marilyn Gum, Marie Ceciliani, Jackie Brown, Diane Porath, Joyce Fulton, MaryBell Wilson, Luciana Profaca and Rosemary Murphy.
Pam said “Out in Suburbia” was one of the first lesbian documetaries to come out of Stanford’s film department, where she met Ruth Carranza, her partner and associate director.
The film was awarded “Best Documentary” by the audience at the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which is now known as the Frameline Film Festival, the judge’s award at the Sinking Creek Film Celebration in Nashville, and a nod from the National Council on Human Rights.
Many of Pam’s other productions also highlight LGBTQ lives, including “Family Values: An American Tragedy,” “Gay Youth,” and the aptly named, “Lesbians.” She and Ruth are still making films, most recently featuring the Fountaingrove Lodge, an LGBT retirement community in Santa Rosa, where they currently call home.