It was quite a whirlwind weekend for Lennie Gerber and Pearl Berlin. On Saturday night the High Point couple were honored at the initial screening of a documentary about their 47-year relationship, titled “Living in the Overlap.” Then, Sunday afternoon, they were married at Beth David Synagogue in Greensboro by Rabbi Eliezer Havivi.
While the marriage is not considered legal in the state of North Carolina, it is recognized under Jewish law. It marked Havivi’s first-ever gay ceremony. He remarked, “I am delighted we can do this here and now. I want to declare their union is holy.”
The documentary, which was co-directed by Jamestown resident Mary Dalton, with her colleague at Wake Forest University, Cindy Hill, played to a standing-room-only crowd in the auditorium at the Elliott Center on the UNC Greensboro campus. After the half-hour film, Lennie, 77, and Pearl, 88, made their way to the stage amidst a wildly cheering audience to answer questions for another half-hour.
They were thrust into the national limelight last year (much to Pearl’s chagrin) as advocates against Amendment One, the referendum which effectively banned gay marriage in the state, when they were featured on a segment on “The Last Word,” hosted by Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC. The network was supposed to have sent a crew to the wedding, but apparently did not.
During the Q&A at the documentary screening, Lennie made the point that although the measure passed with 61 percent of the vote, the turnout was only 16 percent.
“So that means that a constitutional amendment passed with about 9 percent of the population approving it,” she noted. “Putting this to a vote is the worst way to decide what should be considered a human rights issue.”
The recently retired attorney also opined that, given the state’s current political climate, she doubted that an effort to have Amendment One overturned would be mounted.
“Nothing good is going to happen while the Republicans control both the legislature and the governor’s mansion,” she said. “If same-sex marriage is ever going to happen, it will have to come from the federal level, from the Supreme Court.”
Still, she also stressed that with California on the verge of passing a marriage equality bill, making 13 states that have legalized it, that would mean 40 percent of the population lives in states that have approved of it.
“It’s all happening so fast,” she said. “Clearly the tide has turned in our favor.”
The documentary focused more on the couple’s personal life, how the two Brooklynites met, fell in love, and moved to North Carolina in 1971 — living in Jamestown at the time — when Pearl was offered a position at UNCG to help start the doctoral program in physical education at the school. But Lennie was told she would never be offered a job at the school “because we were too open about our sexuality and our relationship.” So she decided to go back to school and earn a law degree, which, she said, “turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened to me.” She became one of the state’s leading attorneys specializing in gay, lesbian and transgender issues.
“The best advice I can give you is to get documentation on everything,” she said. “Even if you don’t have spousal rights, you can get power of attorney.”
One of the most hilarious moments of the film came when the pair were accepting the Visionary Award last year, given by the Guilford Greens Foundation. Pearl said that they had lifted part of their speech from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s’ famous “I have a dream” speech. The 87-year-old PE professor and sports fan said, “I have a dream that the Panthers will win the Super Bowl … and be led by a gay quarterback.”
Mary Dalton, who co-emceed the event along with Hill, said that she and Hill were going to meet with the rest of their team this week to map out a strategy for promoting and marketing the film.
“I think we will try to get it in as many film festivals as we can,” she said, “and then explore some television opportunities. We also want to do some educational outreach and get it in the schools, but we’ll have to see where it takes us.”
Addison Ore, executive director of the Triad Health Project and longtime friends with Lennie and Pearl, attended both the film screening and the wedding. After Sunday’s wedding, she commented, “They are such icons in the LGBT community, and have been such powerful advocates for social justice, but at the end of the day, this was a very personal ceremony for them. This wasn’t about politics or being on MSNBC, this was a love story, pure and simple. When they walked down that aisle, I’m fairly certain there was not a dry eye in the house.”
Ogi Overman can be reached at 336-841-4933 or firstname.lastname@example.org.