A recent profile in The Advocate is raising awareness about a new short film that tells the story of a priest newly diagnosed with HIV. The film is seeking funding on Kickstarter and is described as exploring “a moment in the life of one priest who is faced with a crossroads of health and identity, threatening to deconstruct his entire belief system.”
In the opening seconds of his Kickstarter video, Sebastian La Cause, writer/director, gives a rapid-fire pitch for the production: “Set in dynamic East Los Angeles, Holy Water follows a gay priest at a crossroad of identity and self-acceptance as he struggles to come to terms with an HIV diagnosis.” He then quotes Joyce Carol Oates about the power of writing against taboo, one of the main goals of this project.
In the video, La Cause explains his goals and vision for the work-in-progress, sharing an encounter that solidifies why this story is so important for him to tell. When meeting with a network executive to pitch Holy Water, La Cause opened up for the first time about his personal connection to the material: his own HIV+ diagnosis. After sharing, La Cause said that he ‘suddenly felt free,’ adding, “I’m done with shame. I’m done with fear. I’m done with hiding.”
The history of this project stretches back to the early 2000s, when La Cause was early in his acting career in New York City. He explains his inspiration:
“I took a writing workshop for actors from a casting director at Playwrights Horizon. One of the assignments was to search through media for an inspiration article to adapt into a monologue. My search led me to a Pandora’s Box of articles surrounding priests with HIV. I was quite shocked to learn that priests had been contracting the disease since it was discovered. There were many who had lost their lives from the disease and many who were still living with it. I found this captivating.”
The article finding was particularly important to La Cause because of his own Catholic upbringing, and the discomfort he felt within the church because of his sexuality:
“I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic grade school through the eighth grade so I had been steeped in the Catholic teachings. Which was why I had left the Catholic Church once I discovered that I was gay. Once I found those articles on the priests with HIV, I knew I had found my source material for my monologue. I wrote the piece, performed it in the workshop and then it sat on my laptop for over fifteen years or so.”
Now, one of his main motivations is to inspire others to find that same degree of self-love through honesty: “My work from this point on is about inspiring my community, inspiring the LGBT community to love themselves.” Noting how he has grown through the process of filmmaking, La Cause says, “I have been running away from myself my whole life…and it feels good to not be running anymore. It feels good to be in my skin. It feels good to be speaking my truth, and I can only hope to inspire someone else to speak their truth.”
In his statement to The Advocate, La Cause expressed a desire to eradicate the stigma around HIV through storytelling:
“Sharing my experience was the first step toward that work. I truly believe [in] knowing our value and believing that we are worthy of love.”
Currently, Holy Water has raised more than $12,000 of an $18,000 goal, with just under three weeks to meet their benchmark. The project is written and directed by Sebastian La Cause, best known for his YouTube series Hustling, also initially funded through Kickstarter. Producers include actress Roxanne Morrison and Jai Rodriguez of the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy show.
There is certainly great value in sharing the stories of all people living with HIV, including the many clergy, gay and straight, who have been shamed into silence. As Holy Water nears a production deadline, we hope that it finds a wide audience of support.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, October 29, 2019