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Coming out in the colonies: how would being gay play in the 17th-century village re-created for PBS's Colonial House? Two men found out. An Advocate exclusive.

After overcoming testicular cancer in 2000--his senior year of college--Jonathon Allen was thrilled to take on a challenge of his own choice. The South Carolinian signed on for Colonial House, set to air May 17, 18, 24, and 25 from 8 to 10 P.M. on PBS. It's the latest in a string of PBS reality series that place people in a historical setting so they can experience what that time period was really like. The loss of electricity and running water would be struggles, but for Allen. now 25, there was another issue--he's gay. How would that play in the 17th century?

Allen found out when he and 25 other colonists, chosen from among more than 5,000 applicants, arrived in Massachusetts for a training course before heading out to their replica colony on the Maine coast. Allen who'd mentioned his sexuality to the producers but not to the other colonists, asked one of the trainers what would have happened if someone in a real Colonial village had announced he was gay.

"She said homosexuality would be punishable by death--no ifs, ands, or buts about it." Allen remembers. "The second after she grouped homosexuality with bestiality, I remember I put down my pencil and I was staring at my notebook. I sat like that for a while. And then I just looked up and I was like. I'm not going to say anything to these people. I can keep this a secret for five months, because I've been doing it my whole life."

Allen jumped into his assigned role as an indentured servant becoming one of the first 17 re-creators to arrive at the three-home colony. Allen's "masters." California university professors Don and Carolyn Heinz, had control over his life. "I don't take that from anybody, except God and my parents," Allen remarks.

A typical morning started with five or six trips to the watering hole to make sure everyone, including the animals. had enough to drink; feeding the pigs; and cutting wood for the fireplaces. Plus he had to wake everyone else up. "This was all before breakfast," he points out.

The pressure of being in the closet made a rough experience rougher. "There's no way I can get across the intensity of living with the same 20 people every day for five months," says Alien. "Not only living with them but depending on them for your survival. I would hear everyone talk about how much they missed people they loved. And I just felt like I was leaving out a huge part of me, because I was playing the pronoun game. Luckily no one asked me her name, or I would've said Shawna instead of Shawn."

But Allen's isolation was about to end. Two months in a new group of colonists arrived, including Craig Tuminaro, 29, a gay museum curator from Virginia. Tuminaro, who initially played the role of another indentured servant in the Heinz household, was past the rigors of coming out. "I've been there, and I'm done with that," he says. For Tuminaro, being gay "wasn't a secret--nor was it the defining feature of my life." Inspired by Tuminaro's example, Allen decided to come out to the colony during one Sunday's mandatory church service.

A Southern Baptist, Allen was not bothered by the church attendance rules. He'd gotten along well with colony governor Jeff Wyers, a Southern Baptist minister from Texas, and his family. "We were tight," Allen says. "We spoke the same language."

That changed after Alien stood and spoke his truth. While the rest of the colony applauded his coming out, the Wyers family sat quietly. Although Allen said the family continued to treat him respectfully throughout the filming, he felt that his disclosure had changed their relationship.

After Colonial House disbanded Allen learned that Wyers had scotched an attempt to add Communion to weekly services, telling preacher Don Heinz that his family wouldn't attend if Allen shared the sacrament. When asked about it, Wyers quoted the Bible, arguing that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Asked by The Advocate about Allen's coming-out, Wyers responds via e-mail: "Nothing much surprises me anymore.' How did his feelings toward Allen change afterward? [I] began to pray for Jonathon more--and still do."

Colonial House is unlikely to reach the mega-audiences of other reality series like Survivor. Still, Allen admits he is "terrified" about public reaction. Aside from his immediate family and friends, he says, not too many people know about me. I don't know how my church family is going to treat me."

But Allen insists his time-travel experience was worth it. "Despite the unsanitary and dirty conditions. I never felt more healthy and alive."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:television; Jonathon Allen; Craig Tuminaro
Author:Lisotta, Christopher
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Date:May 11, 2004
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