For They Know Not What They Do

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
For They Know Not What They Do Movie Poster Image
Gentle docu looks at context of LGBTQ identity in religion.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 91 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Enhances understanding and compassion for the LGBTQ community within the Christian community, including debunking of scriptural beliefs that homosexuality is a sin.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Positive examples of young adults in the LGBTQ community, including gay religious leaders. While most parents featured had an adjustment period, they ultimately accept their child's sexual and/or gender identity. Those who made mistakes due to institutional fear of homosexuality are making efforts now to speak out and take other active, positive steps. Featured families and experts are a diverse group.


News and phone footage of hate crimes: sounds of gunshots at a mass shooting, images of transgender women being assaulted. Discussion of one person's suicidal ideation and self-harm. 


Romantic attraction between teens is at core of film's subject. Quick verbal reference to pornography. A positive love story is highlighted.


Hateful, homophobic speech, including a few slurs ("f-g," "homo").

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

References to a person who took drugs to deal with his emotional pain, resulting in tragedy.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that For They Know Not What They Do is a documentary about the American religious right's zealous crusade against the LGBTQ community and its damaging impact on families of faith. Its goal is to help those with conservative religious beliefs realize that there's no reason to be at odds with the LGBTQ community. For a film that examines the effects of hate and includes footage of violent crimes (as well as slurs like "f-g" and "homo"), it takes a very gentle, hand-holding approach in efforts to broaden understanding. The focus is on parents, who share how they reacted when their children came out, the challenges they faced as a family, and how they ultimately arrived in a supportive place. Most of their children, all now young adults, offer their coming out stories (one includes a mention of self-harm). All seem very comfortable in their own skin now that they can live their truth. One in particular, Sarah McBride, is a radiant, confident young woman who's become a leader in promoting transgender rights. Religious leaders provide scripture interpretation that counters the idea that God believes same-sex relationships are sinful. One interviewee gives a first-person account of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting; it's accompanied by news and smartphone footage. There's an example of drug and alcohol abuse with tragic consequences.

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What's the story?

FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO looks at how and why the religious right has vilified the LGBTQ community. Four families share their experiences of how faith both helped and hurt them in their journey to understand, accept, and support their gay or transgender children. Biblical scholars, religious leaders, and educators offer insight, understanding, and solutions.

Is it any good?

Daniel Karslake's documentary is instantly engaging, never boring, overwhelmingly enlightening, and, most of all, a beautiful blessing. It provides families of faith a path to reconcile their religious beliefs with their feelings about their child's sexual orientation or gender identity. The film's attitude is comparable to that of a sympathetic pastor, listening compassionately to the parents' stories of how their world went topsy-turvy when their kids came out. There aren't any villains in the bunch -- even the evangelicals who told their 12-year-old son that his homosexuality was "a dealbreaker for God." Reflect back on the film's title: For They Know Not What They Do is presenting these parents not as instruments of hate but as people who honestly think that they're helping because they've been told by trusted authority figures that being gay or transgender is an impulse or a choice. 

This compassionate approach just might work to help extinguish some of the pain that LGBTQ youth traditionally face in these scenarios. If parents go looking for educational material when they learn that their child is gay or transgender, perhaps this documentary will come up. And if they watch, they'll see both the best and worst potential outcomes. Thanks to its convincing but patient tone, when operating alongside a parent's love for their child, this film is likely to help parents overcome their own institutional bias. The movie's layers of facts and anecdotal evidence offer a compelling argument that trying to force someone to be something they're not -- especially when it's the very core of their identity -- is disastrous.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about confirmation bias. What is it, where does it come from, and why can it be difficult to overcome?

  • Discuss the filmmaker's approach to trying to create change. Do you think he's effective? How does he wield compassion as a tool?

  • Why do you think these four families were selected to be featured in the film? What makes their specific stories compelling?

  • What level of courage does it take to come out? How does Sarah McBride demonstrate exemplary courage?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love LGBTQ stories

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