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New film festival showcases unique LGBTQ stories at The Gallery Below

Queer & There

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Growing up queer can be incredibly isolating, especially without role models. Author Junot Díaz once compared representation of minorities in the media to a mirror. Classic movie monsters don’t have reflections, so the easiest way to make human beings believe they are monsters is to deny them their reflection.

Jon Bataille, events coordinator at The Gallery Below, says: “I’ve always identified my queerness with film and media because growing up, you don’t know any other gay people ... and you think it’s just you.” Bataille, like many of us who spent childhood craving our own reflection, vividly remembers the first time he saw himself in the mirror (on PBS’ In the Life). And while representation of LGBTQ people has increased exponentially over the years, our narratives aren’t always driven by people expressing their own lived experiences, but by people expressing what they believe the lived experiences of LGBTQ people to be.

“The stories that we tell about ourselves [are] very interesting to me,” Bataille says, “and their relationship to the stories we’ve been told about ourselves from others.” He says he wanted to bring “our” stories to The Gallery Below with Queer Voices Be Heard, a new monthly queer film festival.

Their first event in October offered queer classics Weekend, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and But I’m a Cheerleader. This month, Bataille will present a retrospective of films by a friend of his, John G. Young, a filmmaker and professor at Purchase College in Westchester, New York.

“His films are very interesting to me in the sense that they deal with race, interracial relationships, how growing up in different cultures affects interacting with people,” Bataille says. Mainstream media seldom examines the intersection of race and sexual identity, as social movements often treat the two issues separately. The LGBTQ rights movement has a history of ignoring the specific injustices faced by LGBTQ people of color, so films that address both issues can be validating and, unfortunately, rare.
John G. Young says that he grew up sheltered from intersections of race, class and sexual identity, and that history influences his work now. “If you live a life that’s been separated or protected from those things,” he says “... then at some point you become an adult and realize your choices, how your life is lived and who you expose yourself to, and how.”

Young’s most recent film, bwoy, starring Anthony Rapp and Jermaine Rowe, follows a middle class white man from New York, Brad, who falls for a young Jamaican man, Yenny, over the internet. The assumptions Brad makes about Yenny’s life speak to a greater misunderstanding in American culture, and a white savior complex that the film personalizes beautifully through Brad’s story. It’s a unique and uncomfortable plot that many filmmakers might shy away from. “I’m getting a little bolder, [as] I get older,” Young says. “I feel like I’m more interested in pushing boundaries.” Though all of Young’s films, beginning with 1995’s Parallel Sons, have skirted the lines of the traditional gay narrative.

Bataille says: “[In] gay films ... the image is sometimes homogenized and the stories are skewed to one type of gay experience.”

Flipping through, say, the Netflix LGBT section, it’s easy to see what he means. Hunky, cisgender, American white guys make up the majority of LGBTQ protagonists, and nearly every romance between women assumes all lesbians reflect societal expectations of femininity. Plus, the few titles that include transgender people often give those roles to cisgender actors.

Not only is it refreshing to see a variety of experiences from a variety of cultures, it’s necessary, and that is part of what Young attempts to convey through his films. “There may [be] ways in which people have not gotten to look at some of these issues or feel some of these issues from different internal perspectives, and that’s what I think the films allow them to do,” he says. He wants his work to be personal, to “take on the perspective of people whose stories aren’t normally told.”

Which is also what Bataille hopes to accomplish with Queer Voices be Heard. In addition to screening queer films, Bataille hopes to add an open mic component (collaborating with Keep Colorado Springs Queer). His vision for the gallery is to be a venue to not only view art, but to experience and share art. “When a queer filmmaker makes something and they don’t have a physical venue to show it in, I want this to be a viable option for that,” he says. “... I want to just be a safe space for the queer community here in town.”

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