BY REBECCA S. KATZ, FOUNDER/PRODUCER OF WWW.IWANTTHEWORLDTOKNOW.ORG
When I was 18, I had an epiphany while watching one of my all time favorite movies, The Hours. In those minutes alone in my college dorm room, I knew I had discovered my calling. Philip Glass’s score enmeshed with the lives of three women from different generations moved me in ways that I didn’t know were possible. I wanted to affect people the way I had been so deeply affected, and I realized that my weapon of choice would be storytelling through film.
I took almost every film course offered at my university and then studied at Tisch School of the Arts in New York City for a semester where I immersed myself in film production. It was there that I truly opened myself up to storytelling. I was known in the class as the “definitely not straight girl” after I screened my 3rd film, The Morning After, which depicts an awkward moment after a night of sexual intimacy between two women, who both happen to be nude. It may sound raunchy, but really, it was the proudest moment in my life up till that point. My professor’s immediate reaction was “Why can’t the world be in black and white celluloid,” and my eyes filled with happy tears as I stood in front of my class waiting for their feedback. It was the first time in my life that I was able to face a group of people and be proud of who I was: a newly, but still emerging lesbian with a point of view that I was unafraid to share.
After graduating from college, I moved back to New York City and was hired as an executive assistant at Shine Global, a non-profit film production company dedicated to ending the exploitation and abuse of children through documentary. Their first film, WAR DANCE, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2007, and I was thrilled at having joined a company with such talent under their belt. Working at Shine has given me the chance to see firsthand how the power of film can move people to action. Everyday we receive emails from people telling us how WAR DANCE changed their lives.
It is my background and passion for film that leads me to…
November 5, 2008. America made history by electing the first African-American president. Hours later, we were stunned at the outcome of Proposition 8: the majority of Californians voted to strip gay people of the right to marry. I went to work that day feeling angry but mostly helpless. My co-workers gave me a pat on the back and a “I can’t believe it either” look. How was it possible for strangers to dictate the status and legality of my relationship? I, like most other forward-thinking people, was shocked that people could be so ignorant and adamant about taking away my rights.
Because I had a day job, I never took the time to work on personal projects but had been aching to do so for some time. The passage of Prop 8 lit a fire under me, and I knew I had found my story. The only problem was that I didn’t own any film equipment, nor did I have the funds to buy everything on my own. I decided to write an email to my family and friends telling them about the Prop 8 debacle and my aspiration to produce a project defending the rights of the LGBTQ community. I had no idea what to expect but hoped for the best. Their responses came pouring in and left me speechless and tearful, overwhelmed and humbled. I asked for $10 to help buy a camera, tripod, and microphones. Many of them donated much more, and I hit the ground running.
I spent my nights and weekends brainstorming how to communicate my message. I conducted some preliminary interviews on what people thought of gay marriage and how the gay movement has evolved since the 60s. However, I hit a wall when I realized that I didn’t really have a compelling story to tell: Gay marriage should be legal. End of story. Now what?
Then April rolled around, and I heard about the suicides of Carl Walker Hoover and Jaheem Herrera. Both boys, 11 years old, took their own lives because bullies were calling them “gay” and “fag” at school every day for months. I was horrified. I was sad. I was batshit angry. It was 2009, and children were still exhibiting hatred toward their peers for being gay. Regardless of Carl’s and Jaheem’s sexualities, this anti-gay bullying had to stop.
I couldn’t get the tragic stories of these two young boys out of my head. I became almost obsessed with them. After days of thinking about these tragedies, it finally dawned on me that gay marriage is just a small piece of full equality for the LGBTQ community. What made these two young boys think that opting out of life was the best way to deal with bullying? What caused people to donate millions of dollars to take away the rights of strangers? Homophobia. Instead of focusing on the specific issue of marriage equality, which is undoubtedly important, I decided that it was youth and young adults who needed the most attention: the ones who suffer to be themselves in a world telling them not to be.
I started talking to my gay friends about their coming out stories. What was it like to come out? What reactions did they encounter? How did they make them feel? These were the stories I decided to tell: the stories of my friends, the stories of strangers. I made trips to Los Angeles and interviewed friends of friends of friends. The support I received was unbelievable. I never thought that “little Rebecca from Canton, Massachusetts” would be driving around Los Angeles–a completely foreign city–meeting people who I had never met but wanted to help me. I reached out to out actors/actresses, most of whom were more than willing to share their stories with me.
Every single gay person has a coming out story. It’s something that we all have in common. I know when I first had a crush on my 5th grade student teacher, I thought I was a freak. I suppressed that feeling for 10 years until I realized what it was called to love a woman. Perhaps I wouldn’t have felt like such a freak if I knew there were other people like me in the world, people who were proud to love and unafraid of the consequences.
The I Want the World to Know initiative was born out of love for the LGBTQ community and the support that I believe is lacking at times for people who are thinking about coming out and are looking for support. Instead of bombarding the Right with rallies, petitions, and thousands of voices, why not bombard them with individual stories too? If every person knows someone gay, lesbian, trans, bi, or queer, they will start to realize that there’s nothing to be scared of. We’re people just like them, and we aren’t going anywhere.
Learn more about Rebecca’s initiative at WWW.IWANTTHEWORLDTOKNOW.ORG.