Two weeks ago, Ittai Orr finished a year and a half of work on a documentary about the lives of LGBTQ teenagers in his hometown of Tri-Cities, Washington. Bwog checked in with Ittai about making the film which is titled “Breaking the Silence.”
Tell us why you decided to make the documentary, and how you went about getting started.
The prospect of going home for the summer in the middle of nowhere inspired in me a kind of frenzied panic. I just came out of the closet that year (I was a freshman) and the last thing I wanted was to be trapped in the stifling conservative desert of eastern Washington State while all my friends were stepping off planes in exotic jungles, building schools and writing for Arianna Huffington. So knowing that there were some very urgent stories to tell about gay people there, I made a few phone calls and started work on this documentary using my own camera.
What are your aspirations for this documentary? Who do you want to watch it?
I want people to see this online and become more aware of the obstacles gay people face as they confront this country’s stubborn past, but I also want them to see how much hope there is, how much it helps to come out of the closet, speak out and slowly chip away at gay shame rather than turn away imagining someone else will take care of it. I think everyone should see this, even if they don’t live in rural America, because issues of sexuality are still a problem for people everywhere, even on the supposedly evolved coasts and all over the world.
Your finishing the documentary now aligns with a wave of homophobic violence much closer to Columbia than the Tri-Cities—after focusing so much on Tri-Cities homophobia, what was it like to learn of all the violence so close to us? What can Columbians do to make sure that homophobia and violence doesn’t get any closer to our campus?
Hearing about the awful tragedy of Tyler Clementi just makes clear something I’ve suspected and known for a long time: self-hatred, depression and fear are rampant among LGBT people everywhere and it’s no coincidence that we are disproportionately harassed. I know everyone thinks “it’s not me doing it!” but it doesn’t have to be overt. It can be as small as a joke you think is edgy, or the way you dismiss gay people who are acting too “femme,” it’s in the stereotypes and expectations and the subtle us/them paradigm that gay people are sometimes also guilty of perpetuating. And that’s still not taking into account the issue of gay minorities, which adds another dimension of prejudice to the picture. Release yourself from your own constraints and you’ve already taken a step toward releasing others. And that goes for closeted gay people too; let yourself come out already! But apart from change our attitudes, we can put up those pink safe-space posters and attend gay events. Call people out when they do something homophobic and don’t be afraid to encourage your friends to just say “fuck it,” come out and be proud of who they are.