Last night (Monday, 30 July 2018) QFest held its annual queer film festival’s closing night presented by another queer Houston magazine, Spectrum South. And I have some thoughts.
I’m not going to lie to you. Until I was editor of this magazine, I wasn’t that highly involved in the LGBTQIA community here in Houston. Sure, I served as the volunteer chair for Pride Houston, Inc. for a year and a half before. But even then I wasn’t going out to support community events very often, because most of my time was absorbed with work and school and running my committee for Pride. Besides, the way I saw it, working in such a large capacity for the fourth largest LGBTQ Pride parade and festival in the country seemed like I was doing more than my part. But over the last nine months that I’ve served in my capacity as editor-in-chief of About, I’ve learned that just working for organizations in the community isn’t quite enough to make effective change. In order to really make a difference, to really see our community thrive and succeed, to really normalize LGBTQIA people in our community, we have to work not only behind the scenes and in the stage’s spotlight. We have to show up in the audience to cheer on other queer people, their businesses, and their organizations.
That’s why it meant so much to me to get to be in the audience of the closing night of QFest this year. QFest Houston, which just closed out its 22nd annual film festival, is dedicated to the promotion of LGBTQ artists and artwork, led by artistic director Kristian Salinas, and co-artistic director, Michael Robinson. Their closing night film, a Yen Tan picture entitled 1985, told the heart-wrenching story of a young man named Adrian visiting his Ft. Worth family from Manhattan at what would likely be his last Christmas in 1985 while living with HIV/AIDS. We’ll have a full review of the film available tomorrow, but for now, just take my word (and tears) for it — it was amazing.
But even if the film hadn’t been my favorite, it told a story that many LGBTQ people of my generation need to see. I’m 24. I’m young to be doing what I do. And as someone just becoming involved in the community over the last year, I still have so much to learn about the history of our people and how close to the brink we are politically of falling into the places from which we (read: the older LGBTQ generations) have worked so hard to remove us. But films like 1985, and organizations like QFest whose mission it is to promote and share them serve as a stark reminder that when it comes to the trans people in our community, the nonbinary people in our community, the bisexuals in our community, and the people of color in our community, we still have so much work to do before we truly attain equality for all queer people. The road has gotten easier for gay men and women (especially those who are white). It’s not perfect, but it’s gotten easier, and then backslid some since around … I don’t know … November 8th, 2016? But the aforementioned members of our community who don’t have the privilege that the white gay/lesbian members do are traversing a much more difficult road. And it is our responsibility to see to it that they are getting the equal representation, support, and advocacy that we are given. Moreover, it isn’t just our responsibility to take on, but it should be our privilege to do this for them.
Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. Because they’re our people, too. Because they are people, too. Because we can’t preach that love is love if we don’t show our love for everyone that it takes to make up this beautiful, variant, individualistic community.
And Salinas, Robinson, and QFest’s other staff, supporters, and fans seem to take both that responsibility and privilege quite seriously. Year-after-year, the festival brings to the screen for Houstonians films that speak to, about, and for the LGBTQIA communities of past and present. This year was no exception, and its films were powerful, poignant, and penetrative of our hearts and minds.
Following the awards ceremony (full list of winners at the end of the article) and the screening of 1985, guests were invited to join both QFest and LGBTQIA magazine Spectrum South down the hall of the Rice Cinema building for a night of entertainment courtesy of the lovely staff at Spectrum. And let me tell you … Spectrum South sure does know how to throw a helluva party. Bradley David Janacek showed up to rock the DJ booth, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio spilled into glasses, a step-and-repeat sporting Spectrum South’s logo dropped against the back of a GIF-creating photo booth, blue and purple floor lights illuminated the walls and ceilings, and a great number of supporters, sponsors, enthusiasts, and artists tiled something of a mosaic throughout the venue. Spectrum South (with the help of their sponsors Bradley David Entertainment, Morena Roas Da Artist, the Catastrophic Theatre, Stages Repertory Theatre, Mystiq, the Orchard Films, Pearl Bar Houston, and the Houston Film Commission) brought the five-day film festival to a climactic end and brought together people from all over our community.
I’d be remiss, however, if I were to pigeonhole Spectrum South to just being incredible party planners, because what they did was so much more than that.
By partnering with QFest, Spectrum South opened the door and laid out a welcome mat for young LGBTQIA people to enter into the world of queer film culture. In its 22 years serving the community of queer artists and supporters, QFest’s biggest supporters are of the generation of the time from whence it began. And while that generation is just as important in the normalization of queer people — more so, maybe, considering that they were the ones who fought for our rights, who rioted at Stonewall, who marched in Pride marches before they were parades and when the world wasn’t accepting of us — its up to the new generation to make sure that this legacy continues on throughout our lives and those to follow. And we can’t carry it to the next generation if we don’t participate in it ourselves. It’s easy to shrug off politics and say that everything is corrupt or that our votes don’t make a difference. Apathy is always easier. But the easy road isn’t always the best road to travel. It’s a shorter road, true; but it’s a road that ends in a bleak, lifeless field of disparity for queer people. Our crops can’t grow there if we, the people, are not watering and tending to them. And while we have many amazing cis and straight allies, we cannot rely solely on them to make the difference to better our future.
Spectrum South does not take this responsibility lightly. Its co-founders (editor-in-chief Megan Smith and creative director Kelsey Gledhill) put on a sort of proverbial armor every day to bring to the Southern queer people groundbreaking information, thoughtful opinion pieces, lovely community and individual spotlights, and a monumental effort (and a successful one, if I do say so myself) to homogenize queer people into the ranks of straight, white, cis people (read: men). They humbly state that their mission and vision are “to bring visibility to the diverse and resilient individuals, groups, and personalities of the ever-growing queer South,” but I for one think that Spectrum South‘s leading ladies and extraordinary staff aren’t giving themselves the credit they deserve. They aren’t just bringing our visibility to the eyes of straight, white, cis people; and they aren’t just normalizing queer people of all kind to straight, white, cis people; they’re teaching all people (gay, straight, trans, white, black, and/or otherwise) that queer people are making contributions to this world that have gone for too long unrecognized and unappreciated without standing on a soap box or shouting to be heard over the masses.
And that’s the magic of Spectrum South. Any other magazine or newspaper or media outlet of any kind might not show up to support OutSmart, and the Montrose Star, and even our very own About Magazine — businesses that many might view to be their competitors. But you know who would?
Captaining their ship are two queer women who have worked in the journalistic market (and beyond) and who have faced hardships and adversities of their own. Yet, here they are, over a year after opening their doors, still kicking ass and celebrating our people. They aren’t just breaking the glass ceiling, they’re sweeping up the floor beneath it and making sure that no shards are left behind to gash the women and queer people who follow in their footsteps. Because at the end of the day, their vision isn’t one of self-importance or making truckloads of money or even just having the chance to write and do what they love.
Their vision is that of a beautiful, adversity- and homo/transphobic-free future in which people are just people, but where queer people match cis/straight people in renown. And here at About Magazine, that’s our vision for the future, too. And that’s why it is so easy for us to also show up and support them, to share their work, and to cheer them on. More importantly, that’s why it is so easy for us at About to be inspired to do more, to do better, and to help them and all queer people and businesses be successful in whatever way we can.
As long as their are organizations like QFest and companies like Spectrum South, the queer community in the South (and all around the world) can only get better. But they can only make things better if the community shows up. To learn. To support. To fight.
QFest 2018 was a massive success; and we are so humbled by the opportunity to be there, and so excited that our friends at Spectrum South saw the importance of the organization and took the initiative to do something to increase its visibility so that our generation and the generations to follow will still be able to experience and create the kind of beautiful art that QFest provides to Houston’s LGBTQIA community.
Congratulations, QFest and Spectrum South. I speak for everyone at About Magazine and our subsidiaries when I say that we are so proud of the work you’re doing and that we will always support your endeavors.
Anthony Ramirez, Editor-in-Chief
2018 QFest Winner’s List
- Audience Award: Señorita Maria, la Falda de la Montaña (directed & written by Rubén Mendoza)
- Houston Film Critics Society Award: Dear Fredy (directed & written by Rubi Gat)
- Fundamental Jury Prize for Best Screenplay: Kill the Monsters (directed & written by Ryan Lonegran)
- Reinventing Marvin Jury Prize for Best Dramatic Performance or Most Inspiring Living Subject of a Documentary: Señorita Maria, la Falda de la Montaña (starring Maria Luisa Fuentes)
- Special Jury Prize for Best Cinematography: He Loves Me (directed & written by Konstantinos Menelaou with cinematography by Kostis Fokas)
- Grand Jury Prize: Dear Fredy (directed by Rubi Gat)
- Freedom of Vision Award: Air (directed by Anatol Schuster & written by Schuster & Britta Schwem)