The towering historic monuments and million dollar condos of Capitol Hill juxtapose with a grimmer reality for a large community in the nation’s capital.
“Check It,” a documentary that debuted at this year’s New York Tribeca Film Festival, tells the story of that community’s daily fight to stay alive. The film follows five young gay black friends who founded Check It, claimed to be the only documented all-gay and transgender gang in the nation by the filmmakers. The gang, which now has over 200 members, was formed to help people in the LGBT community survive the day-to-day abuses they face on the brutal streets of Washington D.C.
Although many D.C. residents see Check It as a violent group of youngsters, members see it as an extended family and a protective structure.
Directors Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer funded the final production of the film through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign which exceeded its goal of $60,000.
The film was shot over the span of two years and seamlessly provides an in-depth look at the lives of Check It members, showing us the raw nature of their existence and taking us into some of their most vulnerable moments.
Capitol Hill is a faint fixture in the background of the film which underscores the sheer isolation this part of the LGBTQ community has felt in the nation’s capital.
In August of 2015, the Homeless Youth Census reported 43 percent of D.C.’s homeless youth population identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
“It’s the nation’s capital. We give billions of dollars to foreign countries but there are children sleeping on the streets literally blocks away from the White House,” Flor told NBC OUT.
One scene in particular captures the sheer frustrations of this marginalized group within a marginalized community. One of the Check It members, Tray, has been raped and sits in an alley calling the police to report the incident. His call for help leads to various rerouted calls where he is told there is nothing much that can be done.
In 2010, The National Center for Victims of Crime and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released a report surrounding the need for an improvement of victim assistance for the LGBTQ community. The report found mainstream victim assistance agencies did not provide a culturally sensitive response to victims in the LGBTQ community, while LGBTQ-specific anti-violence programs lacked resources to meet the need or simply did not exist.
Although there have been recent efforts by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s LGBT Liaison Unit to apprehend criminals who target the LGBTQ community, a large portion of the community still finds itself targeted on a daily basis.
Ronald “Mo” Moten, an ex-convict turned community mentor who worked with Check It to channel the energy of group members into a constructive passion project, expressed his disappointment with the lack of resources available.
“We reached out to a lot of people. When we reach out to people in the LGBT community organizations and they don’t help, that’s shameful. This is the population no one wants to deal with. They think they are too rough around the edges and they’re too much of a liability,” said Moten.
The film also documents the journey of Check It members into the fashion industry. Members attend a summer fashion camp where they are trained to design clothes, style models and produce a fashion show. This inspired the group to start their own clothing label.
Check It is now using some of the proceeds from the documentary's Indiegogo campaign to release the clothing label and put on fashion shows.
As for the future of the film, directors Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer hope it will bring much needed awareness to the neglected LGBT community in D.C.
“The struggles of this community are no secret. If we can see it and we know it’s there, everybody has to acknowledge it’s there,” said Flor.