America’s first and only documented gang of gay and transgender youths started ten years ago in DC’s Trinidad neighborhood, when a few ninth graders banded together and fought back against their bullies. Today, the gang–called the Check It–has more than 200 members, ages 14 to 22, who might wear lipstick and stilettos, but also carry weapons like knives and brass knuckles. Together, they combat the violence and hatred they’ve encountered growing up.
Their tale is the subject of an upcoming independent documentary produced by actor Steve Buscemi, alongside directors/producers Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer. “They’ve had to band together out of necessity,” Buscemi says of the gang in the film’s trailer. “Instead of running away from the dangers that they face daily, they decided to fight back.”
That fighting spirit is exactly what drew Flor and Oppenheimer to the story. They first came across the gang when they were filming another DC flick–the Nine Lives of Marion Barry, which aired in 2009 on HBO. They met local activist Ron Moten while making that film; Moten told the producers about the Check It and arranged a pow-wow with members at the Denny’s on Bladensburg Road in Northeast. At the meeting, Flor and Oppenheimer realized they had come across an extremely important tale. “We knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime story,” Flor says. “Their personal stories were totally unique.”
These kids have faced discrimination throughout their entire lives. Members tell stories of being stabbed or shot. Some have served time in juvenile detention centers; others were born to mothers addicted to crack. “Just being black you have a lot of odds against you,” Moten says in the film’s trailer. “Being gay and black… it’s like a nightmare waiting to happen.”
The gang members joined together to defend and support each other; but for the filmmakers, that tight-knit bond at first proved difficult to infiltrate. The partners began working on the film three years ago, gradually immersing themselves in gang members’ lives. “These are kids who have been let down by everybody in their life,” Flor says. “In order to have a relationship, you have to assert them that you’re for real, that you’re not going to go away.”
The documentary will not only go into the challenges members face, but also depict their dream of launching a fashion line. Now in the editing stage, Flor and Oppenheimer have launched an Indiegogo campaign to finance finishing their film. Ten percent of the funds will go directly to the gang’s fashion line and help them purchase fabric and sewing machines.
The duo hopes to release the film this fall, but to do so, they need the community’s support. The campaign, which has less than three days to go, has raised about $50,000. “We need as much support as humanly possible,” Flor says. “It’s an amazing story that really needs to be told.”