When you think of a gang, what comes to mind? Guns? Handkerchiefs? What about lipstick and heels?
Check It is a documentary about the first documented LGBTQ gang, located in Washington, D.C. The members of the Check It gang are all black gay or transgender youth. Many are from single parent homes, the foster system, or have fled homes filled with abuse and drug use to live homeless or with other youths on the street.
The cultural narrative about the LGBTQ community in America has been and continues to be that things are getting better. That things ARE better. Look, they say. We have repealed don’t ask don’t tell. We have gay marriage. Look how far we’ve come, they say. Look how much better things are now.
But better for whom? Certainly not better for these youth, who prostitute themselves at 12 or 13 years old, blocks or miles away from the very politicians who are supposedly making the lives of LGBTQ people better in this country. Not for these youth, desperate for aid or support from anyone, who’ve turned to each other when there wasn’t anyone else to count on.
The Check It gang started when a group of queer black youth who were being bullied and killed in their schools decided to fight back. Rather than running away, they started standing their ground and protecting each other the only way they knew how – through violence. Check It examines how gang culture serves a real need for community and connection. How the gang serves as a chosen family, and as a way to protect the youngest and most vulnerable members of the community. The Check It gang is about survival in a world where homophobic violence is real and present, not a distant memory.
Check It also explores those who have grown up on the same streets and are now trying to offer the members of the Check It gang alternatives – careers in boxing or fashion. But Check It isn’t some feel good documentary about saving at-risk youth. It isn’t inspiration porn. It’s a complex and thought-provoking analysis of the intersections of race, class, and sexuality which still leave large parts of the American population vulnerable and hopeless. Check It shows why it is so vital to say – and to believe – that #BlackLivesMatter in this country, because all too often, it is made very clear that they don’t.
It would be far too easy for the LGBTQ community at large to judge these youth. But many of them have been forced to drop out of middle schools in poor neighborhoods and make do with no adult supervision or support. These are the children our school system and our government fails each and every day. In a kill or be killed world, the choice to fight back was a choice to stay alive. But now, what these youth need and thirst for is the opportunity to thrive.
While Check It is a powerful example of the resilience of the human spirit, it isn’t enough to watch the film and feel better about the youths who have been helped. Because there are so many more at risk. In Washington, D.C. And maybe in your own backyard. People of color in this country are not safe. Trans and gender non-conforming people are not safe. When you find the intersection of the two, you get Check It. When any being is backed into a corner, they will fight their way out. We have to wake up and change the systems which back anyone into a corner in the first place.
Check It will encourage you to take a good, hard look at America. Maybe not your America. But someone’s America. If you haven’t walked streets like those streets, look hard. Because the rest of us have to remember they exist when we go back to the comfort of our living rooms at the end of the night. None of us are free until all of us are free. If it hasn’t gotten better for these youth, it hasn’t gotten better for you, either. Get out there and do the work. We can’t continue to turn a blind eye to the most vulnerable amongst us. We created the Check It gang, and now we have the opportunity to render it unnecessary and stop the next one from being made.
You can view Check It Saturday, September 10 at 5:30pm at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar as a part of the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival.