An interview with Volunteer Ryan Lim

Volunteers are an integral part of Out On Screen and the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. Volunteers have taken on a variety of roles over the past 33 years, from being the first friendly face to scan your ticket as you enter a venue, to preparing packages behind the scenes, to representing the Festival at the Pride Parade, to even providing tech support during our first digital Festival last year. Our Board is also all volunteer – helping to steward the organization as we work to fulfill our mission

As a past volunteer at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, I have experienced firsthand how the festival fosters a sense of community and friendship. Not to mention, I learned a lot about myself and gained valuable skills through volunteering. For many folks, the Festival is their celebration of Pride. Recently, I sat down (virtually) with longtime VQFF volunteer and recipient of the 2020 Volunteer Service Award, Ryan Lim (he/him), to discuss what volunteering means for him, and what has him coming back to join us at VQFF every summer.

Hey Ryan, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Ryan. I go by the pronouns he/him. I’ve been a volunteer with Out On Screen and VQFF for seven years now, going onto my eighth. Outside of the Festival, I’m in marketing and communications work. I’ve done a lot of work (and volunteering) within the film and the entertainment industry, so this whole festival is definitely in my wheelhouse.

Do you remember when you first discovered the Vancouver Queer Film Festival and Out On Screen? How did you first get involved with volunteering?

I didn’t actually come out until I was in my early 30’s, so it was definitely a bit later in life. I’ve always been into film, but my experiences with queer cinema were very limited. Back in the day, as I started to come to terms with identity and became more comfortable with it, I think that’s when I started to be more open to it. One particular year—I don’t remember the exact age, but it definitely would have been a year or two before I actually came out—I noticed the Festival and decided to go see a film. I had a really good experience, and then a couple years later when I finally was out, I thought, oh, now what do I do? I thought back to when I saw that film at the Festival, and I thought volunteering for this Festival would be a great idea because I had volunteered at other film festivals before and had really enjoyed the experience.

Do you have a favourite memory from volunteering?

So many throughout the years—it’s hard to pinpoint one! Maybe it’s not one specific memory, but I’ve just met so many great people at the Festival over the years. There have been some years where I’ve met people that I’ve maintained good friendships with still to this day. That’s a big thing for me that has kind of come out of the Festival; sometimes you participate in these things and you meet people, but maybe you don’t keep in touch with them, or maybe you just see them at the Festival the next year. But it’s nice that I’ve actually kept in touch and become good friends with some of the people that I’ve met at the Festival.

Do you have a favorite film or program from your years of volunteering?

I always remember this one film that I saw really early on, it was called Jongens (Boys). I believe it was one of the first films that I saw. I think it was even maybe the first year that I volunteered, or if it wasn’t the first year, one of the very early years. It was this coming of age film about two teenage relay race runners and their journey to self discovery with one another. I just remember seeing it and it was really impactful. It was a really well made film, and also I hadn’t seen a lot of these coming of age films at the time. Seeing it in the theatre with all these people, in this atmosphere where you’re surrounded by people that you feel really safe and comfortable with, it was just this amazing experience that I always remember. 

In your own words, why do you volunteer with Out On Screen?

I volunteer because I love to be a part of the community and give back. I know the Festival and all these events, they can’t run without volunteers, and I enjoy being apart of it. I’m also not necessarily the person that just goes out and just talks to people. I kind of need a structured thing, and volunteering provides that kind of really great opportunity. As a volunteer, you’re there to work and help out, but at the same time you can socialize and meet people that you have things in common with or relate to. That’s one of the things that definitely brings me back to the Festival, and it’s something that I look forward to every year.

You’ve been volunteering with us for quite some time, so I wanted to ask, with all your years of being part of the Festival and engaging with staff, attendees and other volunteers, how have you seen the Festival and Out On Screen change?

It is interesting because I’ve volunteered for so many years, that I’ve almost seen the majority of the staff at the Festival change. The Festival itself, from the time I’ve done it, I wouldn’t say has changed that much. Every year there’s different programs, different spotlights in different areas, but the Festival itself I feel has been pretty consistent. 

It’s been interesting to see the staff of the Festival change, but I have to say that even though it’s changed, it’s always such a great group of people. I think every single Executive Director that I’ve worked with, from Drew to Stephanie to now Brandon — they’ve all had this great vision of their own for the Festival which they’ve carried through. 

Is there anything you’d like to say to folks who are interested in getting involved as a volunteer?

I think you’ll get out of the experience what you put in. You might have a particular position or role that’s not very lively, but at the same time, if you’re in that atmosphere and you’re around other volunteers, I feel like, you put forward what you want to get out of it. I found that I’ve always had a great experience because I’ve gone in, like, okay, this can be a really exciting, really busy shift, or maybe this one’s going to be really slow, and that’ll be an opportunity to chat with and get to know other volunteers and hear about their experiences and such, which I think is also a big part of volunteering.

Our 2021 festival theme is Longing – something that touches upon both the sense of loss and nostalgia after the past year and half in the pandemic, as well as the hope and joy ahead of us as a community. What is something you long for or are looking forward to?

I’m sure lots of people would say the same thing: emerging from this cocoon, being able to start seeing your family and friends more, getting to do some of the things that you haven’t been able to do for the last year and a half. Things that before, you wouldn’t have even thought about, or you definitely would have taken for granted. Something as simple as going to see a movie or attend the Festival. For me, it’s things like going to the theatre or going to a concert. The way you interact with people has been so different, and so, even if things don’t necessarily go back to exactly the way they were before, I think the idea of just being able to connect and do some of the things that we haven’t been able to for this period of time is definitely something that I’m looking forward to.

Are You Looking to Volunteer? 

With both remote and in person opportunities available, there’s something for everyone, no matter where you are in the province. Pre-Festival opportunities include Website Testing, Mailout, Festival Guide Distribution and more. During the Festival we will have opportunities like Tech Support, Photographer, Bartenders, and more! 

Volunteer perks include free screening tickets, our VQFF 2021 t-shirt, and our annual Volunteer Appreciation Party. 

For more information, or to register, visit our website or reach out to our Volunteer Coordinators, Jarred & Muhan at volunteer@outonscreen.com.  

We are thrilled to celebrate 2SLGBTQIA+ filmmakers with you this summer! The 2021 Vancouver Queer Film Festival will run from August 12 to 22. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure the safety of the communities we serve, the Festival will be held primarily digitally with films, Q&As, workshops, and panels hosted on the same watch platform we used last year.

This year’s theme is Longing, a combination of mournful emotions and hope for what has yet to come, because we have all been yearning for someone or something over the pandemic. 

Passes & Tickets

Passes for the 2021 VQFF are on-sale now. Early bird pricing is available until midnight on July 12, with passes discounted to just $140, so get yours soon! Select your pass type, complete the checkout process, and prepare to enjoy VQFF from your home theater. All passes include streaming access to our online films and events for a full year and an Adult Out On Screen Society Membership.

Passes provide patrons with a rich festival experience and access to all the creative and invigorating films in the program. Please note that passes are for film-lovers 18 years of age and older, as some VQFF films may not be rated for youth audiences. Email us with any questions boxoffice@outonscreen.com.

Tickets will again be offered at four prices this year, ranging from $5 to $21. Like last year, only one ticket is required to be purchased per household. If multiple people in a household are watching, we encourage you to make a donation at checkout or to consider our FWB ticket, but neither is necessary. Please note streaming is limited to British Columbia only. To get updates on this year’s Festival sent to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletter.

Looking to make a difference while enjoying queer film? Become a Reel Patron Donor! Receive unique festival benefits such as tickets, passes, and invitations to special events. Become an Out on Screen Society member and support the Vancouver Queer Film Festival’s mission to illuminate, celebrate and advance queer lives through film, education and dialogue and grow alongside Out On Screen.

How to watch films

Last year, we aimed to recreate the festival experience with a set schedule of films, workshops, and Q&As. This summer, we are trying something a little different, and will be offering many films on a Video on Demand (VOD) basis. As a result, you’ll be able to stream a film whenever it fits into your schedule. Some films will still be scheduled like a regular festival however, due to the nature of individual artist and distributor requests, so be sure to check the Festival Guide carefully. We’ll have more details about the schedule once the program is finalized.

Once you click pay, you will have 24 hours to watch the film. We still encourage folks to watch films together even if we’re not watching together in a theatre.

Join in and help out!

For the first time ever Vancouver Queer Film Festival is looking for volunteers all over British Columbia with remote and socially distanced in-person opportunities. Sign up through our volunteer portal. As a volunteer you receive complimentary screening tickets, a t-shirt, and an invitation to the Volunteer Appreciation Party at the end of the Festival. Positions start as early as June.

We look forward to connecting with you online and having you join us for the 2021 Vancouver Queer Film Festival. What have you been longing for during the pandemic? Share your responses on social media and make sure to tag #VQFF2021!

When I sat down to write this post, I had a very clear picture in mind: chart the evolution of HIV representation in film and tv over the past 40 years. I quickly learned this was a nigh-impossible task. Thanks to some excellent advice from friends and coworkers, I settled on a seemingly simpler – and yet equally daunting – task: focusing on understanding my own experience with seeing depictions of HIV and AIDS on screen.

June 5, 1981 marked a significant headline for health: the first reporting of five cases of Pneumocystis cainii pneumonia in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). This report forever changed the way queer people spoke about themselves, how we were seen by those outside the community, and how we were portrayed in media. Within 18 months, the Centre for Disease Control had investigated these and other cases and began to craft the list of symptoms we now attribute to an HIV or AIDS diagnoses.

Forty years later, HIV/AIDS continues to stigmatize marginalized communities. Even as campaigns like U=U grow public awareness and shift public perception of HIV, we are still living in the shadow of four decades’ worth of media-driven conversations about the virus, its methods of transmission, and the people who live with and alongside it.

The 80s and early 90s

I wasn’t around in 1981, but by the time I started coming out at age 13, somewhere between episodes of Will and Grace and Queer as Folk, I was terrified of contracting HIV.

As a young gay boy growing up in the 90s, I couldn’t escape talk of HIV, even in my small rural community in Southern Ontario. I remember feeling resigned to the fact that I would contract HIV. I’ve been trying to figure out where that resignation came from – somehow I just knew that gay men were associated with the virus. When I dug deeper, I realized that my fear and my understanding of HIV and AIDS was formed entirely by the media.

Everywhere I saw my gay, cis, white male identity represented, HIV was always present. In most tv shows and films where gay men were on-screen characters, HIV was a central theme. Gay men were sick, dying, and often alone. 

In an effort to better understand these connections, I asked some folks I know, and many I don’t, about where they first remember seeing HIV depicted in film or on tv, and I found some interesting commonalities.

Philadelphia was the most common response among Gen-X and older folks, along with a few older Millennials. The 1993 film is easily recognizable and was among the first mainstream films to centre the stories of people living with HIV/AIDS. The film also presents the common narrative that gay people deserve to contract the virus as a punishment for their actions. The defence blames Andrew Beckett (played here by Tom Hanks, who won an Oscar for his portrayal) as deserving to be fired, and for having HIV, because he’s gay.

This theme also appeared in an 1987 episode of Designing Women called Killing All the Right People, in which the titular women have to design a funeral for a colleague dying of AIDS-related illnesses. The iconic Julia Sugarbaker delivers an impassioned retort to a woman who suggests HIV is “killing all the right people,” verbally slapping back at seven years’ worth of homophobic, racist, and classist commentary on the virus.

It appeared again in the 1992 episode of Captain Planet, Formula for Hate, in which the Planeteers fight lies about HIV/AIDS in order to protect a high school basketball player who has contracted the virus through a blood transfusion.  This episode was notably based on the real life story of Ryan White, a teenager in Indiana who contracted the virus in 1984 in the same way, becoming a target of harassment and even being banned from his school because of his diagnosis. Our Executive Director, Brandon Yan, shared that this episode was his earliest memory of seeing HIV depicted in the media last December as part of his message on World AIDS Day.

The late 90s

Contrastly, many Millennials I spoke with shared that RENT was the first time they remember seeing HIV/AIDS in the media.

In 1996, when the musical first hit Broadway, the conversation around HIV/AIDS in the media had largely solidified around three common themes: physical contact could not spread the virus; gay men were common (and, often, deserving) victims of the virus; and it was also possible to transmit the virus through blood contact – be it through a transfusion, or shared needles and other implements. RENT, and it’s 2005 film adaptation, takes these themes and runs with them in a way that stands out for the time. RENT doesn’t give people living with HIV the very-special-episode treatment, nor does it overemphasize public health education talking points. Centring the stories of people living with HIV was a sharp departure from the way these stories were being handled on tv. The Beverly Hills, 90210 episode Disappearing Act, which aired in the same year and was my own first time seeing a character living with HIV on tv, does the exact opposite, for example. In this episode lead character Kelly panics over, then learns more about HIV after touching the blood of her infected friend Jimmy. Jimmy’s whole role is to educate Kelly about HIV before dying by the end of the episode.

RENT also departed from tv depictions in the diversity of its characters. Media depictions of gay men and thus of people living with HIV has been heavily dominated by white, cis male characters for much of the past 40 years. Every previous example listed here centres on a white male protagonist, as do many of the other common first time memories I heard: Prior in Angels in America (Broadway, 1993; film, 2003), Ben and Hunter in the American adaptation of Queer as Folk (tv, 2000-2005), Longtime Companion (film, 1988; also one of the first films to explore the toll of HIV), It’s My Party (film, 1996), Dallas Buyer’s Club (film, 2013)… the list goes on. Worse, most of the queer roles in these portrayals were cast with straight actors, further alienating people from the depictions of their lived experiences in film and tv.

Controlling the narrative

In a 2018 list of 31 films about HIV compiled by Out Magazine, only three centred Black characters. This lack of representation is sadly not uncommon. After reviewing several lists with such clickbait titles as ‘The Top HIV Films Since 1985’ or ‘10 Films About HIV to Watch After It’s A Sin’ it is obvious that Black people have been excluded from queer HIV narratives in film and tv.

Narratives about Black people living with HIV and AIDS focus almost entirely on the enduring epidemic in African nations. But the reality is that despite making up just 13% of the US population in 2018, the CDC estimates that Black and African American people accounted for 42% of new HIV infections that year. Many of those people were women. In Canada, it is estimated that Black people account for 25% of reported HIV cases, despite making up just 3.5% of the population. Comparatively, white Canadians make up less than one-third of HIV infections, while making up nearly three-quarters of the national population. The way in which we talk and think about HIV historically and today has been specifically crafted to focus on white men.

It’s important to note that none of the examples of HIV/AIDS representation people shared with me, and none of the lists I found on my own, centred or even included Indigenous representation. While the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) states that 11.3% of all new HIV infections in 2016 were among First Nation and Metis communities, despite Indigenous people accounting for only 4.9% of the population, and links this elevated risk rate to the “considerable disconnect” between traditional approaches to HIV treatment and Indigenous worldviews, Indigenous people are absent from pop culture depictions of the virus’ impact. In fact, Healing Inner Voices, a short film created by the Drawing Wisdom project which screened at last year’s VQFF, is the only representation I’m aware of for Indigenous people living with HIV/AIDS.

Looking towards the future

And therein lies a serious problem. At 13 years old, I was scared of contracting HIV because the virus was synonymous with being a gay man. But what terrifies me today is the realization that for 40 years of pop culture – which crafts and defines our worldviews – entire vulnerable populations were erased and seemingly intentionally excluded from what it looked like to be a person living with HIV or AIDS.

These influences continue today, shaping not only which stories are told, but also how, by whom, and for whom. Early depictions of characters living with HIV and AIDS were crucial to swinging public consciousness towards outrage and action, and generated sympathy for marginalized gay men facing an unprecedented health crisis. Representation in the mainstream, varied and sympathetic, was a step towards liberation. Likewise, a lack of that representation has perpetuated oppression, stigmatization, and violence towards marginalized and racialized people.

As we collectively look towards the hopeful end of a new and modern pandemic, this particular June 5 reminds us to also look at the ongoing portrayal of an epidemic that’s been playing out before us since 1981. When we tell the stories of COVID-19, we need to ask whose stories are being told and why, and we need to acknowledge who is being left out. We need to actively seek out stories different from our own, and demand that marginalized communities be given the screen time, care, and attention they deserve. They deserve to be portrayed authentically and with their full complexity, lest they continue to be oppressed. 

Representation is a step towards liberation.

– Sam Snobelen, Program Logistics Manager (he/him)

Additional Resources and Film Suggestions

Ontario HIV Treatment Network’s report on the Unmet Needs of Indigenous People Living with HIV

Aboriginal HIV and AIDS Statistics compiled by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network

Fact Sheet for African, Carribean, and Black Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2019

The CBC’s Dr. Peter Diaries (1990-1992) are an intimate and unflinching look at life with HIV. Dr. Peter Jepson-Young, founder of the Vancouver-based Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, shared his lived experience with CBC-TV’s national audience. The footage remains freely available for viewing today.

Phil Donahue 1982 Interview with Gay Men’s Health Crisis co-founder Larry Kramer; Philip Lanzarotta, a Kaposi’s Sarcoma patient; and Dr. Dan William, who worked with patients with HIV/AIDS. The interview was one of the earliest and most public coverages of the HIV epidemic in the US.
Matt Baume reviews and summarizes Longtime Companion (1989)
Matt Baume talks Designing Women and tv’s role in teaching people about the AIDS crisis in the early 80s
Tongues United (1989) is a critically acclaimed experimental documentary by Marlon Riggs which uses poetry, rap, dance, and personal testimonies to illuminate the lived experiences of Riggs’ Black gay contemporaries. Tongues United sparked a furious debate over public arts funding in the United States when it aired on PBS in the early 90s, as some of then-President Bush’s opponents used it as an example of the government funding “pornographic and blasphemous art too shocking to show.”
The Ryan White Story (1989) was a film based on the real life story of Ryan White, a young hemophiliac who contracted HIV due to a tainted blood transfusion at the age of 13, in 1984. Ryan brought a legal case against his school after he was banned for fear that he could spread HIV to other students. Ryan changed the public perception of AIDS by challenging the notion that “all the right people” were being infected with the virus. His visibility within the community also led to the 1990 Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, the largest federal funding program for people living with HIV/AIDS in the US. The Act was extended under President Obama in 2009.
A short piece on Pedro Zamora, a member of MTV’s Real World cast in 1994. Pedro was open about his HIV status while on the show and became visibly more ill during production. He died a day after the final episode aired.
Yesterday (2004) is a South African film which poignantly depicts the vibrancy and tenacity of the titular Yesterday, played by Leleti Khumalo, as she works to keep her life together and to see her daughter to her first day of school following an HIV diagnosis.
Life Support (2008) stars Queen Latifa as a recovering addict living with HIV and struggling to rebuild her relationship with her daughter. The film is notable for having consulted with, and cast, people living with HIV/AIDS. (Available to stream on Crave)
Precious (2009) follows Claireece “Precious” Jones played by Gabourey Sidibe (who scored an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal) through her life in Harlem. Precious balances raising two children with completing her high school education, while learning to build her own life out of a traumatic past. (Available to stream on Crave)
It’s a Sin (2021) is a miniseries set in 1980s London. The series follows a group of young queer friends as they come face to face with the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic and their lives are irrevocably changed. (Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video)

We know you’re just as excited as we are for this year’s Vancouver Queer Film Festival, but we’re still putting all the details together. Here are 5 common questions, and some bonus tips, we’ve been seeing this spring. Have a look and make sure you’re ready to join us this summer!

Will there be a Vancouver Queer Film Festival this year?
Yes! We are excited to celebrate queer, trans, and Two Spirit lives with you this summer. The 2021 VQFF will run from August 12 to 22 with a mostly digital offering of films, Q&As, workshops, and panels.

Why is VQFF online again this year?
We begin planning the next Festival about a year in advance, just as our current VQFF is closing. This means we have to make decisions on how and where we will celebrate queer communities with the best information available at the time. We also know we have to plan in such a way as to honour the expectations of the communities we serve, which means planning carefully and with the utmost care for the folks who will be attending our film screenings.

This year, we want to continue to provide the meaningful and celebratory experience patrons like you have come to expect from the VQFF, while also making sure that everyone can participate in the Festival safely and abide by social distancing guidelines. We also need to make sure we are being prudent in how we manage the finances, logistics, and capacity of a major arts festival at this time. Last year we proved that we could balance all of these complicated factors online, and while we acknowledge we’d all rather be gathered in person enjoying popcorn and the communal cinema experience, we know it isn’t safe to do so for everyone.

How do I buy tickets, passes, and memberships? How much are they?
Passes will go on-sale on Wednesday, May 26. Passes provide a rich festival experience, allowing you to see any film in our program. This year, virtual passes are $175 and we’re offering an access price of $145. Early Bird pricing is in effect until July 11 – get yours now!

We’re planning to have everything you need to join the Festival on our website in July with plenty of time for you to plan your VQFF experience.

We also encourage you to consider becoming a Reel Patron Donor. As a donor, you’ll have access to unique Festival Benefits like tickets, passes, and special events while supporting LGBT2Q+ communities.

I’m planning to watch with friends, do we all need to buy tickets?
Just like last year, you only need to purchase one (1) ticket per household to watch a film. If you have multiple people in your household who will be watching and wish to account for that, we encourage you to make a donation in any amount during the checkout process, or to consider paying a little more for your ticket, but neither is necessary.

Will I have to watch films on a schedule this year?
This year we’re working with filmmakers and film distributors to see if we can offer some films on a VOD-basis.

VOD stands for Video On Demand – meaning the program is live and available to be streamed at any time, kind of like Netflix or YouTube. We’re trying to get as many films as possible under this kind of schedule since it gives you the most flexibility and choice in watching films. That being said, VOD isn’t always the best option for filmmakers and other artists, plus we love knowing we’re watching a film together with a whole bunch of other people – even if we’re not all in the same cinema.

If you have a ticket for a VOD film screening, you’ll have 24 hours to complete the film screening after you press play the first time, so you’ll still need to schedule your viewings to make sure you have time.

Some of our films will be scheduled like a regular festival and will only be available for a limited time. We hope you’ll join us at the designated screening times, but scheduled films are available for a single viewing for 24 hours from their scheduled start time. For example, if a film is scheduled to begin at 7PM on Tuesday, you have until 7PM on Wednesday to watch it.

We’ll have more details about how, when, and where to watch films this year as we confirm the schedule.

Bonus Tip: Setup your home theatre!
This year’s Festival is going to be mostly online, so take the next couple of months to make sure you’ve got everything you need to watch films. You can screen films on any internet connected device, including your phone, tablet, or computer. Some people also like to cast or mirror their devices to their home tv screens. Take time to research which viewing option will be best for you so you’re all set in August. We can’t wait to watch with you!

We invite you to our Annual General Meeting to share in dialogue and discuss further steps as a community. We are celebrating 33 years of illuminating LGBT2Q+ lives and look forward to meeting with you all virtually to discuss the future of Out On Screen. 

The 2021 Out On Screen AGM will be hosted on Zoom on June 3 at 6:00PM.

Who can attend?
This event is open to current voting and non-voting members of The Vancouver Out On Screen Film & Video Society.

All memberships purchased at the 2020 Vancouver Queer Film Festival are valid until June 30, 2021.

Adult members (18+) are granted voting member status.
Youth members (17 and under) are granted non-voting member status.

Individual donors aged 18 years or older are granted voting member status if a cash donation was made to the Society at the Ingenue-level or above ($50+) between January 1, 2020 and May 3, 2021.

Any memberships conferred as a result of signing a partnership agreement with the Society (e.g. sponsorship agreements) are granted voting member status provided that those memberships are assigned to an individual aged 18 or older and between June 4, 2020 and May 3, 2021. Non-individual members are limited to one vote per partnership. Please register your organization’s assigned representative, including name and position (if applicable), by no later than May 15, 2021.

How to register
AGM registration is all online. Please register here. Once you register we will have your details on file; you do not need a printed ticket for the AGM.

How to join us
In order to make sure we conduct a safe and accessible AGM during the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be hosting our AGM on Zoom. We are exploring options for providing live captioning during the AGM. A transcript of the AGM will be emailed to everyone who is registered following the event.

The Zoom link for the AGM will be emailed to everyone who has registered to attend on Thursday, June 3 after 5PM.

If you do not receive your Zoom link by email by 5:45PM on Thursday, June 3, please contact boxoffice@outonscreen.com

Every year, Out In Schools is supported by generous local foundations, corporate partners, and hundreds of individuals who believe that it is important for queer, trans, and Two Spirit youth to see themselves beautifully and complexly represented on screen. This support makes it possible for us to reach youth throughout BC, even during a pandemic.

Scotiabank is one of our longest running supporters and has been a champion of the Out In Schools program through matching our year-end campaigns and collecting donations in-branch. This spring, we wanted to take a moment to thank Scotiabank for continuing their support during the past year and to encourage all of you to follow their lead.

Join us at the Drive-In

On April 14, we’re hosting a Drive-In Fundraiser for Out In Schools to mark the International Day of Pink. Gather your social bubble and join us for a screening of the queer comedy classic But I’m a Cheerleader at the Twilight Drive-In Theatre. COVID-safe protocols are in effect, and with tickets starting at just $50 for a car of 6 guests, this is a great way to make your whole COVID bubble part of supporting our work!

We can’t wait to see you there!

Can’t make it to the drive-in? No worries! You can get an online screening ticket and still support Out In Schools!

Out on Screen is highlighting Black Queer Canadian artists to know. This list is just a starting point in our work to share, support and uplift Black Queer artists contributions. 

Courtney McFarlane

Courtney McFarlane is a visual artist, poet and manager of children, youth and adult services at Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood Community Health Centre. McFarlane has served on the board of the Toronto Inside Out Film festival and  was a founding member of a number of Black queer groups and organizations in the early ’80s and ’90s, including Zami, Sepia, and AYA Men, an organization that provided voice and visibility for Black LGBTQ2. His activism in many ways laid the foundation for events, organizations and movements addressing Black Canadian LGBTQ2 communities today.

Michèle Pearson Clarke

Michèle Pearson Clarke is a Trinidad-born artist who works in photography, film, video and installation. Using archival, performative and process-oriented strategies, her work explores the personal and political possibilities afforded by considering experiences of emotions related to longing and loss. Her work has been included in exhibitions and screenings at Le Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal; the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia; the Royal Ontario Museum; LagosPhoto Festival; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Maryland Institute College of Art; ltd los angeles; and Ryerson Image Centre and Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Art, Toronto. View Michelle’s website.

Syrus Marcus Ware

Syrus Marcus Ware is a Black, transgender, disabled artist, activist and scholar. He lives and works in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and is currently an LTF Assistant Professor in the School of the Arts at McMaster University. He has worked since 2014 as faculty and as a designer for The Banff Centre. View Syrus’ website.

Beverly Glenn- Copeland

Legendary singer, composer and transgender activist Beverly Glenn-Copeland has been gathering momentum in recent years thanks to a reissue of the extraordinary folk-jazz explorations of his debut self-titled album (1970) and the widespread discovery of his acclaimed masterpiece Keyboard Fantasies (1986); an ahead-of-it’s-time synth exploration which somehow combines the essence of new-age minimalism, early Detroit techno and the warmth of traditional songwriting. Purchase your ticket to see Keyboard Fantasies. View Beverly’s website.

Robert Joseph Greene

Robert Joseph Greene is a Vancouver based Canadian author of gay romance fiction, best known for his teenage drama, This Highschool has closets. Greene is one of Canada’s few Black male romance writers, and has been working to redefine love on the world stage for over a decade. He published Gay Icon Classics of the World, a feature short stories centred on same-sex romances, set in countries controlled by some of the world’s most anti-gay regimes. Greene chanpions love through literature and uses his stories to advocate for Gay rights. 

Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born Canadian speculative fiction writer and editor. As of 2013, she lived and taught in Riverside, California. Her novels and short stories such as those in her collection Skin Folk often draw on Caribbean history and language, and its traditions of oral and written storytelling. View Nalo’s website.

Trey Anthony

Trey Anthony is a British-born Canadian playwright, actor, and producer, best known for her award-winning play and television series Da Kink in My Hair. As a producer, she worked for the Women’s Television Network and the Urban Women’s Comedy Festival. View Trey’s website.

Walter Marren Borden

Walter Marren Borden is an actor, playwright, and poet. Notable for his classical theatre roles in Shakespeare productions. He was a member, Stratford Festival of Canada. Borden’s published writing includes his own autobiographical play ‘Tightrope Time: Ain’t Nuthin’ More Than Some Itty Bitty Madness Between Twilight and Dawn’. In 2006 Borden was honoured nationally becoming a member of the Order of Canada.

Thom Alison

Thom Allison is a Canadian actor born and raised in Winnipeg, MB. He is best known for his regular recurring role as Pree in the television series Killjoys, for which he won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series at the 8th Canadian Screen Awards. View Thom’s website.

Kaytranada

Louis Kevin Celestin, known by his stage name Kaytranada, is a Montreal raised, Haitian-Canadian DJ and record producer. He rose to prominence during the early 2010s with ear-perking remixes and an array of sounds that veered from hip-hop beats to distinctly woozy house grooves. Kaytranada is the winner of 2016’s Polaris Music Prize and 2017’s Juno Award for Electronic Album of the Year. Since signing to major-label RCA, he has released his second LP, Bubba.

Jillian Christmas 

Jillian Christmas is the former Artistic Director of Vancouver’s Verses Festival of Words. An educator, organizer, and advocate in the arts community, utilizing an anti-oppressive lens, Jillian has performed and facilitated workshops across North America. The Gospel of Breaking, a poetry collection, is the Vancouver-based authors first book. Learn more about Jillian.

Honourable mention: Jackie Shane

Jackie Shane, singer (born 15 May 1940 in Nashville, Tennessee; died 22 February 2019 in Nashville). Jackie Shane was a pioneering transgender performer who was a prominent figure in Toronto’s R&B scene in the 1960s. Her cover of William Bell’s “Any Other Way” reached No. 2 on the CHUM singles chart in 1963. Her 1967 live album, Jackie Shane Live, was reissued in 2015 and was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize’s 1960–1970 Heritage Award. Any Other Way, an anthology album of songs from Shane’s career and monologues from her live shows, was released in 2017. It was nominated for a 2019 Grammy Award for Best Historical Album. Shane is featured in a mural on the side of a building in downtown Toronto commemorating the Yonge Street music scene of the 1960s. Learn more about Jackie Shane.

Today is World AIDS Day. Every December 1, we remember those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses and to show our support for people living with and affected by HIV.

I was born in 1986 and my earliest understanding of HIV came through popular culture. My first memory of learning about it was actually through an episode of kids cartoon called Captain Planet from 1992. It actually did an okay job trying to de-stigmatize it than any other education I received in school. 

It really wasn’t until I joined Out On Screen that I got a deeper understanding. It was through the power of film that I got to bear witness to the historical and ongoing injustices of the HIV epidemic, the bravery and fire of AIDS activists and organizers past and present, and to the emotionally personal narratives of resilience. 

Some of the films I’ve watched over the years include 2012’s How to Survive a Plague, Kiki which was our closing gala film in 2016, BPM which I saw at VIFF in 2017, Life Goes On: John Dub’s story from our 2017 Troublemaker’s project; the film 1985 which opened our 2018 festival, and from this year, the films Thrive (from the Don’t keep your distance Shorts program) and our audience choice award for short film: HIV: Healing Inner Voices (Spirit, Heart, Land: two-spirit and Indigiqueer shorts program).

Today, coincidently is #GivingTuesday, and while Out On Screen is running its usual year-end campaign for the Out In Schools program, please also consider supporting organizations that support people living with and affected by HIV in BC.

Brandon Yan, Out On Screen Executive Director

Five years ago today, I sat in a room at a local youth drop in centre with a collection of transgender youth and elders. At the time, I was a youth support worker, and as one of the few out trans people at work, I took the lead on organizing a small event for Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). In one of the multipurpose rooms, chairs were set up in a circle, and the invitation was set; a handful of Trans Elders gathered with myself and a number of queer, trans, Two-Spirit and non-binary youth. The room was quiet and filled with uncertainty. I felt my own nervous energy build, knowing I was responsible for creating this container but not being entirely sure what it would hold. We opened by asking anyone who was not trans to refrain from speaking and to hold space instead. It felt necessary to centre trans voices from the beginning as we worked to create safety with one another. 

TDoR is a day typically held for the naming of and remembering trans people who have been killed due to anti-trans violence and hate in the year leading up to November 20th. This year, 350 names will be read aloud, commemorating the lives of trans people who have been murdered between October 1st 2019 and September 30th, 2020. 98% of whom were transgender women or trans feminine, and many of whom were women of colour.

As I’ve been reflecting on this day, it is clear that this is not about me or people like me. That is to say, while I am a member of the trans community, as a white non-binary trans masculine person the risks I face on a daily basis are quite different from so many trans people, trans women and trans people of colour in particuar. I know the likelihood of someone who looks like me having their name read out on this list is low, and yet the reality of violence against trans people persists in ways which permeate all of our lives. On this day I feel grief for the ones we’ve lost; these are my friends, my community members, people I care about. I am often afraid that no action I take will be good enough, or that I won’t be able to find the right words to express my support for the trans people who are experiencing violence and oppression. I wonder how many of you may have felt that too? For so many of our trans community members, the stakes are just too high for us to not act. The number of names on the list of people we have lost this year is a stark reminder that visibility does not mean protection, in fact, it can sometimes be the opposite. As we grieve those we’ve lost, we also need to commit to act (even if it’s not perfect) so this does not have to continue to be our collective reality.

One of the challenges with days like TDoR is that all too often it only tells us the ending of a person’s story. It does not capture the rich tapestry of their life, the lives they impacted, the people they left behind, or who they were. Fortunately, so many trans people have shared their stories and recorded them in books, articles, art and film. Here at Out on Screen we believe in the transformative power of people’s stories, so I thought that today, as we remember who we’ve lost this year, maybe we could also spend some time learning about a few of the amazing trans folks who have made, and continue to make their mark on our community.

People like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylivia Rivera, Miss Major, who are known for their roles in the early days of the Stonewall Riots. Or the late, Jamie Lee Hamilton, who was just profiled in a  mini documentary by the CBC, highlighting four (Canadian) transgender activists you should know about.

I think about my own relationships with trans elders, mentors, colleagues, artists, youth and activists… Raven Salander, Sandy Leo Laframboise, Brenna Bezanson, Kelendria Nation, Avery Shannon, Q Lawrence to name a few…the list is truly never ending of the people who I am continually learning from and with, and feel inspired by to continue working so that one day we might we wake up and not find the murders of our trans kin to be commonplace.

Some of us within the trans community, have also come to know today as the Transgender Day of Resilience, which moves us to think of the strength that exists within our communities, despite of the violence we often face. As Andrés Bautista questions in the article above, “What does it mean to honor trans lives that are cut short by violence? What can acknowledging that violence look like in a way that does not perpetuate harm or re-traumatize living community members who are forced to face the realities of systemic transphobia and oppression?” 

Violence looks like many things, from the denial of our existence, to deadnaming, to administrative forms which provide many barriers and unnecessarily complicate our existences. It also looks like name calling, physical violence and abuse, and the structure of a colonial world that tells us we shouldn’t exist.

It is in the beauty of this resilience that I feel called to hold both truths so to speak; to “mourn for the dead; and fight like hell for the living.” 

Returning to the circle we held five years ago, I remember listening to my elders speak. I remember learning of our collective histories. I remember youth speaking up to share the exact words that I used to think; I didn’t know it was possible to exist. I never saw anyone like me, so I just didn’t know it was possible. 

Transgender Day of Remembrance comes at the end of Trangender Awareness Week, and I can’t think of a better way to honor those taken from us than to learn from others like them. Sitting with, hearing from, being in relation to trans elders, this is what made me realize it was possible to grow up and have a future. A seemingly small thing, but huge for me at the time.

TDoR is a day to call attention to those who have been taken from us, and also learn so we can show up for those who are still here.

Below, you’ll find a list of poets, authors, activists and influencers who you should familiarize yourself with and learn from on your journey. Learning is a lifelong act, and with that, I encourage you all to take time to learn from those who came before, those who are still here, and those who have yet to come.

I would like to acknowledge my friend and co-conspirator, Brenna Bezanson, for her contributions to the writing of this post.

Gavin Somers

Education Director, Out On Screen 

Poets, Authors, Activists and Influencers

Film and TV

See VQFF’s extensive list of trans focused film recommendations here.

TroubleMakers Films featuring Transgender elders

Books and Blogs

Friday 20 November is the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). It is a collective day of commemoration on which we memorialize the transgender (trans) people who have been murdered and lost to anti-trans violence and bigotry. Trans advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith began TDoR to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a Black trans woman who was murdered in 1998 and whose murder remains unsolved today. Anti-trans violence continues to disproportionately affect trans Black, Indigenous, and trans women/femmes of colour, many of whom are also sex workers.Our analysis and advocacy for trans rights must continue to deepen its intersectional approach, given that race, class, and histories of colonialism are deeply entrenched in the ways that trans women experience oppression.

The focus of the day is to honour the memories of those violently taken. It is also a prominent reminder of the broader sys(and cis)temic failures to protect, uplift, and advance trans lives and rights both locally and around the world; every life lost and every act of violence gone unsolved/ unresolved are reminders of this. Indeed, we have seen a staggering increase in public “debate” about transgender women and the legitimacy of their womanhood. This discourse, if we can call it that, only seeks to legitimize the violence, harm, and exclusion that trans people, and trans women specifically, experience. There is no public good created from the subjugation of trans rights and trans liberation. 

Vancouver Trans Day of Remembrance will be hosting a march and memorial this Friday from 6:30pm to 9:00pm starting at Jim Deva Plaza. There will also be a live stream. If you plan to attend, please review Provincial health orders and suggestions to stay safe. More details are available on their website.

Brandon Yan,

Executive Director, Out On Screen