BTS From the making of TRANFINITE (2017), the first feature completed by Transgress Studios
I want to start off by saying there's no way to creating a completely safe space for LGBTQI+ community members in just 5 easy steps. Just as your workplace culture takes time, dedication, and research to build, it will take these time, dedication, and research to change. However, if you are looking for help with inclusivity, these tips are a great way to get started.
As a trans person who has worked in the industry professionally for over 8 years, most of my experience is first hand and my knowledge comes from years of research, trainings, and community participation. Transitioning in both supportive and unsupportive work environments, I can make several conclusions, but the most important is that people may forget your name, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
So if you're trying to be inclusive and you have no idea where to start, you've already taken the first step! Googling it, right?
Okay, so what are all these letters? Understanding identities and language is a necessary step as well. The following is by no means an exhausted list, but here are some basics in terms of the LGBTQI+ community:
Sexuality (or sexual orientation) - who you are romantically or sexually attracted to.
Homosexual - being romantically or sexually attracted to people of the same sex.
Bisexual - being romantically or sexually attracted to more than one gender (commonly abbreviated to “bi”).
Pan-sexual - attraction to people regardless of their gender.
Asexual - the lack of sexual attraction to others, or low interest in sexual activity.
Queer - an umbrella term for a wide variety of sexual orientations and gender identities.
Polyamorous - engaging in multiple romantic (typically sexual) relationships, with the consent of all the people involved.
LGBTQI - Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex
Intersex - an umbrella term used for a variety of situations in which a person is born with reproductive anatomy that doesn't fit the boxes of female or male.
Gender Identity - the personal sense of one's own gender.
Transgender - an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to the sex which they were assigned at birth.
Non-Binary - an umbrella term for people with gender identities that are not exclusively male or female (outside the gender binary).
Cisgender - a person whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth are the same.
Now that you have some of the language down you can get a sense of who people are, thus bridging the gaps within your team. But how are we going to help people feel seen and included on set, where social rules can be vague and we are meeting people for the first time? Read these tips below:
Me on the set of All Kinds Of Love (2022)
1. CHECK YOUR SCRIPT
I know it takes tons of work to complete a script and you might be feeling very confident in your final draft. Before celebrating however, I invite you to consider one last review from a different perspective. Are your all of your characters straight? You may think "this doesn't matter, it's a [any genre] movie and that has nothing to do with the plot". This thought is exactly what LGBTQI+ activists are trying to combat! We want to see ourselves on screen just as much as you want to see your movie to get made. Queer people can be secret CIA agents, flying superheroes, dark vampires, inspiring cartoon characters, and more! I'm not saying that sexuality and gender have to be at the forefront of your plot points or climax, but I am inviting you to consider each of your characters from a more three-dimensional perspective.
"I have a non-binary character already, so I think I'm good, right?" Not necessarily. Is your one queer character the evil villain? Is the gay guy the punchline of every joke? Every script has good and bad characters, but those characters that are queer have a long history of being reduced to cliches and homophobic dialogue. We have mental health issues in movies like Psycho (1960), Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Lost and Delirious (2001). We are comedic tropes in Mannequin (1987), Birdcage (1996), and Glee (2009 - 2015). And we are killers like in Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Set It Off (1996), and Monster (2003). And the list goes on....
*Also remember that not everyone who is reading your script or watching your content is straight and cis-gender. Before reaching out to folks, you want to make sure that your script doesn't continue to marginalize the LGBTQI+ community as just some stereotype. For more about queer cliches in Hollywood and other movie and show examples, check out this article by the Advocate "17 LGBTQ Tropes Hollywood Needs to Retire"
2. REACH OUT TO DIVERSE LGBTQ+ NETWORKS
Now that you've reexamined your script and made it even better, it's time to start inviting people to be a part of your project. You can start by reaching out to friends who are are in the LGBTQI+ community and asking if they want to help or if they know anyone who is an actor or in film production. Recommendations through friends is still the best way to find quality candidates.
If you want to increase your network or pool of actors to choose from, consider these options:
Reach out to a Casting Director
Email and Post Flyers at local LGBTQI+ Non-Profits (There's one in every city!)
Post in Facebook Groups (Ex. "Queer and Trans Actors, and the people who want to cast them!", LGBT Film Network, TV Film/Crew Availability, and check local film groups too!)
*Remember to include as many specifics as possible (name of project, logline, shoot dates, day rates, and any other pertinent information)
I know we've seen some positive and inspiring queer projects and queer actors win awards as of late, but the work to be visible and included must continue. Historically, many people of the queer community that have had the opportunity to work in film and TV have been forced to stay in the closet or not hired at all. You taking the time to make sure you have diverse representation is part of a bigger mission to enrich the art of video and film production.
3. CREATE A SAFE SPACE
No, I'm not talking about making sure the emergency exits are clear. Creating a safe space is defined as a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment or any other harm. Safe spaces don't just apply to LGBTQI+ people, but all people who may be marginalized due to other traits such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or people with disabilities. Note that no space can be 100% free from harm, but there are some things we can do to make sure people feel welcome to be themselves.
Here are some areas where safe spaces may be needed during production:
When possible, create an all gender bathroom for everyone to use. If there are two bathrooms, put signs on the doors that encompass all genders. Here's a sample:
This not only will make production run more efficiently, but also let those who identify as non-binary, gender non-conforming, or trans utilize the bathroom without being subject to choose between male and female sex.
Dressing rooms should seriously be considered safe on any set. Non-essential crew members should not have access to these rooms in general, and essential people such as wardrobe and hair and makeup should have limited access when other spaces are available. An actor should have a space to prepare themselves mentally and physically, a place to put their stuff down, and a place to access should they feel uncomfortable for any reason.
Sex Scenes -
If your production contains simulated sex scenes or intimacy, hire an Intimacy Coordinator. The Intimacy Coordinator plays a pivotal role between cast and crew during sexual and affectionate scenes. They facilitate consent, ensure closed-set protocols, maintain any SAG-AFTRA guidelines, communicate and negotiate any changes needed for the scene, review intimacy garments, monitor actors emotional health, and help guide the choreography of the scene(s). They are worth every penny and are required on professional sets.
Though inclusive and non-stereotyping language has its own section below, know that it intersects with creating a safe space. It starts with the language you are using now. It permeates through your posts online and your emails to cast and crew. Give your communications another read over before sending them out to make sure you have considered all people you will be working with.
4. NORMALIZE ALL PRONOUNS
No matter who you are, or what industry you are in, normalizing pronouns should be a top priority everyday! Pronouns are part of your gender expression and how you would like others to refer to you in place of your name. The most frequently used are she/her/hers, he/him/his, and they/them/theirs, however there are others like ze/zir/zirs. When you use someone’s correct pronouns, it helps to create an inclusive environment and demonstrates respect towards others. If you haven't done so already, you can start by adding your own pronouns to your email signature blocks, Zoom/Skype name, and social media.
Chatting about a person's gender or sexuality is not exactly a workplace discussion, however, I recognize there are a lot of moving parts on set, and many people are needed at various times in multiple departments. If you are confused about a person's pronouns, default to the they/them/theirs pronouns until you have the opportunity to ask them privately or you are corrected. You can also introduce yourself to everyone with your own pronouns:
"Hi, I'm Stefano, he/him/his."
Usually this is enough for someone to respond in the like wise, but it's okay to ask: "What are your pronouns?"
Lastly, mistakes happen! If you use the wrong pronouns in a conversation and you immediately recognize it, correct yourself out loud, apologize, and move on in the conversation. It’s important here not to make the situation worse by making it about you or dragging it out. The best way to show that you support your teammate is to correct the error and move forward. Example:
“She’s a great assistant director. I’m sorry, they're a great assistant director and I've worked on several shoots with them in San Francisco.”
We all make mistakes, and even if you feel terrible about it, it isn’t about you.
5. USE INCLUSIVE AND NON-STEREOTYPING LANGUAGE
Over the years, I've certainly heard my fair share of gendered stereotyping being used on set:
"Well the women are going to take longer in hair & makeup"
"Let the guys carry that equipment"
"You know the girls will need more space for their things"
"Oh you're fine. You're a dude."
Not all of these statements are true 100% of the time, especially for those who are of other genders and sexualities. Besides being an HR nightmare, this language is extremely limiting and implies that people are supposed to be a certain way.
You can't control everyone's language on set, but you can consider your own. I know how fast sets can run and or how timely those emails have to be. Here are some quick language hacks to start implementing now:
"Ladies & Gentlemen"/ "Guys & Girls"- use EVERYONE or FOLX or TEAM
"Actors / Actresses" - use ACTORS
"Good morning, sir" / "Yes, ma'am" - use GOOD MORNING, FRIEND / YES, BOSS
"and you guys"/ "you ladies" - Refer to the specific department by name, use "the PAs" or "the Art Dept."
Check your work and if you are in a position of leadership, these little changes will make a difference in your workplace culture. Mistakes will happen, and I've certainly sent out my fair share of bad emails and texts. The point is to try, learn from your mistakes, and grow. If you are a leader of a company looking for a further in-depth approach to inclusivity, I highly recommend the Rainbow Community Center's Professional Development Workshops and Trainings, which can be taken in person and online. (Feel free to mention my name!)