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> Vanessa Duran
Filmmaker Turns Lens on Being Proud, Being Queer
Vanessa Duran what her biggest struggle is right now and she'll
tell you: it's time. Not enough of it.
since she came out two years ago, Vanessa, a 17-year-old queer African-American
and Latina activist and filmmaker, has hit the ground running to
promote tolerance and support LGBT youth like herself, jamming her
days with committee meetings, public speaking gigs, teaching, and
the youngest of four children growing up in El Cerrito, CA, Vanessa
always felt "alternative" - from the clothes she wore
to the music she listened to. Her family has traditional conservative
roots, grounded in her African American mother's Deep South Christian
fundamentalism and her Mexican-American father's Catholic, Chicano
took courage for Vanessa to come out to her parents. "That
was really rough because I had to tell them a couple of times because
they thought I would change," Vanessa recalls. "By this
point now, we've gotten to an understanding. They know I'm gay and
now they don't have to wonder any more."
a "baby dyke," Vanessa was eager to hang out with other
gay kids. One friend quickly hooked her onto "group,"
short for the Saturday LGBT youth group hosted by the Pacific Center
for Gays and Lesbians in Berkeley.
then, Vanessa has become a youth leader for a number of local LGBT
groups, taking action and creating spaces for other LGBT youth to
feel safe, build community, and gain their own sense of empowerment.
a board member and Youth Council member of the Gay-Straight Alliance
Network, she provides training on California non-discrimination
law. She is a steering committee member and speaker for Overcoming
Homophobia Meeting For Youth and an intern for Lavender Youth Recreation
and Information Center (LYRIC). At the Pacific Center, she is a
program facilitator and the youngest member of the Speakers' Bureau,
which gives talks at Bay Area schools. Now an accomplished public
speaker, she still remembers the first talk she gave at a local
junior high school.
was challenging at first - especially talking about something as
personal as 'Hey I'm gay!'" she laughs. "But the students
were respectful. They felt me. Afterwards they came up to me and
said, 'Hey you're cool.' It made me feel really cool. My favorite
thing is getting out there and talking to kids like me."
school, "everyone knows me as the 'gay girl,'" Vanessa
says. As the co-president of Berkeley High's Gay-Straight Alliance,
she has been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle more
than once. Vanessa's growing notoriety as a queer activist has attracted
criticism from her peers, who accuse her of being "all high
and mighty." "It bothers me," Vanessa confesses.
she never lets criticism stand in the way of her work. These days
Vanessa is an instructor of a black and white photography class
at LYRIC. Next year she'll be teaching a video class. In the summer,
she'll be taking over the arts and media position for Free Zone,
an arts for social change program for LGBT and straight ally youth
at LYRIC. She's also furiously putting the final edits on a website
trailer to promote a video she made with eight other youth called
"As If It Matters." The video, which recently won a Golden
Gate Award from the San Francisco International Film Festival, takes
on homophobia and other issues facing high school students.
Vanessa, it was important to represent gay youth as "not all
suicidal," but normal kids with normal joys and normal problems.
"We wanted it to be something everyone can relate to,"
she says. "[Gay youth] have good grades, bad grades, we have
parents, we have cultural issues. We wake up every morning and brush
our teeth like everyone else."
blends activism seamlessly with her work in film, video, and photography
to create powerful documentary and narrative pieces that deal with
issues of identity, body image, racism, homophobia, and relationships.
One of her independent videos, "Gay Youth," was featured
in the 2001 Bay Area High School Film Festival. She plans to attend
San Francisco City College in the fall and to carve out a discipline
that integrates queer issues and grassroots organizing with arts
have a lot of confidence with my sexual orientation. It's who I
am and what I've come to accept and gradually come to love as part
of myself," she says. "When people try to pick on me,
I go, 'Whatever,' I can't let it bother me."