Eric Juhola stopped by Solzy at the Movies to discuss the Kickstarter campaign for Growing Up Coy.
Thanks for joining us today. How are things treating you?
Eric Juhola: You’re welcome and THANK YOU for your questions! With our final 5 days of the crowdfunding ahead, I’m anxious, excited, nervous, and hopeful 🙂
Where did the idea for the Growing Up Coy documentary come from and what made you feel like the person to direct it?
Eric Juhola: A few years before I met the Mathis family, marriage equality happened. I remember celebrating in front of Stonewall in Greenwich Village with my now husband and thousands of others. But as I’ve come to learn, with any great victory comes sacrifice. At the time it felt like the “T” was being left out of LGBT rights and in fact, it was more than a feeling – articles were being written about putting trans issues on the back burner to advance marriage equality. It didn’t seem fair, and I knew at that time that I wanted to make a film spotlighting the fight for trans rights. I was was put in touch with Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), a non-profit that represents transgender clients. When the Mathis family called their office in late 2012 about their conflict with Coy’s school, we were connected and within a few weeks, I was on a flight to Colorado to meet them.
Despite the title, “Growing Up Coy” is not solely about Coy – it’s about a family with five beautiful kids, and it’s about two parents who are part of the first generation to start accepting their gender non-conforming kids and allowing them to express themselves as they are. In a lot of ways, I saw parallels from 20 years ago when parents started to publicly accept their gay and lesbian kids. This dynamic was something I could connect with and relate to. When I first met Coy, I had never met a transgender child before. The first thing she did was give me a big hug, and it became crystal clear – this was just a little girl who wanted to be like any other little girl. If I could convey that feeling with the film, I knew it could have the potential to change minds and educate people.
I’m a transgender woman and a film critic. As such, films like these come with a strong importance. Why turn to Kickstarter for a screening tour in 2018 when the film has been available on Netflix since January 2017?
Eric Juhola: When the film premiered at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in 2016, the country was feeling optimistic. The Mathis family won their case, ‘bathroom bills’ were dying left and right, and Obama had just issued guidance for schools that supported the recognition of gender identity. The film was written about positively in the New York Times, and acquired by Netflix in what all seemed like a happy ending.
Then, Trump won. We watched his administration whittle away at trans rights and visibility. The guidelines were rescinded, the CDC felt the need to censure the word ’transgender’, and then there was the tweet about the military ban of trans service members. Like-minded state and local leaders felt emboldened to introduce new bathroom bills and religious freedom bills. History seems to be repeating itself over and over again, state by state, with the same mis-information disseminated and nothing learned from the previous battles.
So to compliment the broad reach of Netflix, we decided that a more targeted approach in underserved ‘bathroom bill’ sates where we could bring communities together and spark discussions afterward could help provide healing, support, and most important – resources for kids, parents, and school communities. This audience engagement and community building is a missing ingedient from the streaming model that we think can make a big difference in this current climate.
How did Zachary Drucker get involved with the Kickstarter rewards?
Eric Juhola: Our film team met Zackary at a transgender rights and visibility panel in New York at The LGBT Center and stayed in touch with her about the project. She asked us to keep her updated through the journey of the film. As soon as we decided to run a campaign, we thought it would be great to involve her by offering backers at the $20 reward an exclusive playlist of all her favorite tunes. She didn’t hesitate and immediately sent over the most epic mix of songs, which we are only sharing with backers. Supporters can still jump on the chance until the campaign ends Friday night to get this reward!
Growing Up Coy has already done a tour of Texas. What was the reception like?
Eric Juhola: Texas was high on our list because of all the hurtful anti-trans rhetoric spouted by politicians, in advertisements, in the media, and other special interest groups. Even though the Texas bathroom bill was defeated (at least temporarily), it left communities divided in its wake and the transgender population exposed. We partnered with the ACLU of Texas and Equality Texas, who helped us choose the Texas cities with the most need, and they also led group discussions after the screenings, providing support and resources to audience members (mostly made up of transgender youth, families, and teachers). We created a version of the film that is only 1-hour long, to allow more time for discussion after the viewing, and also a version with Spanish subtitles for a few of the screenings. In McAllen, car pools were arranged to bring about 15 folks from Brownsville where English is mostly a 2nd language. The sharing and testimonials after the screening were very moving, particularly in Amarillo where many people drove more than an hour to attend. Documenting the events is really important too – we made a video to show how these screenings went.
Alabama and South Carolina are next. What kind of reception do you expect within these states?
Eric Juhola: Every state is different. This week, our team had a conversation with activists in Alabama and were told that right-wing politicians in the state are using the trans bathroom issue to mount a coordinated challenge to local non-discrimination ordinances already in place. This is happening in towns and cities across the country – even in deep “blue” states like Massachusetts. Make no mistake, it is an effort to roll back equal protection for ALL LGBTQ people. This should concern us because it’s happening under the radar, without much media fanfare, and it could mean that our rights will be chipped away and rolled back. We hope to target more states than Alabama and South Carolina if we can raise more funding. Taking our film out to bring awareness to the issue of transgender rights is just the beginning of a larger organizing effort that is going to be vital to preserving our rights as LBGT people in the US.
Thanks again for your time.