“I work in the streets, doing whatever,” says the handsome shirtless boy sitting on the stoop, gazing into the distance. “I do what I have to do.” Minutes later, he has both shared his humiliation at being called a prostitute in court and celebrated his HIV test results–they’re negative.
It’s intimate sequences like these that are at the heart of a new half-hour-long documentary, Homecoming Queens, that was produced, shot and edited by the teen residents of Green Chimneys Gramercy Residence, a group home for gay kids in foster care. The video is unashamedly amateur–but that’s its saving grace.
Because these teenagers conducted all the interviews and did all the camera work, the documentary allows a highly close-up view of their lives–whether it’s a boy recounting anti-gay comments from child care workers or a young transvestite revealing bra-stuffing secrets on a street corner (water-filled condoms). Chaotic, disorganized, and at turns both goofy and disturbing, these vignettes are like outtakes from home movies, but made by a family you haven’t quite seen the likes of before.
One standout in the video is the transgender teen Meisha (a.k.a. Michael), with starlet eyebrows and a sweet smile. Meisha conducts a camped-up tour of the group home, vamping like RuPaul on an awards show while introducing the other teens. Later, in one of the most moving sequences, one young man muses in a voiceover about his future, while he keeps readjusting the camera to perfectly frame himself and his boyfriend snuggling on top of his bed. “I just need a home,” he finally says. “I don’t consider this a home, at all.”
The Gramercy residence was established 17 years ago to provide a safe haven for gay teens in the foster care system, where they are often ostracized or tormented. “I had always had issues in group homes, and always tried to voice it out, and never really got heard,” says Javier, one of the teens who worked on the video. “[The documentary] gave me hope that there’s someone out there listening.”
The video project was organized by Paper Tiger Television, a grassroots production company, which had solicited proposals from youth groups across the city. “They had the strongest submission,” explains Paper Tiger’s Tara Mateik. “They’ve had so many [media stories] done on them, but it hasn’t been accurate, and they haven’t had much say.” With paid and volunteer help, Mateik and her collaborators helped plan out the documentary and taught the kids how to shoot and edit video. “Paper Tiger tries to put cameras in the hands of people who are under- or mis-represented,” she adds. “That’s why we exist.”
Homecoming Queens will air March 14 through 16 on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network at 8 p.m., Brooklyn Community Access TV at 11 p.m., and BronxNet community television at 12 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.