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Ryan James Yezak – the man behind Second Class Citizens February 10th, 2012
Ryan James Yezak – the man behind Second Class Citizens

A second class citizen is defined as: a person whose rights and opportunities are treated as less important than those of other people in the same society. It’s also the name of Ryan James Yezak’s upcoming documentary that, according to the Kickstarter page, will explore “the many areas in which gays, lesbians & bisexuals” are discriminated against within the United States.

What should we expect?

At this point, I’d be shocked if you hadn’t seen the viral video (above) that was released on Martin Luther King Day. This beautifully assembled video gained one million views within the first 24 hours and the campaign, which originally had a goal of collecting $50,000, has raised three-fold that – $153,500 at the posting of this article.

To say that this campaign was a success may be the biggest understatement of the century.

But fame and notoriety inevitably brings its fair share of criticisms. Within hours of the viral video’s release, activists were already calling into question if Second Class Citizens would be representative of the entire movement, due the video’s lack of queer women, people of color and trans folk.

It was not Yezak’s intent to exclude queer women or people of color from the video. “I had been working on the video since the night before and it was getting late on [the day I said I’d release it]. Originally I had clips of Margaret Cho and Wanda Sykes, but I cut the section they were in and, in my hurry to release the video, I forgot to put them back.”

We should also note that this first video is predominately media-driven; Yezak relied on preexisting footage easily accessible in the annals of history. Considering how limited the representation of queer people of color and trans folk are in the media, it is not surprising Yezak had difficulty locating inclusive clips.

That being said, “The Gay Rights Movement” was never intended to be a trailer for Second Class Citizens – although Yezak understands how people may have misinterpreted it that way. It is the first of five promotional videos geared towards raising awareness and funding for Second Class Citizens and, despite the campaign’s initial success, Yezak plans to release the remaining three before he begins filming for the actual documentary.

So, if the five videos are strictly promotional and not trailers, what should all those people who were quick to back this project expect from their money?

“It’s going to come down to individual subjects,” Yezak says, “ I know that there’s no ‘ideal’ representation [for the individual forms of discrimination], but I am going to make the best effort I can to find the subjects.”

Up until now, he’s relied on his own networks and fan-base to collect testimonials, but plans to outreach to other sources and media outlets in the coming month to increase the diversity of his material. The response from his fans has been overwhelming – so much so that Yezak intends to work on this documentary full-time.

“It’s going to take a lot of shape over the next eight months. I’m confident in my passion and ability to make this movie and I think it will be something that everybody will enjoy”

The Man Behind the Movie

Yezak first gained internet-fame for his viral video interpretations of popular pop songs such as California Gays and Hold it Against Me. His later works, took on a slightly more political tone with Only Gay in the World and We R Who We R.

Yezak grew up in Houston, Texas – an upper-middle class neighborhood where religion and conservatism run rampant. “The society I lived in and my environment… it was very restrictive,” Yezak says. It was difficult for him to find positive representations of LGBTQ people.

“Growing up, I don’t remember having any [gay] role models in my life. Aside from the [LGBT] characters on TV, no one comes to mind. That’s what I want to give back and make this documentary.”

It wasn’t until he moved to Austin for college that he came into is own and discovered his sexuality. Finding the Greek community to be less than accepting of gay and bisexual men, he and his friend co-founded a chapter of Delta Lambda Phi – the now international fraternity for Gay, Bisexual and Progressive Men. There, he discovered his passion for production.

Trans Representation?

One thing that raised a red flag for me is that he kept referring to the documentary as a film about discrimination based on sexual orientation –during our interview, on his Kickstarter page and one of his introductory video – but when I pressed him about gender identity-based discrimination, I grew less concerned.

“Honestly, I think that could be a film itself. I want to be as inclusive as possible, but there’s only so much I can do in 90 minutes.” Considering Yezak intends this to be a documentary about discrimination, I am hard pressed to think of a subset within the queer community that has experienced discrimination more fully than the trans community.

He acknowledged that it would be easy enough to incorporate discrimination against trans people when it came to housing, homelessness and employment, but ultimately, Yezak is limited by the kinds of testimonials that are submitted.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of Second Class Citizen’s content, it will be a beautifully shot documentary. Yezak has an eye for assembling footage in a way that elicits an emotional reaction from the viewer – and that takes real talent.

Given where Yezak grew up, I don’t think he’s had the opportunity to engage in conversations about queer issues prior to Second Class Citizens– and we should not fault him for that. Over the past few weeks, Yezak has experienced a steep learning curve and I do believe he is making every effort to educate himself so the documentary can be the best product possible.

At the end of the day, it is too premature to start criticizing Yezak or Second Class Citizens. He hasn’t even begun filming yet – let alone sort through the overwhelming amount of testimonials he’s received. I’ll reserve my judgment until I see a trailer for the documentary.

Until then, it is our duty to help promote his message and make sure he has as diverse a pool of discrimination accounts as possible to draw from for the documentary.

If you or someone you know has be discriminated against and you’d like to submit your story, please contact Ryan James Yezak at ryanyezak@gmail.com

Areas of discrimination:

*MARRIAGE
*ADOPTION
*EDUCATION (PRIVATE SCHOOLS)
*PRIVATE ORGANIZATIONS/RELIGIONS
*EMPLOYMENT
*BLOOD, SEMEN, & BONE MARROW DONATION
*ANTI-BULLYING LAW
*HOUSING

*HOMELESSNESS/PARENTAL OBLIGATION
*GAY PANIC DEFENSE



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