A number of years ago, when the film Julio of Jackson Heights was half complete, I did a work-in-progress screening for students at the Harvey Milk High School, a public school for -though not limited to- gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender young people. After the screening, one of the students surprised me with her question and follow up comment. She asked, “When you finish the film, will there be a note with statistics about violence against LGBTQ people?” I answered honestly, “I wasn’t planning on doing that. Why do you ask?”
She said, “Because this film isn’t about history. This is what I have to deal with every day, every weekend when I want to go out to a club with friends.”
Julio of Jackson Heights portrays how a community transformed in response to a hate crime: the 1990 gay bashing murder of Julio Rivera. The objective of this web site is to inform about the efforts to support and promote this film as a tool for social action and education.
Please, as you read the following, consider becoming a part of this effort in any way you can: whether by making a contribution, spreading the word to others, helping to organize screenings of the film or any other way you can offer. Many thanks for taking the time to learn about this work.
About the film
Julio of Jackson Heights tells the story of the murder of Julio Rivera – beaten to death on July 2, 1990 in the P.S. 69 schoolyard by three young men who wanted to “stretch out a gay man”
in order to clean up the neighborhood of Jackson Heights–, and how that murder became the spark that ignited LGBTQ organizing in Queens.
The commitment of Julio’s straight family and gay friends – people who did not consider themselves “political” – along with support from seasoned activists from LGBTQ organizations like Queer Nation, the NYC Anti-Violence Project and ActUp! made for a very particular and powerful coalition. The focus of the film is on how these people came together and formed a movement for justice and how that movement for justice became the foundation for a movement for equality that has flourished and grown over the past 25 years.
Story behind the film
Before deciding to make a film about the murder of Julio Rivera, I had been documenting the annual Queens Pride Parade for 14 years, starting with the very first parade on June 6, 1993, and a few years in the parade organizers named me the Parade’s “official photographer”.
During all those years, I had been aware of the murder and how the organizing to pressure the police into running a serious investigation (the detective assigned to the case was just beginning a two week vacation) was what led to the creation of the Parade, but my photography was of the parade in its present moment, not a project about the Parade’s history. That said, all of my photography exhibitions of my work on the Parade included a text about the murder of Julio Rivera. I felt, at the time, that it was important to keep that murder and what it represented present, because –despite being the single most important event that gave birth to the Parade– it was something that could not be seen in photographs.
The decision to make a film that told the story of the murder, the organizing and how they gave birth to the LGBTQ movement of Queens, was a response to the limitations of photographic work. I wanted a film in which people talked about what happened, discussed how a change occurs, recalled how they made their personal decisions to change their world.
The process brought me to interviewing over 80 people for the film: members of Julio’s family, people who became politically active in Queens, older residents of the neighborhood – gay and straight – who could give perspective and context to the changes, journalists, police, and activists who came from outside the neighborhood to give their support. The resulting film is an oral history, told by a community, of a social change in the neighborhood where I was born and raised.
About the Campaign
The Education and Action Campaign is aimed at making the film and the story it narrates a central subject for building a curriculum and sparking discussion on many issues: LGBTQ histories and struggles, movements for human rights and justice, and community organizing, to name the most obvious.
In the course of making the film, I held about a dozen work-in-progress screenings that helped me think through a lot of the issues and the central themes of the film. Along with the previously mentioned screening at the Harvey Milk High School (through the Hetrick Martin Institute), screenings were held at the University of Massachusetts through an invitation by Professor Julio Capó, Jr., at the Bronx High School of Science for students from the Debate and Speech Team and the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, BAAD! Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance and at the Renaissance School in Jackson Heights, with sponsorship from the Queens Council on the Arts and the Queens Pride Committee. These screenings were not only great for me as a filmmaker trying to work out narrative challenges, but also made clear to me that this film generated a lot of discussion and brought up many current issues. Even before completing the film, I was approached by a half dozen educational institutions who wanted to find out about screening the work for students.
The goals of the Education and Action Campaign are to take this experience and build upon it. However, first a number of things have to be completed: final sound balance and color correction, high quality copies produced for screening, subtitles in Spanish, and a limited run of DVDs and Blue Ray copies.
The Campaign will focus on three areas: 1) developing curriculum guidelines and materials for study including a DVD of “extras” (i.e., extended clips of interviews that are in the film), 2) presenting the film and additional materials to educational institutions and community and issue-based non-profits working in related areas, and 3) building awareness about the film and issues through film festivals, as well as non-festival screenings and social media.
For more information on how to get involved, check out the FAQ (frequently asked questions), and if you are interested in contributing please check out the Fund raising and budget page.