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35 Years of Outfest and We’re Just Getting Started


Film has played an important role in LGBT progress and will continue to do so, writes Outfest board member Alan Koenigsberg.

The world we live in today embraces infinitely more diversity than decades past, especially around sexual and gender identity, and there's no understating the important role that film has played in fueling these changes and paving the way for greater societal acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

As the Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival gears up for its 35th anniversary, there is cause for reflection on how far we as a community have come thanks in large part to seminal films like Parting Glances, Paris Is Burning, and Bound, and of course more recent mainstream films like Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight. Each of these films has at one time or another provided a sense of hope and belonging for the LGBTQ community.

I can recall struggling as a teen in the 1980s to find -- let alone identify with -- gay characters in mainstream media. Other than Steven Daniel Carrington, the gay outcast son of the patriarch character in the television juggernaut Dynasty, you were hard-pressed to see an LGBTQ character on TV or in movies who made you feel like you were part of something. There certainly weren't any lesbians or gay people of color represented, at least positively, in media.

However, this lack of representation united the LGBTQ community during a pivotal and challenging time in our history.

The media and cultural landscape going into the 1990s attempted to establish more balance in creating an equality agenda while educating and catering to a more diverse age group. In that space, a new generation was growing up with a soul that was out and proud from day one.

Armed with my worn copy of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City and a love for finance and Wall Street, I too went out into the world -- out and proud with no filters -- to forge ahead with my life and career. But even back then, I knew there had to be more positive portrayals of LGBTQ people and experiences somewhere out there.

And I wasn't alone.

Several years earlier in 1982, a group of students at the University of California, Los Angeles, hungry to find and share stories of our community, created what is now known as Outfest.

Many might think of Outfest as simply a film festival, but it's so much more. With thousands of films showcased in its 35-year history, Outfest has shined a much-needed spotlight on the rich and diverse lives of LGBTQ people of all ethnicities and walks of life. In addition to providing a full range of programming which has cultivated hundreds of emerging filmmakers, it has also saved and preserved more than 35,000 LGBT films and videos that otherwise would've deteriorated over time into nonexistence.

Today, Outfest is the largest and preeminent LGBTQ organizations promoting equality by creating, sharing and, protecting LGBTQ stories on screen. It is a leading example of how media can better reflect our realities and, in turn, help shape culture. You don't have to be in the venerable film industry to appreciate just how important positive media images are to shaping the identity of a community.

I've been in banking for nearly 30 years. It was when I attended my first Outfest gala several years ago that I realized own employer, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, was way ahead of me with years of support for Outfest's various programs. In that moment, I couldn't have been more proud to work for a company that supports and embraces diversity and inclusion this way. They get it.

And it didn't take long for me to get involved. Today, I am proud to serve on Outfest's board of directors and as cochair of the Legacy Awards, a gala which raises funds for the continued preservation of LGBT moving images.

I am delighted to celebrate our progress, but know there are still challenges ahead of us. For example, GLAAD's 2017 Studio Responsibility Index revealed that only 23 of 125 films released by major motion picture studios in 2016 featured an LGBTQ character. In nearly half of those 23 films, LGBTQ characters received less than one minute of screen time.

It's important for all of us to understand that our right to tell a story doesn't take anyone else's rights from them. There is room for us all. Even within the LGBTQ community, there are so many stories still to be told, such as the experiences of transgender people.

We are all amazing, unfinished pieces of art with a compelling story to tell. This road has no end and our plot lines and story arcs continue to unfold each and every day.

You have my commitment to passionately uphold the storytelling, education, cultivation and preservation of the proud legacy of our community through the magical and powerful medium of film.

The Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival 2017 runs from July 6 through 16.

ALAN KOENIGSBERG is a managing director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, a board member for Outfest, and an advisory board member for the Ackerman Institute's Gender and Family Project.

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Alan Koenigsberg