When it comes to taking action on our future plans, most of us choose to wait, at least for awhile, until we have the time, the money, and the right opportunity to finally make our wishes come true. Rebecca Katz was (and still is) only 24 when she founded I Want the World to Know, an initiative that encourages lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning/queer (LGBTQ) individuals from all walks of life to share their coming out stories as a way to defeat homophobia, anti-gay bullying, teen violence, and suicide. “If you really care about something, then you will find the time and the money. You’ll forget what your age is,” Rebecca tells me. “If you’re passionate about something, there’s nothing that can stop you.”
Living in the ever-expanding social networking era undoubtedly helped Rebecca establish and reinforce this initiative in ways that we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. In addition to working at a non-profit film production company called Shine Global, Rebecca travels with her camera and interviews people who most sincerely tell her their coming out stories. She then shares these videos on her website as well as online platforms like Film Annex, YouTube, and Vimeo. Oh and let’s not forget about Twitter and Facebook, where she has close to a 1000 fans already.
I Want the World to Know is a significant example of how traditional storytelling and social media can come together, allowing people to get involved in a cause they are passionate about without having to spend too much money or to wait for the “right” time. It’s a testament to the power of online video and social networking, both of which seem to be the perfect tool for getting your message across to a world full of people. I talked to Rebecca about how she founded I Want the World to Know, what she does to sustain it, and how the Internet helped her to get to where she is today.
F.A. What did it take to create I Want the World to Know? When did you take the initiative to found this organization?
R.K. Almost exactly one year ago, Proposition 8 was passed in California, overturning the ability for gay people to get married. I was very upset by this news along with so many other people. Over the years, through my interest in film and media and my job experience at a non-profit film production company, I came to realize how much media can effect change. So I decided to use my skills and passions to talk about gay issues, and specifically gay marriage.
I wrote an email to my friends and family, explaining what Prop 8 is and how it affects me and others. I raised about $1000 from them. With that money, I bought my camera, microphones, tripod, basically all the equipment I needed to shoot my interviews. My first topic was gay marriage. After talking to some friends, I realized that gay marriage, though very important, was only a small part of the gay movement itself. I wanted to tackle something bigger—the reason behind people’s rejection and fear of gay marriage: homophobia. At first I had an idea for a potential documentary, where I would interview out comedians, actors, and producers so that other people could say, “Oh look, that person is gay and I can relate to them.”
Then, in April of 2009 I heard about two 11 year-old boys, Jaheem Herrera and Carl Walker-Hoover, who both committed suicide because they were constantly being taunted at school by being called gay, fag, and virgin. Their classmates were horribly mean to them, and these kids thought that the best way to escape from the insults was taking their own lives. That prompted me to say, “You know what? I can’t wait for out famous people to talk to. I need to start with my friends. I’m going to ask them questions about their coming out stories, because every gay person has a coming out story. It’s something that we all have in common, something everyone can relate to.” Storytelling is the best way to connect people.
F.A. So now that you’ve been doing these interviews for a while, what do you do in order to get the word out about I Want the World to Know?
R.K. What I really try to do is to get the word out about the website. I think that is half of putting something together like this. Number one is creating the content, which involves shooting the interviews and editing them. I do the editing on my laptop at home, post the videos on Vimeo, and embed them onto my website. I also put them up YouTube, Film Annex, and other venues. The greatest thing about this project is the social networking aspect. The Internet and social media are exploding right now, and I try to use this to my advantage. I also do a ton of work on my Facebook fan page and my Twitter page as well.
F.A. Do you do any filming besides the interviews? At rallies or other events?
R.K. Yes. Because I have a deep interest in the LGBTQ movement, I have gone to rallies. I went to the National Equality March on October 11th. There were about 200,000 people there with flags, posters, signs and crazy outfits. I brought my camera and filmed what it was like to be inside the march. I also did a music video to Lady Gaga because we all know she’s a big gay supporter. I put those on the website as well so people who weren’t there could see the momentum of the movement.
F.A. What do you do to support and sustain the organization financially? Do you have a budget for the shoots and other expenses?
R.K. The budget is zero dollars. All the money I spend on this organization comes directly out of my own pocket. For example, I went to Los Angeles at the end of August for one scheduled interview and came home with ten. The interest is just so alive that it surprises and overwhelms me. But all of this costs money. I have to buy my flight, rent a car… I always stay with friends, never in hotels. I try to keep my costs as low as possible. I’m not a nonprofit organization so it’s really difficult to get grants. It’s actually expensive to become a nonprofit. Right now, I’m just trying to do the best I can with the means that I have. I am lucky that I do get support from people. My family has been completely supportive.
F.A. And that’s beauty of the Internet, right? If you do want to officially become a non-profit some day, perhaps you can. But do you really need to when you’re already reaching so many people through social media?
R.K. Exactly. Right now, I’m focusing on getting my stories out there and reaching people through social media. And the money I spend is completely worth it. I’m meeting incredible people—people who want to get involved in the project. I got an email the other day from a woman I don’t know, and she said she’d love to share her own story. I hear from people on YouTube, who tell me how helpful I Want the World to Know is for them and how they wish they had seen these stories when they were coming out.
F.A. So what makes this project so valuable is the videos you put online. Do you think that you can use online distribution to support your organization financially in addition to using it as a promotional tool?
R.K. I hope so. I mean that’s exactly what you guys do at Film Annex. I would love to be able to make some money off of this and have it become my main focus, because I love the work. I have a day job too. This is a total nights and weekends project. I work 40 hours a week Monday through Friday. Instead of taking my Christmas vacation off, I’m going to Los Angeles at the beginning of December, because the flights are cheaper then. So I would love to be able to keep distributing these videos online, make some money, sustain this project, keep the videos coming, and meet new people.
F.A. You found this organization at such a young age. Do you have any suggestions for young people who also want to express themselves and help others through similar initiatives?
R.K. I think they just have to do it. That’s what I did. I said, “I have to stop waiting. I have to stop saying I can’t do this, because I’m young. I can’t do this, because I don’t have the time or the money.” If you say that, you won’t ever do anything. But if you really care about something, then you will find the time and the money, and you’ll forget what your age is. If you’re passionate about something, there’s nothing that can stop you. I’ve done about twenty interviews already. The hardest part is starting, but once you start you can always keep going.
F.A. Coming out is a key moment in a gay person’s life. I feel like what you do at I Want the World to Know is integrating something very private, which is the act of coming out, with something very public—the Internet. Can this kind of media exposure have any adverse effects on a gay person’s life?
R.K. I believe that if somebody is out, then they’re happy. They’re not hiding; they’re being their true selves. Coming out can only help the movement. The bottom line of this project is that if everyone knows a gay person, then they will be able to sympathize with how gay people feel and what they go through. They will vote in favor of gay issues, for marriage equality. If they say, “My cousin is gay or my best friend is gay,” then they start to see that people they love are normal and a part of their lives. So I think the way for everybody to be equal is for everybody to be out. And I don’t see any adverse effects about the media exposure. On a personal level, yes there may be some immediate dangers of coming out for certain people. If you’re a young person who is financially dependent on your family, if you depend on them for food, clothes, and a roof over your head, then coming out at that point in time may not be the safest thing to do. But in general, I don’t think there are any adverse effects. I think our community will get bigger and stronger when more people come out. And that’s when everybody will say, “What is there to be afraid of? Nothing.” These stories are really about the individuals. When people walk by rallies and see big crowds, they are intimidated. But if they watch a video of one person telling their own story about how they felt, it might be easier to relate to them.