San Diego Black LGBTQ community tells its story in multi-part documentary, ‘Intersectional Lens’
Pamuela Halliwell, president of the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition, talks about the first in a multi-part documentary series the organization produced, “Intersectional Lens,” being screened Nov. 11 at Diversionary Theatre
There wasn’t much that could be found in the way of historical documentation about their community, so the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition began working to change that at the beginning of 2021 by filming a documentary. After a request from Lambda Archives of San Diego, the coalition began working to establish a record of themselves, their stories, and their experiences, but found that a solitary documentary wouldn’t do their stories justice.
“Our mission is to act as a central resource hub for Black LGBTQ community members in San Diego … (and) one of the things that actually led us to do this docu-series is that we heard, over and over again, that Black LGBTQ folks have had a difficult time finding community and finding each other because we don’t have a central space in San Diego where Black LGBTQ folks can go and be,” said Pamuela Halliwell, president of the coalition and a licensed therapist with the San Diego LGBT Community Center. “That’s one of the main things that the coalition tries to do, is providing unique event and programs that give the community spaces to come together and to feel seen and heard.”
The project went from a single documentary to a series in multiple parts. The first part, “Intersectional Lens, Part 1: The Black, Queer, and Trans Experience,” is being screened at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Diversionary Theatre and will be followed by a panel discussion. Halliwell took some time to discuss the series, the topics explored within, and the hope that the coalition has for the experience people have in watching each film. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: Tell us about this series, “Intersectional Lens.”
A: We came up with that title because each episode is about living with that intersectionality as Black and LGBTQ folks. After getting started with the project and having various interviews with dozens of Black LGBTQ community members and Black allies, we learned that this was not something that we could sufficiently cover and there are so many different components of what living intersectionally means. The screening [this evening] is about the Black, queer, and trans experience, talking more about community members’ experiences navigating getting used to San Diego and finding community, finding each other, dating and relationships, coming out, their experiences in the military, at school and at work; this has a more personal narration. In part two, which we’re planning to screen in January 2023, it’s going to focus more on our conversations with organizations and police. We’re going to talk about policing and we interviewed the mayor, people with the county, organizations like Pride and the San Diego LGBT Community Center, and our focus is going to be on the feedback and thoughts and stories from the community, while also talking to those organizations about what they’re doing for us.
Q: What has it been like for you, creating this series?
A: It’s been very emotional. It’s been a very emotionally draining experience because everybody has their own story. In editing it, we’re trying to have a kind of story arc in sharing our experiences. We’re not a monolith, so everyone has a different experience. In watching it, there was a lot of sadness, specifically when we interviewed Black trans women and hearing some of the sadness about not feeling safe or seen in Hillcrest, not feeling like dating and family is something that can happen. It was just an emotional challenge for all of us because we wanted to be true to what their stories are, while also just witnessing pain and feeling like this docu-series is not going to change that; and we want to be there for each other. One of the things we’re going to be doing is placing a disclaimer at the beginning to let folks know that some of the content might be triggering and we’re also going to have resources at the end of the screening [like Call BlackLine, a crisis call line prioritizing Black, Indigenous, and People of Color]. That’s also part of why we’re having a panel discussion after the film screening tomorrow, and for each screening, so that we can have these discussions with certain key folks who were part of the production or part of filming.
Q: What would you say is the purpose, or message, of this series?
A: I would hope that the message is that Black LGBTQ folks matter, our identities are real and valid, and our experiences matter. Even though we make up a small percentage in San Diego, that doesn’t mean that we’re not here. I would hope that another purpose is education and solidarity; there need to be spaces where we are, and there need to be real, honest actions done to protect the lives of Black folks, in general, regarding policing. There needs to be an expansion of targeted resources for Black folks and for Black LGBTQ folks.
Q: What do you hope people who watch it think about or understand after seeing it?
A: I would hope that for Black LGBTQ folks, that they feel seen and heard. I would hope that allies walk away with some information or education about how they can use their access, their resources, their privileges for some of the calls to action that this film screening will reveal. In general, I’m hoping that everyone walks away with a greater sense of the importance of self-care and our mental health because we’re going through so much upheaval, in general, not just Black people, specifically. There are so many things going on in our world. Again, this title is “Intersectional Lens” because we as Black people experience that harsher and differently than others, and then we have a smaller section of Black LGBTQ folks who experience these injustices, prejudices, and discrimination. It’s OK to reach out for support, it’s OK to reach out for a resource. It means we want to take care of ourselves and our other community members.
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