The Check It documentary is one of the most important stories I’ve seen in a long time. Frankly, the youths who bravely share their stories of trauma, struggle and survival are too complicated and important to try to cover in a mere blog posts.
Check It shines the light on survivors of child neglect, abandonment, as well as the tragic legacy parental drug addiction has left. The struggles many of them have encountered and overcome is enough to make anyone give up hope. But compounded with these tragedies is the fact that these young, black LGBTQ youth are ostracized, shunned and abused for simply being who they are. It doesn’t help that they also live in Washington DC, a city with one of the highest reported hate crimes against the LGBT community. To further compound the injustices, black transgendered youth — on the receiving end of both racism and homophobia — often find it impossible to find jobs, forcing them to take part in the sex trade (child sex trade for many, since some are as young as thirteen years old). Ironically, most turn tricks on K Street, which is only two miles away from the White House.
With all these obstacles, what are isolated, abandoned youths supposed to do when they have nothing but themselves to depend on? These youth created their own gang and it’s considered to be the first documented gay gang in the U.S.
Most often growing out of disassembled communities that face hostile circumstances and few means to escape, gangs sometimes provide the one family a child has. With over 200 members, this stylishly coiffed crew seem to be the most unlikely gang you could imagine, but they have become one of the most feared gangs in their communities. And like all gangs they too have rules: you must have a good sense of fashion (wild, crazy, colourful). Have heart. And be ready to take no “shit from anyone.” Being vulnerable doesn’t serve you in a war zone.
But beyond the fierce style, ferocious fists, and cavalier way they have reclaimed the word “faggot” there is deep, profound suffering and loss that they are too young, and too alone to even begin facing.
The charismatic and thoughtful leader Tray (in feature photo), one of the founders of Check It, has two Instagram accounts: a boy one and a girl one. As a woman, Tray’s life is perfect. She is loved, accepted and adored by boys (though she must also prostitute, a sight so incompatible to who she is that it’s a difficult moment to watch). But as a young man, the suffering Tray has experienced –including a rape that gets callously ignored by authorities – is too much for him to delve into at once.
Diva Alton, withers and twirls confidently, forever needing to be the center of attention. But as she lies on her bed, stroking a teddy bear while recounting a brutal childhood, it is impossible to ignore how scared she is (despite the gorgeous smile that never leaves her face).
Day Day, like Tray, fluidly, bravely and beautifully, explores his life as a woman and a man. Also one of Check It’s founders, at times his trigger hair temper conceals a loving son (who is very protective of his mother who was once a drug addict), budding stylist/designer and profound lover of nature and animals.
Finally there’s lovely Skittles. His fists have earned him a feared reputation and respect on the streets. But, like many of them, he is a reluctant fighter. Encouraged to become a boxer, he embraces the surprising support he’s getting from straight men win the boxing world. But his identity as a gay man, paired with his flamboyant style, which includes lace tank tops and pink boxing gloves, are disturbingly called a “hobby” by his straight coach, making it no surprise that that he only half-heartedly embraces the boxing world.
A fashion camp founded by Jarmal Harris (the Jarmal Harris Project), enters the boys lives, literally changing them forever. As Tray states “It’s time to stop living the ghetto life and start living the way we want to live.” It’s a powerful declaration (share by Day Day). We witness both beginning to understand that they deserve better, and that against all odds they have the power to make their dreams come true. And that is the most powerful message in the film.
I think it’s also important to recognize Ron “Mo” Motten, an “ex-convict” who bravely, lovingly, and tirelessly reaches out to these forgotten youth, planting seeds for a brighter future. It’s a thankless job, but one that changes our world.
As I mentioned above, there is too much to cover in this important documentary and that’s why it is a Winehouse must see.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the founder of The Winehouse Mag.