LGBTQ youth get physically assaulted twice as often as their straight peers. Approximately 30% have been threatened or injured with a weapon at school and about the same percent have been raped at some point. These rates are especially high for transgender people and people of color.
Take Tray, for instance. When Tray was in middle school in Washington D.C., he got gay bashed several times and eventually discovered other bullied queer students. They eventually teamed up and formed “the Check-It,” a queer gang who decided to start fighting back. Tay has since transitioned into Star and her group has since blossomed to reportedly 200 members.
Members of Check It have been shot, stabbed and raped. Many dropped out of school and started living on the streets. Left to their own devices, they began pickpocketing and doing sex work. They also started carrying brass knuckles, knives and mace. Some members have a “don’t start shit, won’t be shit” attitude, but others will brawl at the first sign of disrespect. They’ve beaten people into comas, stabbed enemies with ice picks and say they’ve made one assailant drink bleach.
Directors Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer followed the Check It gang between 2012 and 2014 and eventually created Check It, a documentary about the gang which premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. The film follows four Check It’s members, their challenges and aspirations.
Poor, black queer youth literally fighting for their lives
Some of Check It’s members have dreams of becoming fashion designers. They work with The Jarmal Harris Project, a D.C. non-profit dedicated to teaching young residents how to create fashion. But the gang members are used to unapologetically talking shit and solving disputes with violence, so transitioning to professional life proves a challenge for some.
The fight for gay marriage did little to improve their circumstances and D.C.’s LGBTQ organizations and other community groups don’t know how to help. When one of the Check It crew called a rape hotline after getting sexually assaulted by a john, the hotline told them that they couldn’t file a report because it had happened in Maryland and no one knew the john’s full name.
Many of the gang members have rap sheets for assault and armed robbery, but the film doesn’t spend much time recounting their previous arrests, probably because it detracts from the larger point. These gangbangers are literally fighting for their lives and basic needs: they must scrape enough together for food and clothes and many also help take care of their siblings — they’re not a menace to society, society has been a menace to them.
It’s worth remembering that the LGBTQ movement has also been fueled by similarly angry groups of people who, left behind by society, had to rebel, break laws and fight back. Just look at queers and numerous arrests behind Stonewall and ACT UP.
Check It’s executive producer Steve Buscemi (the famous actor) called the film a call to action. One of the directors says that the documentary has helped change the gang’s lives as well as the greater D.C. hood. Check It’s members have since received training on how to reach out to other at-risk youth living on the D.C. streets and the local police department has also started watching clips from Check It as part of their sensitivity training.