Many members of the LGBTQ+ community see Trump’s presidency as an existential threat. Pitt alum Mark Janavel aims to give people are transgender a voice with an upcoming documentary about the transgender experience in Pittsburgh.
Janavel, who graduated from Pitt in 2015, wants to provide a space for transgender people who feel marginalized by the Republican-controlled government to express their fears, concerns and hopes for the future. For his documentary, tentatively titled “Transient: First 100 Days of Trump,” Janavel will interview 10 different transgender individuals from Pittsburgh, following them throughout the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.
Janavel envisions the film, which is set to be released on June 6th, as a “talking-head-style documentary” — meaning it will contain quotes from several people edited in one after another. He is filming his first interview in Pittsburgh Thursday.
Janavel secured $5,000 in funding for the film from the Sprout Fund, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that has invested millions in catalyzing change on a grassroots level. The Sprout Fund announced the grants’ recipients on January 20th.
After he posted his idea on the Sprout Fund’s website, Janavel reached out to Pitt’s Rainbow Alliance, which he was a member of during his time at Pitt, and they helped him spread the word on social media.
“I didn’t do enough with the Rainbow Alliance,” Janavel said of his time at the university. “This [documentary] could be a redemptive factor.”
Janavel’s last documentary, “It Should Feel Like Home,” released in July 2016, focused on the experiences of homeless LGBTQ+ youth. Janavel said he narrowed his focus from the entire LGBTQ+ community to only people who are transgender for this documentary because he feels they face a unique struggle.
“These are the people that, by the numbers, are statistically targeted the most with violence,” Janavel said. “I want to help the people who need it most.”
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violent Programs, 20 to 25 percent of LGBTQ+ people experience hate crimes in their lifetime.
The vast majority of the LGBTQ+ community rejected Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election — he received 14 percent of their vote. This is a historically low proportion, considering Barack Obama gathered 70 percent of the LGBTQ+ vote in 2008 and George W. Bush received 25 percent in 2000.
Though Trump hasn’t indicated that he plans to undo recent LGBTQ+ gains — when asked for his position on gay marriage on CBS, he said that the Supreme Court decision made it settled law — he hasn’t made himself a champion of LGBTQ+ rights, either. Many of Trump’s cabinet appointments are staunchly anti-LGBTQ+. Mike Pence, for instance, has said that prohibiting gay marriage is not discrimination but enforcement of “God’s idea.”
On Pitt’s campus, students have expressed their disagreement with the president’s actions with protests regarding LGBTQ+ rights, the ban on visas and the proposed wall along the Mexican border.
Maxine Taylor, a Pitt junior majoring in computer science major and member of Rainbow Alliance, said she never felt she was given the space to explore her sexuality throughout her adolescence. She called the town of Bloomsberg where she grew up “repressed.”
Once she came to Pitt, she made the transition from cisgender male to genderqueer and finally to transgender woman.
Taylor, who does not plan to participate in the film, said “Transient” has a lot of value because the transgender perspective often goes underrepresented, and trans people desperately need a platform in light of the current federal administration.
“Trump is someone who acts as a conservative populist and really riles up people who blame minorities for their problems,” Taylor said. “With that kind of tone in place, it’s hard not to be terrified about what could be coming.”
Dylan Drobish, the co-founder of TransPride Pittsburgh, a transgender community group that plans events and provides services for trans-identified Pittsburghers said in a written statement that “Transient” constitutes an effective way of fighting back against the hateful rhetoric of Trump’s campaign.
“Offering ten perspectives on the matter may help not only to shed light on how dangerous Trump’s America will continue to be for marginalized groups,” Drobin said in the statement. “But also on the diversity of the transgender experience and the different ways in which people express their fears, anger and frustration regarding the matter.“
Janavel said the situation for students who were transgender was not ideal during his time at Pitt and cites the bad condition of some gender-neutral bathrooms as an example.
“But I think Pitt is moving in the right direction,” Janavel said. “It’s hard to tell. It’s hard to talk about it, because everyone’s so afraid.”
Mark Janavel can be contacted at (484) 643-3784. If readers are interested in participating in the documentary, Janavel invites them to make an inquiry at room 611 in the William Pitt Union.