OutNews Global caught up with Jake Graf as part of our LGBT History Month series
Based in London, Jake Graf has written and directed five award-winning films which have screened at over 100 festivals worldwide. His mini short Headspace went vital in 2017, amassing 4.5 million hits, and in the same year, his short film about legislative change was launched in The Houses of Parliament.
Here, we sit down with Jake to find out how he feels about the last year, where we’re at currently in terms of LGBTQ rights, and what he hopes the future will bring for LGBTQ communities worldwide…
ONG: What were the biggest changes in 2017?
JAKE GRAF: Last year was a strange one. In many ways it felt very much like we took two steps forward, ten steps back. There was much positive movement and progress, certainly: “social injustice” became more than just a buzzword as we saw Black Lives Matter gaining traction, women feeling the strength and support to come out and challenge historic and ongoing abuse and sexual harassment, and a feeling of solidarity and unity within the international LGBTQ community that we hadn’t witnessed before.
This, however, was offset by a strong, sustained and vitriolic backlash from the right wing press, attacking all sides of the LGBTQ community, but with particular venom reserved for the trans community. It appeared that no one was safe, from trans women, to the non binary community, to trans children and their families. Added to this the constant threats from the White House to remove rights and protections for LGBTQ folk across the US, and the horror stories from Chechnya and elsewhere, and the world suddenly felt like a very scary place.
What do you think still needs to change?
At this point it feels like the status quo is rather desperate, and that massive change is needed: the bigots seem to be winning in the US, and whilst the trans military ban was thwarted, Trump certainly isn’t letting up on his sustained persecution of trans and LGB people. Bullying and suicide rates among young LGBTQ folk are still worryingly high, and LGBTQ youth homelessness is at record levels.
More broadly speaking, we need to push back against the right wing, a recalibration of those gender inequalities which have long eaten away at our society, and an urgent amplification of the voices of those many minorities and communities that have long felt marginalised and ignored.
Whilst there is still such negative stigma attached to coming out, whilst the word “gay” continues to be used as an insult, whilst dating someone transgender and freely expressing your sexuality and gender are still so reviled and ridiculed, it’s clear that there is a very long way to go…
How can others, both within and outside of the LGBTQ communities help?
Historically, there has been much disparity within the LGBTQ community which has led to infighting and held us back as a group. This year saw Stonewall’s Come Out For LGBT campaign, encouraging the various colours of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow to stand united and realise that we are all on the same side, with strength in numbers. The trans community is undeniably in the minority, but it should be remembered that it was trans women who led many of the charges during the gay rights movement in the late 70s and 80s, and that without that unified stand, progress would have been very much slower.
Allies are vital, and now is the time for us all to stand together, and make our collective voices heard. If you witness homophobia, transphobia or biphobia, speak out, make it clear that it’s not acceptable, and show support to those that aren’t strong enough to do so without you. It may seem like a small thing to you, but you could just be saving someone’s life.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
This is the first time in nine years that I haven’t just wrapped on a short film, which feels quite strange. Instead I’m focusing on writing my first feature film, which is a huge undertaking that definitely requires a lot more attention! I’m also editing an online short about cyber bullying, and I’m about to shoot another in March about trans teenagers and their daily experiences.
Otherwise, I’m shooting my first television role this week, playing a boxer in a short film in Spring, and I have a couple of scenes in the new Keira Knightley film, Colette, which is yet to have its UK premiere. But by far the biggest project is my upcoming wedding to my wonderful fiancée Hannah Winterbourne, the planning of which is surprisingly time consuming!
How are you celebrating LGBTHM?
My films are screening everywhere from Oxford University to banks, law firms and even to two prisons, so it’s really encouraging to see them getting out there and hopefully starting conversations about LGBT lives and experiences. Hannah and I are both patrons for the amazing and life saving Mermaids charity, working with transgender children and their families, and we both speak on trans issues and representation year-round. I firmly believe that every month should see some form of LGBTQ celebration and recognition until the day when it’s simply no longer needed and the acronym and labels cease to matter.
And lastly… have you got any details you’re willing to share about the wedding?
We’re having a Chelsea wedding, at the same place that Judy Garland got married, which we both rather like. Obviously with Hannah’s military background there will be an Army twist, so her friends will do a traditional “guard of honour”, holding their swords aloft for us to walk through, which should be fun!
We are doing a wedding on a tiny budget but so far have friends donating flowers, two amazing designers taking care of Hannah’s dress and my suit, my old pal and top photographer Paul Grace taking pictures, and a very talented friend making the cake. Hannah and I have never been about glitz and glamour, so it will be a very fun, laid back and informal affair with close friends and family.
As the big day approaches it’s all starting to feel very surreal, but I think that we both just realise how lucky we are to have found each other. I’m also very excited to finally call her my wife!