Student involved in video advocating for anti-discrimination documentary

Justin Dennis's picture

discrimination, documentary, film, gay rights, human rights, I want to know what it's like, Issue 22, Jordan Vega, Justin Dennis, KickStarter, lgbt rights, News, News, Ryan James Yezak, Second Class Citizens - By Justin Dennis on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 02:34

Junior Jordan Vega was recently in a video on YouTube called “I Want To Know What It’s Like,” which has garnered over half a million views and is promoting an upcoming documentary, Second Class Citizens, by director and producer Ryan James Yezak. The promotional video features several people reciting a piece of slam poetry written by Yezak with the intended goal of raising awareness of the many issues facing those who are affected by discrimination.

Vega hopes that the video and documentary will break down existing stereotypes about homosexual people. “There’s that stereotypical homosexual, and, really, that stereotype doesn’t exist at all,” Vega said. “There’re so many different alterations, so many different types of people, and I hope this video just brings awareness to others who don’t really know what it’s like so that they can get a sense of what it’s like to be discriminated against or treated as a second class citizen.”

While a major part of the video and documentary focus on gay rights, Yezak wants it to apply to anyone affects by discrimination. “I wanted [the promotional video] to be all encompassing as to what people experience as a part of these inequalities,” Yezak said. “These are some of the things that not all of us will experience.”

Vega and his boyfriend, Jackson Gonsalves, both took part in the promotional video after Yezak reached out on Facebook for volunteers.

“Jordan was awesome,” Yezak said. “Both he and Jackson together were very easy to work with—very passionate about what they were doing.”

The video that Vega was in is only one of four promotional videos put on by Yezak in an effort to raise attention to his Kickstarter project intended to fund his upcoming documentary, Second Class Citizens. Kickstarter is a website which allows anybody to pledge money towards a specific project in return for special rewards related to the project. Although he started with an initial goal of raising $50,000, he ended up raising over $175,000.

While Yezak and Vega both stated that there has been a substantial amount of positive feedback from “I Want To Know What It’s Like” and Second Class Citizen, there has also been a fair amount of hatred directed towards them as well, as evidenced by some of the YouTube comments on “I Want To Know What It’s Like” that refer to those involved as “faggots” or other derogatory terms. Many of these comments have since been removed.

“You’ll always have those people who are resistant and will want to go against it—what you could call your ‘haters,’” Yezak said.

Shooting for the documentary should begin in a few weeks, and in the meantime, Yezak is still looking for cast members who are currently facing discrimination of some kind. “Too many documentaries are done in retrospect,” Yezak said. “I want to try and capture this inequality that exists so presently; I want to capture it in the raw as it exists … I want people to say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that is going on,’ or ‘Wow, I want to do something to help.’”

The documentary, as the name implies, aims to highlight how certain kinds of people are currently treated as second-class citizens in the United States. “My main goal [with the documentary] is that we become equal citizens to everyone else, and that’s an unrealistic goal for one film to have, but I do hope to contribute to that overall goal,” Yezak said. “I hope to ignite this fire that is in me and everyone else—and it is ignited in some people—but a lot of people out there are dormant and not working towards equal rights.”

Yezak has worked on many short films and music videos, but this will be his first full-length feature film. He graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Radio Television and Film and later moved to California and got a job with MTV where he worked for 21 months. His documentary is inspired by his own personal experiences of growing up as a homosexual person.

“The trouble I had was that it took me so long to realize who I was because of how I viewed myself, because of how my society viewed me, my family, my government—all these things influenced me that I had no control over,” Yezak said. “So when I finally started to figure out who I was when I was 19, so much time had been wasted of me being someone else. [My advice is to] just figure out who you are and be yourself.”

Vega faced similar discrimination in high school as a wrestler, and continues to face discrimination as a collegiate athlete at Whittier competing in both track and field and cross-country.

“[At Whittier College,] I’ve definitely heard—a lot actually—the word “gay” or “faggot” being used in a bad way,” Vega said. “There are some who don’t like to be a part of it or appear that way, but one of my main goals for sports is to break down those stereotypes and make it so that being gay won’t even be an issue in the future.”

Having been on the team for a while and garnering some seniority, Vega hopes to stop the discrimination against homosexual people in sports and encourages people of any sexual orientation not to let others keep them from competing in sports. “Yeah, it’s difficult,” Vega said. “But in the end, when you get recognized for something, it’s going to mean so much more … Don’t let anyone hold you back, just focus and train hard because, when it comes down to it, whoever puts in the most time, effort and hard work definitely gets the best results.”

If you are being discriminated against and want to be considered for the documentary, or just have a question or want to offer support for Yezak, feel free to e-mail him at ryanyezak@gmail.com.