Check It is an incredibly powerful documentary, following the lives of several members of Check It, the only known openly GLBT gang in America. Living in DC and almost entirely African-American, these young people came together for survival, defending themselves against anti-gay violence and poverty. As Mo, a counselor who has worked with the gang remarks, “to be black is tough enough, but to be gay and black is a whole other level.”
It can be difficult watching these young people, kids really, do what they have to in order to survive. Some are involved in prostitution, working a section of K Street known for that business. The film gives two different perspectives on working K Street. The first is from Niyah, who carries a taser but otherwise seems to enjoy her work, calling it “fun and games”. The girls watch out for and protect each other, but also laugh and dance on the street. It feels like a big party; even when a police car drives by forcing two girls to quickly walk away, there’s a sense of fun about it, as though they’re doing something kind of naughty.
Tray reminds us of how serious and dangerous this work can be. A young man, he dons a dress and a wig to get enough money for rent. At one point he says, “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.” Later, he navigates the justice system to report a man who raped him. Because he doesn’t know the man’s name, it is a frustrating process.
Many of these young people were thrown out of their homes because of their sexuality, so they haven’t gotten beyond middle school; as Mo says, “they can barely read and write.” A few adults, though, give them a chance to better themselves. Several members participate in a summer fashion camp, which leads to a wonderful opportunity in New York. It’s great seeing them learn new skills and take their passion for fashion to another level. They also have to learn to control their anger, as they occasionally explode in verbal arguments. They’re learning valuable lessons that will hopefully save their lives.
The gang is quick to defend themselves if they’re attacked, and the film shows them in their violence, beating up opponents and robbing convenience stores. There’s a heartbreaking scene when they come across a fellow member who has been jumped, lying unconscious on the street. As police take charge, one member yells at them, his anger bursting out to the point where his friends have to restrain him. As Mo remarks, they’re “dealing with a lot of potential – potentially great or potentially dangerous.” The film shows both the good and the bad aspects of that potential.
As a white, middle class gay man, Check It really speaks to me. It reminds me that not every member of the GLBT community is as lucky as I am, and that the victories we’ve won aren’t yet enjoyed by everyone. Marriage equality doesn’t mean much if you have to work in prostitution just to survive. We still have a lot of work to do. The film is a powerful look at the ways sexuality, race, and class help reinforce inequality and discrimination. It’s not always easy to watch, but it’s definitely important and valuable to see it..
Charles Green is a freelance writer and editor based in Annapolis. His reviews appear in several publications, including Publishers Weekly and DC Metro Theater Arts.