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YouTube fundraiser launches gay-rights documentary

Using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Kickstarter, Ryan James Yezak raised $63,000 to make "Second Class Citizens."


Janet Kornblum


Posted on Jan 18, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 10:35 pm CDT

Tom West “nearly burst into tears” watching a video that chronicles the gay-rights movement, the fashion editor said in a tweet.

The video in question, simply titled “The Gay Rights Movement,” brings the viewer to an emotional crescendo as it chronicles several keystone moments in the last century.

And it does it all in under seven minutes.

The filmmaker, Ryan James Yezak, 23, is hoping this will be just a start. The short film is actually a fundraiser. Yezak aims to turn it into a full-length documentary, called Second Class Citizens. It’s a new turn for Yezak, who previously was better known on YouTube for his glittery remakes of Katy Perry and Rihanna videos as gay love stories.

Those videos now carry messages urging viewers to watch his newest work. Yezak wrote that he wants to move people toward change.

“I want to make a documentary that encompasses all areas in which we are discriminated against. The general population is not aware that discrimination against the gay community goes beyond marriage & bullying. There is far too much hate directed towards our community and I want to capture that hate on camera. In addition, I want to explore where this hate comes from, why it continues to exist, and what we must do to get rid of it. A better solution is needed because the solution we have right now isn’t working fast enough.”

The popularity of his video—as evidenced by sheer views on YouTube, Twitter callouts and Facebook users joining his page—paid off. By Tuesday afternoon, Yezak announced he’d met—and exceeded—his fundraising goal of $50,000.

Set to continually touching music, the video takes the viewer on  fast-paced journey through the gay rights movement, starting with historic footage denouncing “homosexuals.”

“Most Americans are repelled by the mere notion of homosexuality,” begins the video, showing Mike Wallace narrating a 1967 CBS report entitled “The Homosexual.”

“Two out of three Americans look upon homosexuals with disgust, discomfort or fear,” Wallace announces.

“The average homosexual is promiscuous,” he continues. “He’s not interested in or capable of a lasting relationship like that of the heterosexual marriage.”

The video lingers on the report, then shifts into more current-day clips. In rapid-fire succession it intersperses iconic footage of the gay rights movement and its detractors.

People will recognize several clips from prime-time television to the YouTube era: the eponymous character that Ellen DeGeneres played on TV announcing she’s gay; gay soldier Randy Phillips coming out to his dad just after the military lifted its de facto ban on gay soldiers.

It also references the shooting of Harvey Milk; the murder of Matthew Shepard; and denouncements of gays by the likes of Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. Gay blood-donation bans, gay suicide, Lady Gaga, Fred Phelps’ antigay church, and California’s same-sex-marriage ban all appear.

So far the video, posted Monday, has more than 300,000 views and counting. More than 5,000 have “liked” the film’s Facebook pag. As of Tuesday evening, the Twitter hashtag #SecondClassCitizens was gaining steam, especially after actor turned gay-rights activist George Takei tweeted it.

“This young filmmaker made my Spidey video,” he tweeted, referring to a campaign to have Takei play Spider-Man on Broadway. “If you watch one clip today, let it be this.”

The video’s YouTube page filled up with more than 8,000 comments—some raging against homosexuals, others arguing for people to recognize their shared humanity.

Yezak, funds in hand to make his documentary, hopes it will change the debate.

“I am not a second-class citizen,” he wrote. “You are not a second-class citizen. Right now, the laws in place (and lack thereof) say that we are. Let’s change that.”

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*First Published: Jan 18, 2012, 8:00 am CST