We speak to the LGBTQ activist about Trump’s America, trans rights, and his Emmy-nominated docuseries Gaycation.
We sit down with LGBTQ activist and filmmaker Ian Daniel to discuss life in Trump’s America and the eye-opening docuseries Gaycation, which he cohosts with best friend and actress Ellen Page.
“We are living in a culture of fear right now, and that’s no different for the LGBTQ community,” says Ian Daniel when asked about recent challenges to equality in America. With a president attempting to ban trans individuals from the military, and a vice president who’s expressed support for barbaric gay conversion ‘therapy’, it’s no surprise that minorities are increasingly concerned for their rights.
But there’s a whole world of inequality out there that needs to be highlighted too, as Ian discovered during his time on Viceland docuseries Gaycation with co-host and best friend Ellen Page. The show took the pair to some of the most dangerous places to be gay, an experience that had a profound impact on Ian’s view of himself and the world around him.
Here, we sit down with the LGBTQ activist and filmmaker about growing up gay in America, the need for minority representation in the media, and our responsibility to help those less privileged than us… DM: How important is it for a person like yourself to be openly gay in front of the whole world? ID: That is a whopper of a first question! I think all public representations are very important because with representation comes awareness, comes acceptance, comes more freedom of expression. I think of the young people all around the world who watch my show, or who reach out to me, and I think about the fact that I’m on a show called Gaycation, and I’m a dude who says ‘I’m gay’, and I believe those things have an impact. Obviously it can be very dangerous for LGBTQ people in certain countries, and they risk their lives by coming out - it’s not even an option for those people, right? I also think about kids in Indiana, where I’m from, who watch my show or follow my social media, and I’m aware that this might give them some sense of hope for the future.
DM: What’s the climate like for LGBTQ people back home in Indiana?
ID: Well, it’s not great. Indiana is a Republican, conservative state that’s heavily influenced by ‘religious liberty’ values, which makes it difficult to be LGBTQ there and easy to discriminate against us. Acceptance has changed of course since I grew up there, where I was shamed into silence, but that shaming still exists. From kids I speak with there, I understand it’s still a real strule to be out and open in small-town America, but that is changing as young people open up, speak out, educate others in their families, communities and schools. Young people want a more open-minded, inclusive, loving society, I believe. They truly want to be healthy and happy, not depressed and hidden.
DM: LGBTQ people have most of their legal rights in America now, but do you ever worry that this will reverse?
ID: I’m not going to live in a state of worry, but I do think you always have to be aware and awake to the idea that things can shift really rapidly. We are living in a culture of fear right now, and that’s no different for the LGBTQ community. If you look at other countries, like India for example, when new governments come into place and the conservative movement gets more powerful,
laws can change very quickly. It’s great that we have same-sex marriage in America, but that kind of thing can be snatched away at any minute. So it’s about not taking things for granted, and it’s about looking at the bier picture around the world, and remembering that anything is possible.
DM: It does feel that there’s been a rise in this hateful rhetoric, do you think this is a direct result of Trump? ID: Any time in the public sphere you have language that is derogatory or dehumanising or demonising, it’s going to affect the way you think about those people. I think young people in general are very accepting, and want to live in a world that is free-flowing and fluid and open-minded and caring. I believe that at my core, and that’s where things are shifting. But when you see these outdated ideologies, outdated concepts, and outdated language, it penetrates our society. It gives people a license to discriminate. So if you’re not quite sure about LGBTQ people, and then you see negative things on television, you think, ‘Oh, well our president and vice president believe this, so I’m kind of going back in that direction’. It does shift things.
DM: Looking back on Gaycation, do you believe that experience changed you as a gay man?
ID: Oh, yeah! When Ellen [Page] asked me if I wanted to do the show, I was out within my group of friends, but my distant family and people I went to high school or college with didn’t necessarily know about my sexuality. I’m sure they were wondering, but it wasn’t part of my public identity. But the show sounded so powerful that it didn’t really concern me. I just thought, ‘What an amazing way to liberate that part of myself while learning from so many people around the world’. That whole experience made me reflect on all the things I’m grateful for, and the way I can walk down the street with a certain freedom in this body that I have, which isn’t available to people in many countries. I’m also awakening to the ways in which we as LGBTQ people have been shamed and shunned and how that affects us all.
DM: The situation has been dire for LGBTQ people in Chechnya, where gay men have been kidnapped, tortured and even murdered for their sexuality. How much of a responsibility do governments in more progressive countries like America have to intervene with these abuses?
ID: Our government has the power to shape culture globally by expressing zero tolerance for LGBTQ oppression and by providing support and more opportunities for achieving asylum here. Sadly, it seems the Trump administration isn’t showing real support for LGBTQ people in our own country. The rise of this persecution in many countries abroad and the fact that there are few places to turn for refuge in the world makes for a harsh situation for many. Couple that with the Trump administration’s travel ban and immigration policies, and it would seem like an increasingly hopeless message for refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers. Even when asylum is achieved, it’s still difficult to survive. But of course there’s hope. We have to create it. It’s our duty to do what we can to thrive ourselves, open our arms, speak up, push back, and give back.
DM: You’ve said yourself that you speak from a place of privilege in certain ways, but how can we help people who don’t have this privilege? ID: Well you help them first by listening to them. I think if you talk to cis gay white men, a lot of them don’t actually know many trans people on a personal level. Part of the gift of Gaycation was that I got to meet so many trans people and gender non-conforming people and they were able to tell me what they were going through, and what they needed. So I think on some level we need to wake up to each other’s experiences. I really think it’s about listening and allowing them to tell you how to best support them - and if you have the resources to support them, then find ways to give their experience priority.