HRC Blog

Film Your Issue: From Bored College Student to LGBT Activist

This guest post is from HRC's Media Production Manager, Ben Shallenberger: Ben-LGTwo years ago today, I was sitting around my dorm room with nothing to do. So I did what any other college student does when they have free time. I logged onto YouTube. Among watching the latest music videos and performances, I came across an ad for a video competition called “Film Your Issue.” The directions were simple enough. “In 2 minutes or less, talk about an issue that’s important to you.” There were a number of categories, including environment, education, poverty, and LGBT issues. It sounded like something completely doable. At the time I wasn’t involved in any kind of activism. I didn’t even participate in my school’s GSA. But I knew I had a story to tell, and here was my avenue to tell it. The next Sunday, I checked out the camera from my school’s communications department, and got to filming. I wrote a poem about the personal struggle with being gay and a Christian. I spoke from the heart about my experiences. The whole thing took under 4 hours, but the effects of it will last forever. I posted the video on YouTube, and watched as it got hit after hit. I got a call a few weeks later telling me that I was selected to receive the Human Rights Campaign award for my video. Film Your Issue flew me out to LA for the Awards Ceremony, where I met Anastasia Khoo, HRC’s marketing director. Later on that summer she helped get me an internship in the Media Center, which then led to a full-time job, and I’ve been here ever since.

I’m always amazed that when I Google my name, there are tons of websites that link back to my video. I’m grateful to Film Your Issue for the opportunity to be heard. But the most important thing to come from this experience was the conversation it opened with my family and friends. The issues I talked about it my video were so real to me, and I felt them on a daily basis, but I never had the courage to talk openly about them. The video I created was a jumping off point to communicating my passions and fears with those I love. My family was not aware that their inaction and ignorance on certain issues wasn’t just hurting me, but they’re hurting an entire community. Now I have many voices resonating with me when I speak out. I’ve heard that the worst thing that can happen to a movement is for people to be silent. It’s time to demand equality. It’s time to make our voices heard. This year, Film Your Issue has announced 2 different opportunities. You can submit a video up to 3 minutes in length describing the need for ENDA, a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, immigration reform, or any other matter. FYI is also having their first song competition. Record an original song speaking about any issue and enter through their website. To find out more, visit The prizes they offer are incredible. The connections you’ll make through it are unmatched. But the message you send is what counts most of all. And it might open doors for you that you’ve never noticed before.

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