MODESTO -- A video about a safe place for Modesto lesbian and gay youth has found a popular place on the Internet.
The PLACE (People Learning Acceptance Creating Equality) was created six years ago by Modesto parents Elizabeth and Ed Plata as a youth group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth ages 14 to 20 and their allies. Two weeks ago, a video about the group was posted on YouTube and has garnered more than 44,000 views.
The video, which has no dialogue, features members of the group, alumni, parents and other relatives holding up signs about themselves and what The PLACE means to them. Filmed in November in one day by Modesto filmmakers Rob Brittain and Blake Gentry, the video's messages all handwritten on white posterboard range from lighthearted to touching.
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"We really didn't want to edit the young people's stories. We wanted them to speak for themselves," said Brittain, who is the youth pastor at College Avenue Congregational Church, where The PLACE meets. "And these aren't just sad stories. So many stories of (LGBTQ) youth are of sadness and bullying. But there are stories of hope and optimism here, too."
In one, a young woman holds a poster that reads, "The PLACE was there for me when my best friend wasn't."
In another, a father has written, "I fix machines all day, but I cannot fix my gay son because he is not broken."
A sister in yet another has a sign that reads, "My gay brother is almost as fabulous as me."
Elizabeth Plata said the idea for the project came up when talking with The Ill List co-founders Sam Pierstorff and Greg Edwards last fall. Plata and her husband's businesses long had been sponsors of the annual poetry slam competition. And this year, she said, they wanted to make The PLACE a co-sponsor as well.
The video was a way to promote the group and dispel stereotypes about LGBTQ youth. The plan was discussed with the group, and about 50 people volunteered to help. Those under age had consent forms signed by their parents. The PLACE has about 80 youth who take part, and 25 adults in its parent support group. Volunteers run the groups and help organize events.
Brittain, who directed the video, and Gentry, who served as cinematographer, worked for about a month to edit the footage down to the almost-eight-minute video. The finished product made its debut at The Ill List in the State Theatre on Dec. 10 to whoops and hollers from the crowd.
Then the project was posted to the video-sharing site YouTube on Jan. 24. It hovered at a little more than 1,000 views for several days until it was picked up by the online news site The Huffington Post. Since then, its views have skyrocketed from 10,000 to 20,000 to more than double that in less than two weeks.
The PLACE volunteer Holly Grace Palmer held up a sign saying "I live a life, not a lifestyle" in the piece. She said she was touched by everyone's signs and proud of the attention the project has received.
"I still want to cry when I see it and I feel so lucky to have a personal connection to each person in the video," she said. "I want people to know what a treasured resource we're sitting on right here in Modesto. There's a real lack (of) resources for LGBT youth in most cities, so I feel this is a special, special thing I want people to know about."
Over the years, The PLACE has helped more than 200 area youth. The group, which meets the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at College Avenue Congregational Church, is nonreligious and holds everything from movie nights to bingo tournaments to youth dances.
Plata, whose gay son is an alumni of the group, said she hopes the video inspires people in other communities to start groups.
"I want them to see that we're just a mom and dad who started a youth group. Anyone can do this. I hope they are given hope that something as simple as a youth group with people coming together and talking can make such a difference in people's lives."