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From Berlin with Love 

MonGays at the Byrd celebrates Virginia Pride month through diverse queer films.

click to enlarge MonGays at the Byrd kicks off on Monday, June 6th with a screening of "Port Authority," (2019) an American-French drama written and directed by Danielle Lessovitz.

MonGays at the Byrd kicks off on Monday, June 6th with a screening of "Port Authority," (2019) an American-French drama written and directed by Danielle Lessovitz.

Pride month in Richmond always promises a full calendar of events across town celebrating and benefitting the LGBTQ community. And 2022 marks the third year Richmonders will experience MonGays at the Byrd Theatre, an ongoing queer film series sponsored by Virginia Pride as well as a rotating host of amazing local nonprofit organizations.

Each Monday during June, the Byrd will show a different queer film curated by that week’s sponsoring nonprofit organization. Audiences attend for a suggested donation of $10 at the door, with all proceeds benefiting the week’s sponsor.

Festival sponsors this year include Black Pride RVA, Richmond Triangle Players, Nationz Foundation, a public health outreach organization providing education and resources for HIV prevention and LGBTQ inclusive healthcare, and He She Ze and We, which offers community and support for families and caregivers of transgender and nonbinary youth.

Black Pride RVA has been a MonGays sponsor since the festival began in 2019. Rev. Lacette Cross, co-founder and director of Black Pride RVA, says that the decision-making process for the festival has been difficult each year, because it’s hard to find representation of both Black and LGBTQ identities that don’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

“We wanted to choose a film that was not typical, and we were also resisting the unconscious pigeonholing of what it means to be Black and LGBTQ as understood through film representation,” Cross explains. “Each year we have really endeavored to highlight an aspect of Black and LGBTQ life that people may not be as familiar with.”

In past years, Black Pride RVA has sponsored screenings of “Moonlight” and “Pariah,” both of which offer a more nuanced fictional perspective of queer Black love. But this year, they opted for a documentary, “Game Face,” which follows basketball player Terrence Clemens and MMA fighter Fallon Fox as they navigate the trials and difficulties of coming out as gay and trans, respectively, while pursuing their athletic careers.

“This is an aspect of LGBTQ life and of Blackness that is not featured, that’s not often explored, so we're excited to feature this film this year,” Cross adds, “ and look forward to engaging conversations or some lived experiences from folks that we can share after the film.”

This year’s festival includes a wide variety of genres. In addition to the real-life drama of “Game Face,” this month audiences can see “Port Authority,” a light-hearted drama about a young man who falls for a trans woman; “Saturday Church,” a fantasy-tinged musical drama about a teen struggling with gender identity; and the 1954 version of “A Star is Born,” starring gay icon Judy Garland.

MonGays creator Wyatt Gordon [also a Style Weekly contributor] says that involving his community partners and sponsors in festival decision-making in this way has been an important part of his vision since the very beginning.

“I felt like this film series could be a real opportunity to do some of that work out in the community and bring people in connection with all of these wonderful organizations that we have around town that folks just may not know of,” Gordon says.

He first encountered the idea for MonGays four years ago, while living in Berlin. There, a movie theater chain showed new queer films every week. “A ton of people would come out, they’d have a bar, they’d have drinks and whether the movie was good or the movie was bad, it was usually something new so nobody would even know,” Gordon recalls. “They would just come out and create this sense of community.”

After returning to Richmond, he wanted to find a way to bring that same sense of community to his hometown. When he realized there wasn’t a queer film festival in town yet, Gordon took it upon himself to fill that niche, and each year he says he strives to create a festival that represents the diversity of the LGBTQ community.

“I think this is a really wonderful way for folks across the entire spectrum of our community to come out and see a broad diversity of stories,” Gordon says, explaining that the term LGBTQ is, at the end of the day, merely a catchall label for anyone with one of the many diverse identities that fall outside of heteronormative standards.

“These stories go from people who are nonbinary to trans, who are queer, gay, lesbian. It's just kind of a collective because we’re all super different under this LGBTQ label,” he explains, which is what makes it a great opportunity to look beyond all the labels and trappings to the shared human experience of struggle, of acceptance. “These are things that resonate with people far beyond just the LGBTQ community. That type of thing that resonates with everyone.”

Rev. Cross adds that the festival is “a great way to watch a new film or see a familiar film but through different eyes, and to support amazing organizations. So I encourage people to come out and to be in community with each other and support this work happening in the greater Richmond area that centers the lives and experiences of LGBTQ folks.”

MonGays at The Byrd Film Festival Lineup:

“Port Authority,” sponsored by Nationz Foundation, screens June 6th at 7 p.m.

“Saturday Church,” sponsored by He She Ze and We, screens June 13th at 7 p.m.

“A Star is Born,” sponsored by Richmond Triangle Players, screens June 20th at 7 p.m.

“Game Face,” sponsored by Black Pride RVA, screens June 27th at 7 p.m.

For more information, visit vapride.org.

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