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'We need to see ourselves': Film highlights Albuquerque's rich LGBTQ history

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Courtesy of StormMiguel Florez.
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Still taken from 'The Whistle' trailer.

Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, Albuquerque’s lesbian scene used a secret whistle to keep one another safe. Now, filmmaker StormMiguel Florez aims to document that very special part of New Mexico’s LGBTQ history slowly being lost to time.

His documentary ‘The Whistle’ premieres on New Mexico PBS April 21st, 2022. KUNM sat down with Florez to learn more about the codes young lesbians once used to communicate.

STORMMIGUEL FLOREZ: One of those codes was a whistle. That was a sound, a very high pitch sound, that you made by pursing your lips and sucking in. It was a really unique thing because it was something you had to learn how to do. It was like a rite of passage just to learn it. It's kind of a hard whistle to learn. It was also something that, if your ear wasn't trained for it, or listening for it, you didn't hear it. So, it was a really great way for us to call and respond to each other out in public, whether it was people we knew, or people we didn't know, but suspected and wanted to see if they responded. It was actually very effective. That's why it's called: 'The Whistle.' But, the film is about much more than the whistle. It's more about the community and the ways that they came together.

KUNM: Where did the inspiration come from to focus specifically on this history?

FLOREZ: It's also my story. I am trans and grew up in Albuquerque and came out as a lesbian, which I no longer identify as anymore. But, when I was young, I came out as a lesbian and that was the community that I came out into. I came out my freshman year in high school in 1987. This is about my community. There's people that I'm still in touch with and we reminisce and talk about things and it just came up that we should make a movie about this. My high school girlfriend, partner, was always so fascinated by our stories, it was like: "Y'all need to talk about this on camera, you need to make a movie." I'm an editor and have co-produced films and made short films and decided to go ahead and give it a try to make my first feature documentary. This was it.

KUNM: When we talk about film and television, it's really hard not to bring up the disparities and representation that currently exist within LGBTQ+ and non-white communities in the industry, particularly. Why is it crucial now, more than ever, to shed light on these groups?

FLOREZ: We need to see ourselves. So many of us in the LGBTQ and BIPOC communities are so used to having to read ourselves into characters that actually don't look like us. It's time for us to actually be able to see ourselves represented. The field is still white-dominated, it's still straight-dominated. I am the lead programmer of the Seattle Translations Transgender Film Festival, and one of the things I noticed is that all of the narrative feature films about trans people, almost all of them, 95% of them that we get are by cis people. We're not out there really representing ourselves and there have been some great films by cis people that represent trans people, but not enough. When it comes from within community, and we know how to represent ourselves, we know what our stories are, we know what we're interested in. We know how to make films by ourselves. For us, it's really important for us to actually have access to that and get funding for that and all of those things. This is one of those films too. This isn't necessarily a "trans film," but it is coming from within the community. The stories are coming from connection to community, which I think really creates true representation.

KUNM: Are you working on anything for the future?

FLOREZ: Yes, I am. My next project is actually going to be a mockumentary, and it's called "Welcome to Roswell" and it's in the development stages. A trans filmmaker goes to Roswell to come out to their family to film it all and ends up getting sidetracked by his partner's obsession with the UFO crash of 1947. That is what I can say about that! We're in the early stages of development. It's going to be a really fun project. I have family in Roswell and I'm really excited to get into that.

KUNM: All right. Well, I'm looking forward to watching it. Thanks for taking the time to join us today.

FLOREZ: All right, thank you so much.

Bryce Dix is our new local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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