When he put out the call for a social gathering of LGBTQ Local 600 members and their supporters in New York City, Camera Operator Julien Zeitouni had no idea how many people would be interested. But when the 25 people showed up at the Whale in New York’s Bushwick neighborhood, Zeitouni quickly realized that the new group was filling an important need.
“It was very inspiring,” Queer Group Founder Zeitouni said of that first meeting held in June of 2019. “People came up to me and said, ‘It’s really cool that you’re starting this. It’s about time.’”
The Queer Group’s first gathering.
“Even though we’re called the Queer Group, the group is for everybody, and we really need allies,” he continued. “The goal of the group is to make sure that queer members are more visible and that we can have our priorities and needs considered.”
That first gathering led to a second event – a summer barbecue – followed by an evening of short films held at ARRI Rental in December. The COVID-19 pandemic may have put the group’s activities on pause, but Zeitouni is mapping out plans for the group’s next event — a panel discussion on the experience of being queer on the set: yesterday, today and tomorrow.
An evening of short films at ARRI Rental this past December.
Zeitouni hopes the motion picture and television industry will continue to adapt to make it easier for individuals to be open about their sexuality on sets and not have to listen to insensitive remarks or jokes.
“I don’t think people act with bad intentions,” Zeitouni said. “Someone will make a joke that’s not necessarily homophobic, but it will have that connotation. Co-workers don’t know how to react to that. I don’t want to be silent anymore.”
There is a certain appropriateness that the one-year anniversary of the group’s formation falls during Pride Month that has also seen the U.S. Supreme Court hand down a decision that protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees from being discriminated against based on their gender identity and sexual orientation. The merging of LGBTQ support with Black Lives Matters demonstrations has helped spread important messages as well.
Modeling themselves on the Local 600 Women’s Group, Zeitouni envisions the Queer Group as a place where members can exchange ideas and set priorities while also offering social opportunities for all members and allies of the LGBTQ community. Zeitouni introduced the group at the October 2019 National Executive Board (NEB) meeting. The group is a sub-committee of the Local 600 Diversity Committee and has a budget carved out for events and activities.
“They’re working on updating the union’s Constitution & Bylaws to make the wording more gender-neutral and inclusive,” said Zeitouni. “I think that’s a sign of support.”
Zeitouni was raised in France where he also studied at the Nouvelle Sorbonne and at the ESRA Film School in Paris. He joined the union in 2007 as a first assistant and spent 13 years as a first assistant before transitioning to camera operator.
Crew members on Coming Out Day 2019.
Zeitouni has found professional mentors while working on such shows as Power, Mozart in the Jungle and Madam Secretary where he worked with Directors of Photography Learan Kahanov and National Assistant Secretary-Treasurer Jamie Silverstein.
“I am always grateful to the DPs who have helped me out,” Zeitouni said. “I came into this union thinking you have to climb the ladder, but you need help to be able to do it. These DPs have really helped me gain more confidence.”