Documentaries

A firefighter, a weightlifter and a classical music conductor: Three LGTBQ trailblazers share their stories

From the New York City fire department’s first openly trans firefighter to a Black gay conductor who created the first orchestral drag show in Canada, these bold changemakers have chosen to live as their authentic selves and challenge preconceptions in their industries — sometimes at great personal and professional risk.

Documentaries highlight the triumphs of working in places where LGTBQ people haven’t historical been welcomed

Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser produced the first orchestral drag show in Canada. Its creation is shown in the documentary Disruptor Conductor. (CBC Docs/Disruptor Conductor )

In communities across Canada, June marks Pride Month, a time to celebrate and commemorate the history and contributions of LGTBQ people.

From the New York City fire department's first openly trans firefighter to a Black gay conductor who created the first orchestral drag show in Canada, these bold changemakers have chosen to live as their authentic selves and challenge preconceptions in their industries — sometimes at great personal and professional risk.

Watch the documentaries that follow their journeys on CBC Gem

Brooke Guinan: The FDNY's first openly trans firefighter

Brooke Guinan is the first openly trans woman in New York City’s fire department. She shares her story in the documentary Woman on Fire. (CBC Docs/Woman on Fire)

Brooke Guinan is a third generation firefighter. She's also the first openly trans firefighter in the New York City fire department. 

She's a trailblazer in a force that's dominated by men. There are more than 10,000 uniformed firefighters in the FDNY, and only about one per cent are women. 

At the first firehouse she worked at, Guinan says it was difficult to create relationships with the people she worked with because they didn't accept her. In the film, her father recounts how she was humiliated at a social event when one of her fellow firefighters poured a pitcher of beer on her head. 

Woman on Fire documents Guinan's journey as she challenges preconcieved notions of what it means to be transgender in her field and beyond. 

"It took a really long time for me to learn the fact that the limitations for the world around me didn't have to be mine," she says in the documentary. 

"That I could be limitless in the face of a world that wasn't prepared to understand me."

Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser: A conductor expanding access to live orchestral music 

Growing up in Calgary, Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser struggled with his sexuality. "I have often felt 'other' in my life," he says in the documentary Disruptor Conductor

Fortunately, he found comfort in classical music. And as an adult, he found his purpose as a conductor. 

Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser produced the first orchestral drag show in Canada. Its creation is shown in the documentary Disruptor Conductor. (CBC Docs/Disruptor Conductor )

"What music did for me then was very healing, so I know what it can do for people," says Bartholomew-Poyser. "I want people to be healed by the music that they hear when they come to my concerts."

Disruptor Conductor follows Bartholomew-Poyser as he works to bring live orchestral music to groups that may not have had access to it or have felt unwelcome in traditional classical music spaces. This includes young people, neurodiverse audiences, incarcerated individuals and members of the LGBTQ community. 

In the film, Bartholomew-Poyser collaborates with internationally renowned drag queen and classical violinist Thorgy Thor to create an orchestral drag show — the first of its kind — for Halifax Pride. 

"We're trying to bring music to everybody," he says. "We're trying to bring it out of the concert hall and just take it to wherever people are." 

Janae Kroczaleski: A weightlifter fighting stigma 

Janae Kroczaleski is a former U.S. marine, world-record weightlifter and competitive bodybuilder. After she was publicly outed as trans in 2015, and her biggest powerlifting sponsor dropped her, she made the decision to stop competing and transition. 

Janae Kroczaleski faced discrimination in competitive weightlifting when she was publicly outed. The former U.S. marine and world-record weightlifter shares her story in the documentary Transformer. (CBC Docs/Transformer)

The documentary Transformer follows Kroczaleski as she attempts to find her place in the world and reflects on her journey. 

While weightlifting was — and continues to be — a big part of her life, she says her participation in the sport as Matt "Kroc" Kroczaleski also helped her push down the feelings of wanting to transition. 

"I felt like the person I was, was completely constructed," she says. 

Today, Kroczaleski works as a public speaker and has opened her own gym. She shares her story with the hope that it will inspire others to live as their authentic selves. 

"The things I do and the way I live my life, if that stops even one kid from committing suicide or one family from disowning their child, then any sacrifices I have to make are well worth it." 

Watch these documentaries for free on CBC Gem.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Moya is an associate producer at CBC based in Toronto. She has worked in the local newsroom and with the CBC Docs digital team. She’s a graduate of the Toronto Metropolitan University and Sheridan College where she specialized in journalism and video production.

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