By Charlotte Roi
Hollywood, CA (The Hollywood Times) 10/11/2018 – ‘You just need to be who you are,’ says Savannah, a 13 year old girl who just recently came out as gay. We watch her joyfully rapping and talking about her dream to become an animator at Disney and being a Highland Scottish dancer. She is full of joy and charisma. But under the surface there’s frustration of not being accepted in the community she grew up in.
Savannah and her parents live in Utah and they are members of Mormon church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). While her mom and dad are accepting of her sexual orientation the church and some of its members have turned their backs on her.
Being the inspirational and brave person that she is, she doesn’t let it bring her down, quite the opposite- she has become a very prominent member and activist of the LGBTQ youth groups and it is heart warming to watch these intelligent kids celebrating life and embracing their sexual identity.
Room To Grow premiers on the October 11th and I had the pleasure to talk to Damian Pelliccione- the CEO of the streaming network that provides LGBTQ content not only in The US but all around the world.
Charlotte: First of all I wanna say how much I enjoyed ROOM TO GROW and how inspiring and eye opening it is. And I think it’s so amazing that there’s a streaming website that supports and focuses on LGBTQ community. So my question is- how did this idea come to you?
Damian: Thank you. So Revry actually began about three years ago in October 2015. When the Apple television- the fourth generation TV came to market. That was when Apple created a unique operating system called TiVo app for developers to create unique application for big screen television. So when me and my partner searched bought Apple TV and I searched for LGBTQ and nothing came up and then we had this really big idea to create Revry. And then from there Alia, LaShawn, Chris ( my three co- founders) and myself got together in my living room where all startups begins and started creating the identity of the brand and found developers and a little bit of investment and created the app. We didn’t stop at just Apple TV, we created apps for Roku, Android, Chromecast, iOs, Amazon Fire, the web. etc.
Today Revry reaches over 35 million homes in over 100 countries and we now have not just applications of our own but live channel son some virtual, and cable networks like a XUMO, Pluto, etc.
Charlotte: Why do you think is it important to tell stories like that- about young teenagers and they struggles to come out?
Damian: I think the importance of series like Room To Grow and telling coming out stories from children who are 10 years old and you know, teenagers, even one character in one of the episodes who is 18 is because it’s a different experience today than it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago and 30 years ago. It has to do with the idea that gender is not the same thing anymore, gender identity is not the same anymore. Orientation is based on culture and that’s something you see in the story and I think culturally we’re an extremely diverse group. Both in our business practice but also with the content that we create and invest and also with the series Room To Grow. And I think it’s important because you see all walks of life, all gender identities, orientations, all intersectionalities within our community and our community is not one thing. And I think that’s the biggest and most important thing that I want to emphasize is that we represent such a beautiful rainbow of stories that there’s a lot that have still yet to have been told. And I think that’s something that is very authentic and organic with the Room To Grow series. And I will say this is Revry’s first original Instagram TV series. So we will be launching it on Instagram and the Revry channels, but it is our first Instagram TV original.
Charlotte: What personally inspires you the most in this documentary series?
Damian: I think the thing that inspires me the most is just the strength and will of these characters. I mean these kids I’ve had an opportunity to engage with personally-we have a feature behind this, but we premiered the feature at Outfest and we flew most of the kids out with their families and had a wonderful opportunity to meet them and spend time with them both in the studio and even outside and they’re just some of the most amazing, strong willed beautiful people that I’ve ever met who are unapologetically telling their story for the greater good. We’re a cause and mission driven business at Revry. And the characters and the stories that we tell are a part of that, you know, and our mission is simple- it’s all gender identities, all races, all cultures, all walks of life, all intersectionalities and all sexual orientation. We want to celebrate that and uplift, inspire others to live their true self. I think that’s the most important thing with Room To Grow. It’s inspired me. It’s inspired my team, you know, it’s the inspired the founders and Co founders. And these are important stories to tell, especially in today’s political climate here in the United States.
Charlotte: In the documentary Savannah said that being gay wasn’t a choice or a fad. What are your thoughts on this? Because I know a lot of people who have very different opinions when it comes down to whether you’re born that way or you choose to be that way. What do you think?
Damian: As a Proud gay man myself, as a proud gay CEO- I believe that I was born this way and I think a lot of queer people would attest to similar statement. I think about the experience personally that I had with coming out. I came out when I was 21 years old. It was roughly around that time that I was going away to college and it was a very organic experience. I was lucky. I had a very accepting family. I’m from Toronto, Canada originally and I remember going home and telling my mother and like any good Italian mother, the first two things she said were- don’t get sick and am I going to be a grandmother? And I said, don’t worry, I’m smart enough not to get sick and yes, of course I do want to have children and procreate, so you’re going to have to bear with me and I don’t know when that’ll be, but it’ll definitely happen. And I’ll tell you, one of my co-founders, Chris Rodriguez, that he is also my partner of eleven years. We started this business together with our two best friends and our families are very different. He comes from a Latino conservative Republican family from the Valley. I come from a very liberal Canadian Italian family. We both love food and family, very much. They get along swimmingly- our dad’s found golfing together, our moms are best friends, spent so many different holidays together. So it’s been a wonderful journey that we’ve had in our experience, which is not the norm. And we realized that, but I think I think times are changing opinions and attitudes towards our community are changing, falling in the right direction. I mean, just this year, the past couple of months, India decriminalized LGBTQ, Hong Kong recognized civil unions. There’s so much happening internationally and the movement of our community, that inspires me every day because there are stories to be told in those areas and Revry is going to seek those out and up level them and highlight them and create content around that because it’s so important for the future of this movement, not just in our own backyard, but the international as well.
Charlotte: Absolutely. You were very lucky that your parents were extremely understanding, but what would you recommend to young teenagers who struggle with judgmental family members and people around them?
Damian: I think my one message to those who struggle with the lack of acceptance- just know that you’re not alone. There are so many people out there just like you. Your life has value and meaning and you are loved. I think that’s the most important message that I can give anyone in the world who is struggling with their identity and there are communities and organizations like Trevor Project, HRC based here in the United States who are there to support you, and there are companies like Revry where we want to give you a voice if you’re a creative musician, artist, filmmaker, a blogger, you name it. We also have hired an LGBTQ and allied staff, because people can live their true lives and their identity through their work in a creative space at a wonderful company like Revry. I think there are more companies who are moving towards that. We have a mission, we have a cause at Revry that’s so much greater than ourselves. And I’ll give you one quick example. When we first launched, we started to get an influx of messages on social media from all around the world from queer kids who were discovering Revry. And one that really stands out to me that is framed in my office still to this day. It’s from a young queer man in Saudi Arabia. He wrote me from an anonymous LinkedIn profile and it’s saying: ‘ I’m Muslim and I downloaded your app and it gave me so much hope that one day I will live my true authentic self and live the life I want to, but I live in a part of the world where that’s not okay.’ And it was the first time he said that he saw a gay film. Never even knew they existed because there are censorship laws in a lot of these different parts of the world that weren’t even allowed the existence of the word lesbian or gay. And so that changed my life as a leader of a business that is LGBTQ because I started to realize that the purpose and the mission of this company was so much greater than my own back yard, that we were changing hearts and minds all over the world and there’s no greater joy that I can get from what I do than that.
Charlotte: As you said it’s changing rapidly and people are becoming more and more open-minded. But what do you think is the biggest issue that LGBTQ community has to deal with right now?
Damian: I think, at least domestically, it’s things I’m trying to stay away from, but obviously the political climate and the supreme court process and fighting in our own backyard now to make sure that we don’t lose all the work and all the rights that we’ve spent so much time fighting for. Internationally, I think, just having the existence of those rights and understanding that the community exists. 20% of millennials identify as LGBTQ and 52% of generation generations will not declare a gender or sexual orientation. They want to be non-binary. They don’t want to be labeled, they’re going to fall somewhere in the queer spectrum or be part of our communities organically. And so as those communities start to rise, it’s important that the rights follow and how does that work? It goes back to the days of Harvey Milk: ‘Come out, come out wherever you are! ‘. Because visibility is most important. That’s an important thing to have and to show as you start to fight for your rights. And we have visibility in United States, but there’s still a lot of countries across the globe that do not have it.
Charlotte: The episode that I watched, it hit me personally because one of my best friends, she was affiliated with Mormon church and because of that, it took her very long to come out. But she finally did it and I’m very blessed to know this amazing person and I’m very happy to see her enjoying life to its fullest. Seems like religion makes the experience of coming out even harder than it already is. Families and friendships fall apart. What are your thoughts on this? Is it possible to make it work?
Damian: I have Mormon friends, their hearts and minds are starting to change and having great allies with big audiences and big influence like Dan Reynolds has with Imagine Dragons are very important. When it comes to acceptance and religious freedom and when it comes to acceptance from religious families, I think that if you are a very traditional religious person, yes, it’s going to be hard for you to accept modernization of your faith. It has to happen because if it doesn’t, you’re just going to be the minority. Right? So like for instance, I give the example of the Bible or the Koran or any religious book- they were written so long ago that there is no update. There’s no modernization. There’s no room for interpretation. That’s unfortunate because we are not the same people we were, like I said 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 50 or 1000 years ago. And so how could we still live by the same God given rules and regulations that our faith dictates that were passed down from so many years prior to our existence. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s not logical. I think intelligent, smart, educated people of faith accept everyone for who they are and if they don’t, then that’s just blind ignorance because they’re not opening themselves up to the world.
Room To Grow, Premiers on Revry October 11th