Chicago may soon get due credit for having one of the most active and diverse transgender populations in the country. Locally based cable production company Towers Productions is looking for transgender youth for a new TV series, slotted to air as soon as early next year.
The series, still in early stages of development, will follow between four and seven transgender people 18-24 as they navigate life in the city.
"We're looking for fascinating personal stories," said Towers Productions VP of Development and Executive Director Mike Schmiedeler.
Schmiedeler and crew are working with the West Side AIDS prevention organization,Taskforce Prevention and Community Services to cast young Chicagoans for the show. The organization was featured on a Towers Production series in 2006 called Runaways, which aired on MSNBC. That series followed a young transgender Chicagoan, Angie, who went to Taskforce for services.
According to Schmeiedeler, Angie's story elicited the strongest reaction from audiences.
"Producers were like 'Man, I could make a whole series just on Angie,'" Schmiedeler said. "That idea kind of stuck with us."
Alicia Ozier, the executive director of Taskforce Prevention and Community Services, is casting the show with Towers. She said the show is an opportunity to educate mainstream audiences on transgender issues.
"It's still difficult for youth to be accepted within their churches, within their communities," Ozier said. "In this case, I think that it will be an opportunity for the larger community to learn."
Buzz has been circulating for weeks that the show is slotted to air on MTV, a rumor that neither Ozier nor Schmiedeler would confirm or deny. Schmiedeler said that the company will likely pitch the series to MTV, but said the show is still in development and no deals have been made. Regardless, the series expected to be picked up by a major national network.
According to Ozier, the series will be at least four episodes and feature transgender youth from a diversity of backgrounds. Producers hope it will air early next year.
The show could highlight some of unique realities facing transgender Chicagoans. In a recent National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce survey, Chicago faired a percentage point worse than the rest of the country when it came to workplace discrimination, with 27 percent of respondents saying they had been fired for being transgender. However, a myriad of happenings in recent years have also put Chicago at the forefront of national transgender issues. The Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois makes Chicago the first city with a law firm providing pro bono holistic criminal legal defense to transgender people. In late 2009, transgender Chicagoan Helena Bushong became the first trans woman of color ever to attend an official White House strategy meeting. The efforts of youth organizers, like direct-action organization Gender JUST, have also spotlighted issues facing young trans people in Chicago on a national scale.
How and if those realities will be portrayed on TV remains unclear, but Ozier says she trusts Towers to portray cast members respectfully because of the way the company handled Runaways.
"This is a fantastic opportunity when a production company has the ability to understand different types of material and they see the compelling story and they take a risk to present a story differently than what people are used to seeing on television," she said.
According to Schmiedler, it's not just community that makes Chicago an attractive setting for the upcoming show. It's really about geography.
"There is a big presence of East and West coasts on TV," Schmiedeler told Windy City Times. "The networks, they're looking for real peopleand not necessarily New York and L.A. all the time."
Still, like Angie's story, he thinks the show will be relatable to people across the nation. "It's a story that everyone can relate to because everyone struggles with something," he said.
Towers Productions is hosting an open call Thursday, June 16. Anyone interested in auditioning can call Taskforce Prevention and Services at 773-473-4100.