Local Hero: Kalil Cohen

Kalil Cohen

"My passion is building community through art because I believe in the transformative power of storytelling as a tool for self-empowerment, education and cultivating connections."

Kalil Cohen is an artist advocate who uses his creative talent to organize and empower the transgender community. His work as a nationally touring educator, speaker, filmmaker, performer and founder of the Los Angeles Transgender Film Festival (LATFF) has positioned the 30 year old as a preeminent voice that continues to break barriers.

Recognizing that the transgender community lacked a media forum to present its own perspective, Mr. Cohen filled that void as founder of LATFF. He developed the annual event in 2009 to create a safe and empowering venue to showcase films that would otherwise go unnoticed, develop leadership and organization among the transgender community and to use media to educate others about the community's diversity. Since its inception, LATFF has grown from a one day festival with 200 attendees in 2009 to a three day festival of more than 700 attendees participating in film screenings, an award show, workshops, panel discussions and post-screening festivities held throughout Los Angeles in 2012. LATFF's international tour has also gained momentum. In 2009, LATFF offered one tour screening with 60 attendees. Last year, LATFF offered 13 tour screenings with an incredible increase of 1,000 in attendance.

Mr. Cohen's dedication to the LGBT community is further demonstrated through his work as a filmmaker. His four short films, "Queering Gender" (2005), "Queerer Than Thou" (2008), "The Next Gender Nation" (2010) and "So Pomo" (2012), have screened hundreds of times worldwide at academic conferences, film festivals and college campuses. The films have also been incorporated in college curriculum.

In addition, Mr. Cohen is an assistant programmer of Outfest: The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, teaches 20th century Jewish American history to youth, frequently speaks at conferences and workshops regarding gender identity at university campuses and currently serves as the director of the Southern California Region of The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring (WC/AR), a secular non-profit organization that promotes Jewish culture, the Yiddish language and progressive activism. As a rapper, Mr. Cohen performs politically conscious hip hop throughout the nation.

Mr. Cohen is a member of the Trans Inclusion Committee of JQ International, which works to promote inclusion of LGBT Jews. He is a contributing writer of the blog, "Oy Gay," and has been featured in publications such as "The Progressive," and on national news programs such as "Democracy Now!"

Mr. Cohen has won several recognitions, including being named a recipient of The Pride Award for Service and Dedication to the Transgender Community from Trans-Unity Pride in 2008. In 2009, his comedy, "Queerer Than Thou," was named Best of Fusion Shorts of Los Angeles' Fusion Film Festival and was voted grand prize winner of the 7th Annual One in Ten Film Festival shorts contest held at Pennsylvania State University. Mr. Cohen holds a master's degree in education.

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