Michael Rohrbaugh is a writer, director, editor and social activist. Name a cause and he’s probably donated his time and talent to it. Most recently, he produced the gun control PSA New School Uniform in response to the Sandy Hook shootings. He’s also involved with the Fair Games Project, which is using Russia’s anti-gay laws and the Sochi Winter Olympics as a means of opening the conversation about gay rights on a global scale. Michael is currently working in Kenya, teaching high school students about filmmaking.
Why is the issue of gun control so important to you?
Gun reform is an important issue because so many innocent lives hang in the balance. I believe it’s our duty to foster a safe society for our friends and family. However, the longer we stall on sensible reform, the longer we put our loved ones at risk, which is why holding our leaders accountable and demanding sensible reform is such an urgent priority.
What kind of feedback did you receive from your PSA?
It was incredible. When we set out to create the piece, we never imagined the kind of impact and coverage it would receive. Our goal was to hold a mirror up to the world and pose a simple question: Is Sandy Hook the new normal we have come to accept for our kids? And for many Americans, this was a message that seemed to resonate.
Tell us about The Fair Games Project.
There are 77 nations in the world where being gay remains a crime, in some cases punishable by forced labor, lifelong prison sentences and even execution. With The Fair Games Project, we aim to create a viral PSA that holds these nations accountable, provokes discussion and helps strengthen the cause of global gay rights.
You’re raising money for the Fair Games Project. Where are the donations going?
FGP donations will go toward funding the video’s production, post-production and launch. These costs include everything from renting trucks and equipment to feeding our cast and crew to promoting and sharing the piece upon completion. Fortunately, FGP has received fiscal sponsorship via a 501(c) nonprofit, which means all donations made through our Indiegogo page are now completely tax-deductible. We hope people will take a moment to learn about our efforts and find out how they can help. These next few months offer a historic opportunity to advance global gay rights, and FGP is one easy way to be part of that effort.
Why do you think boycotting the Winter Olympics is not the way to go?
Russia doesn’t realize it yet, but in the long run, they’ve actually done gay rights a huge favor. With the whole world watching, the 2014 Olympics offers an amazing opportunity to focus attention on global gay rights. I believe an Olympic boycott would do us all a great disservice.
How can the average citizen try to make a difference in the anti-gay laws around the world?
There a million different ways the average citizen can make a difference. Many anti-gay nations are so repressive that even the slightest show of LGBT support can place a person in danger. In fact, Kenya, where I’m currently working, is, unfortunately, one such place. Change starts with awareness and public support, which gradually creates a shift in cultural attitudes, and finally a shift in policy. When we look at the change America has experienced over the past 20 years, that seems to be the trajectory we see.
Tell us about the work you are doing in Kenya.
I’m here in Kenya working with an organization called Y-Fi Africa, which seeks to inspire the next generation of African filmmakers. Operating with a grant from Google, Y-Fi brought me in to lead a two-week filmmaking workshop, where I taught Kenyan high school students how to create PSAs, music videos and short films. Film is an amazing tool for inspiring social change, and part of our goal was to provide them with those tools. For instance, most of the kids had at one time experienced corporal punishment in their schools. So to address this issue, several of them decided to make a PSA urging the government to better enforce its corporal punishment ban.
Why do you choose to get involved with so many causes?
I don’t know. My parents both work in the medical profession, my sister’s a documentary filmmaker and my grandfather was a fourth-generation minister, belonging to a denomination at the forefront of desegregation and gay marriage. Coming from that type of family, more and more I’ve wanted to find a way I could also be of service. Plus, I definitely have an activist streak in me. What can I say? I like to buck the system.