Camp Buddy From 30 Years Ago Sparks Change In Greensboro, NCFriday 27, February 2009
By Debra Chasnoff, President/Senior Producer | Screenings, Straightlaced
Audience reactions to the Greensboro, NC premiere of
Straightlaced — How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up.
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In the 1970s, I was a counselor at Camp Rim Rock in Yellow Springs, West Virginia. In 1977, the last year I was there, I was an assistant head of the camp along with a young woman named Annette Green. I never thought I would see her again, but last week we reconnected for the first time.
Turns out that Annette got married to her high school sweetheart David, and moved to North Carolina to raise a family with him. She became a teacher and taught for 20 years in a relatively progressive school in Greensboro. And then she got involved in local efforts to get schools to address anti-gay prejudice. She came across our Respect for All Project films, recognized my name as one of her old camp buddies, and got in touch.
Long story short, thanks to Annette and about 15 organizations here, I was invited to go to Greensboro to show our films and provide support to local teachers, guidance counselors and ed school students. I asked Annette how she ended up doing this work. “Well, she said, everyone assumes that if I care about this issue that either I must be gay or one of my children must be. Neither is true. But what happened is while I was teaching, I saw that every kind of prejudice was deemed unacceptable in our school. Except for anti-gay prejudice. And I just think that’s wrong. So I decided to focus on changing that.” Today Annette is the co-chair of G-Safe: Gay Straight Advocates For Education.
My first stop was to screen It’s Still Elementary and That’s a Family! at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical Institute, one of the country’s historically black colleges (Jesse Jackson is an alum). Sixty education school students and teachers attended and I could tell, that for many of them, this was the first time they had had a chance to talk about the issues in our films with their peers. The conversation was fascinating and you could feel the culture change starting to percolate in the room.
Many of the students self-identified as Christians whose churches teach that homosexuality is a sin and that gay people will go to hell. “I’m struggling to understand the dividing line between ‘respect’ and ‘indoctrination’,” one woman said, but now I think I see that even if I don’t like the behavior I still have a responsibility to all of my students to make sure they are safe and respected.” “YES!” I thought. Here it starts.
“I really related to That’s a Family!” several people said. “Like those students in the film, I was raised by my grandmother.” “I know what it’s like not to have a father and to have everyone ask questions.” “I was adopted by white parents—man I wish we had this film when I was growing up.”
As is often the case, the diversity of family structures in TAF always leads to important dialogue about social justice issues affecting local families. “We have a huge issue here with immigrant families, with anyone for whom English isn’t a first language, – Maria Teresa, an education professor at NCA&T, explained. “When I was appointed the first Latina principal here, a colleague called me up and said, “I want you to know that I am Latina too, but I can pass so I never tell anyone because the prejudice is so intense.”
The next day at the University of North Carolina, a very polite young white man in a tie came up to me a little nervously. “When I was just starting out as a teacher in western North Carolina, your film was a lifeline,” he said. “I wasn’t out and I was terrified that I would lose my job. And NO ONE was talking about these issues in the schools. You gave me hope and today I am in the grad school here and I am hoping to combine my training as a minister with my passion for this education. And I use your films in my courses every semester.”
In the afternoon I led a training with Let’s Get Real with 60 local teachers and guidance counselors in the public schools. Apparently it had been a real struggle to get the district to approve the workshop as being eligible for continuing education credits because some of the local officials didn’t think that bullying, homophobia, or gender pressures were issues for their students! That had the attendees outraged, as teacher after teacher told stories of incessant bullying and name-calling in their schools. Once again I saw a shift over the course of the afternoon. Folks left determined to move to use Let’s Get Real to move an anti-bullying, anti-gay harassment agenda forward in Greensboro.
Finally we had the east coast premiere of Straightlaced at Guilford College. Click here to read Annette’s incredibly sweet introduction of me. It was very moving to see a really diverse crowd of 300 college students, local teachers, parents, and high school students in the crowd. My favorite was the young man who stood up at the end, barely able to contain himself: “I love this film. I love this film. I’m wearing a dress right now! (which he was). Where was this film when I was in high school?”
So thanks Annette. Camp Rim Rock would be proud!