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Lessons from Lexington, KY


By | Straightlaced

Last Saturday was a miserably cold day with dreadful weather conditions in Lexington, KY. While many locals camped out at home with hopes of catching the University of Kentucky basketball game on TV later that afternoon, another group gathered at Kentucky Theater in the early part of the morning in great anticipation of the state’s premiere of GroundSpark’s award-winning film Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up. By the time 10:00am rolled around, over 400 people crowded into the theater, finding any available room on the floor to sit.

Kentucky Theater

“I had no idea there would be so many people who were in interested in this film,” says Travis Myles of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance who introduced the film at the theater. What’s most interesting is the story of how the event came to happen and all the players who made it into that theater last Saturday.

Myles had never heard of GroundSpark’s work until he met Debra Chasnoff last summer at the annual meeting of the Equality Federation, the national network of state-based organizations working for LGBT equality. Debra had been invited to screen the film, and our other anti-bullying documentary, Let’s Get Real, because of the powerful role the films can play in helping states pass comprehensive anti-bullying laws. “I was interested because I think film is one of the best ways to help change the hearts and minds of the key players we need to reach in this movement,” says Travis.

After the showing, Travis approached Debra and “she told me about the local significance and relationship that Lexington played in the pivotal scene in Straightlaced, and immediately put me contact with local folks who were working hard to screen the film for the Lexington community.”

From there, the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, and The Jesse Higginbotham Technology Trust and the family of Hannah Landers, a student in the film who died in a car accident, along with the Fred Mills of the Kentucky Theatre and the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice, the Lexington GLSO GSA, the Voice of Silence and Dunbar’s No Day But Today hosted this spectacularly moving event.

Lexington Premiereth_DSC_9472th_DSC_9451

In the audience, over half whom were high school aged youth, people were sitting on each others’ laps to make room for everyone. The audience was diverse, including a select group of young women from the Florence Crittenton home, a group home dedicated to help pregnant and parenting youth in their journey toward empowerment and independence. “It was amazing,” says Rebecca Woloch, a local parent who was one of the main organizers. “Thank you for allowing us the chance to do this great thing for Hannah and Josh (the student in Straightlaced who committed suicide) and everyone who has ever had to fight to be accepted for who they really are.”

Richard Landers, Hannah’s father, was also quite moved. He, like the rest of the audience, was inspired to keep organizing with Straightlaced. “Several parents told me that they wanted to have the film shown at churches, schools, and placed in school libraries. I am loaning one of our copies to the principal at Hannah’s school with hopes he can arrange to show it to students and/or use it for staff training.”

Josh and Hannah2

For us here at GroundSpark, that would bring our work on Straightlaced full circle. In the film Hannah talks about hearing students in the halls say things like “It’s about time that fag killed himself” after Josh’s suicide. We can think of no better outcome from this event than to have Straightlaced screened at this very same high school, and we look forward to working with the folks who braved the snow last Saturday to keep making change in Kentucky.

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