Honoring a Trailblazer, Honoring our HistoryThursday 17, May 2012
By Debra Chasnoff, President/Senior Producer | blog, It's Elementary, It's STILL Elementary, Latest News
Kim Westheimer, Director of Welcoming Schools at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, guest blogs for GroundSpark following an event last week hosted by HRC and the St. Louis Chapters of the Anti-Defamation League and the National Conference on Community and Justice. The event took place at the Missouri History Museum:
Too often, we get so busy doing our work that we forget to acknowledge the trailblazers who helped lead the way. I was reminded of this at a May 10th event at the Missouri History museum. Two films were featured: the new Welcoming Schools Film, What Do You Know? Six to Twelve Year-Olds Talk About Gays and Lesbians and the film It’s STILL Elementary, which chronicles the making and impact of the film, It’s Elementary.
It’s Elementary was a trailblazer. When the film came out in 1998, I was working for the Massachusetts Department of Education. A colleague of mine got a preview copy of the film to use for a national conference she organized for representatives from other Departments of Education. The audience at this conference was stunned by the power of It’s Elementary. We all knew this was something special and that it would be a crucial tool for years to come. The longevity of It’s Elementary’s impact is documented in the film It’s STILL Elementary.
One powerful aspect of the newer film is the clips of children who were featured in the original film paired with interviews of them 10 years later. In one segment, a child has a jaw-dropping moment when she learns that Elton John – familiar to her as the composer of Lion King music – is gay. Ten years later, and a student at Drury University in Springfield, MO, she can’t believe how stunned she was, but she remembers how much she gained from these lessons about inclusion and respect.
So in St. Louis at the Missouri History Museum, just a few hours away from Springfield, MO, I wondered how many other students all across the country had their perspectives broadened by educators inspired by the work of filmmakers Debra Chasnoff and Helen Cohen. How many of them went on, like other students featured in the film, to start GSAs, to become youth workers committed to standing up for LGBT students, or to come out, knowing that they were not alone? Wherever they are, they are tied to a movement of social change, a movement that can take inspiration in the words of Cezar Chavez:
“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”