By Sue Chen, Staff Producer | Straightlaced
As a documentary filmmaker, it is so rewarding when your work is used in communities affected by the very issues your films raise. Every year we hear from school staff, community leaders, religious groups, youth and parents about the ways that GroundSpark films help local efforts to reduce prejudice, increase empathy, and open hearts and minds. We wanted to share one story that exemplifies a growing trend across the country in which school districts are being required to act in response to lawsuits from students claiming unchecked anti-gay harassment and gender bias.
In 2009, the Vallejo City Unified School District in northern CA settled a lawsuit with Rochelle Hamilton, a high school student who was harassed by teachers and students because she was an out lesbian. As part of the settlement, the district was required to provide mandatory training for teachers, staff and students about preventing and identifying anti-gay harassment and discrimination.
We were thrilled to learn that, to fulfill these requirements, school officials, like many others around the country, have chosen to use The Respect For All Project films and curriculum guides as a central part of their anti-bias training for both adults and youth. As a result, every school in the district will own and use copies of That’s a Family!, Let’s Get Real and Straightlaced. In addition, It’s Elementary-Talking About Gay Issues in School will be used in teacher/staff trainings .
Sharon Rose Babot, Coordinator of Instructional Services is leading the Vallejo school district’s efforts to ensure that their schools are safe and inclusive for all students including LGBTQ identified students. Through GroundSpark’s Technical Assistance and Training program Sharon found support and guidance to help her develop and organize district-wide teacher/staff trainings. Sharon shared with us that she found our films and accompanying guides to be particularly useful, “ because the films are in ‘student voices,’ their impact and message are much more powerful than an adult giving information about law, issues, etc. around LGBTQ awareness.” She thanked The Respect for All Project for “providing us with the tools and the curriculum guides that will allow us to present powerful and thought provoking information around respectful interaction with all human beings.”
In Vallejo, teacher/staff trainings have already begun, and schools are expected to implement programs for students this fall. In the future, we hope that more districts and schools will join those in the know and act before lawsuits are filed, as a way to prepare and educate their communities about LGBTQ harassment and prejudice.