Posts Tagged ‘gender’

Four Victories You Can Celebrate



By | It's Elementary, Let's Get Real, Respect For All Project, Straightlaced, That's A Family!

“I’m ready for 2015 to end!” Have you been thinking that? Some days, I do too. But I want to remind you of four fantastic things that happened this year—in small part because of GroundSpark’s culture changing work—and because of your support.

When we started our Respect for All Project 20 years ago, the idea that marriage equality would become the law of the land wasn’t even a pipedream. So, at the time, it was stunning when we filmed fourth graders for It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School having a reasonable classroom discussion about whether or not gay people should be allowed to marry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH5gfqC8V6g&feature=youtu.be

THIS YEAR, the Supreme Court finally settled the debate the students are having in this scene!

     (Click photo to see the scene) 

What’s more, the number of colleges of education ordering educational streaming licenses for It’s Elementary continued to grow—which means the next generation of K-12 teachers is learning how to support their students to develop critical thinking skills and a passion for justice.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH5gfqC8V6g&feature=youtu.be  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fifteen years ago, when we produced a film that modeled how to talk to children about all different kinds of family structures—including those with gay or lesbian parents, it was still illegal for gay people to adopt children in many states. No wonder That’s a Family!struck a nerve in school district after school district.

<<< (Click to watch trailer) 

 

 

THIS YEAR, couples in Mississippi, the last state in the country that still bans gay couples from adopting, filed suit to challenge that law. It’s gratifying to see schools in more conservative areas coming around to use That’s a Family! Now they really have no excuse but to be inclusive of all different kinds of families.

When we were making Let’s Get Real, our documentary about bias-based bullying, I remember people scoffing. “That’s just the way kids are. And that’s the way it will always be.” Only a handful of states had any laws or policies addressing the bullying epidemic.

  (Click to watch trailer) >>>>

 

 

THIS YEAR, Montana finally became the 50th state to get on board. It has become completely unacceptable for schools to ignore this issue any more. And GroundSpark launched a new campaign to reach out to PTAs to use Let’s Get Real to help parents and guardians understand what they can do to help the climate at their children’s schools.

When we were filming Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, one of the gay students in the film talked about how, by appearing on camera, he was putting his Eagle Scout award at risk because the Boy Scouts had a ban on gay members and troop leaders.

(Watch!) 

 

 

THIS YEAR, the Boy Scouts finally dropped the ban, something we could barely even hope for when we made the film! And hundreds of teachers took advantage of the Straightlaced free streaming for Ally Week and No Name Calling week that GroundSpark provided with the help of our donors.

As 2015 comes to a close, let’s honor these victories. Please take a minute to renew your support to GroundSpark with as generous a gift as you can. You can help insure that we will be able to ignite change with film just as successfully in 2016.

Reporting Back From China!



By | Deadly Deception, Let's Get Real, Respect For All Project, Screenings, Straightlaced

classphoto“Tell us about those plots of farmland in front of those old buildings,” I asked the two journalism students who picked us up at the airport in Shantou, China.

“The farmers had a protest against the government because the government plans to take away the land to put up new buildings,” one of them said. “One of our classmates went down to write a story about it, but the police came and took him away to be ‘re-educated’. Then they told our teachers, who announced to our classes that none of us could go near the farmers or we, too, would be taken by the police.”

And so began my weeklong visit to Shantou University as a special guest of the journalism department, along with journalist and historian Helen Zia, and my wife, Nancy Otto. The three of us were very warmly received during our stay, and the students were very excited to engage with us on a wide range of issues.girl-peaceI spent time with several journalism classes and one gender studies class. The students all had started studying English when they were in elementary school and I was quickly humbled by how well they were able to communicate with me given my complete lack of Chinese language skills.

 

As they watched Let’s Get Real and That’s a Family!, students were puzzled about some things, that in the US, we often just assume. “I thought America had a very strong value for equality for everyone and freedom,” one student asked me. “So I don’t understand why is there bullying?” “Why would anyone tell their child that they were adopted?” queried another. “In China, we would never tell a child that.”

poster
It was fascinating to hear, from first-year students that “there was no bullying in China,” but then in the advanced class, to hear stories pour out about taunting and harassment students had either experienced directly or witnessed among their friends.

Many were intrigued to hear about gay and lesbian couples that had become parents (including many oohs and ahs when I showed a picture of my own family). But when we met with the “Orange Community,” a group not labeled LGBT but one where students knew they could go to talk about gay issues, they told us that it would be impossible for gay people to become parents. That’s because China has a one-child policy that favors married couples (and marriage is not legal between people of the same sex). Anyone who is a single parent by choice or “mistake” is fined the equivalent of one year of salary and charged a much higher tuition for her child to attend school.

On two nights the journalism department had organized large campus-wide events. The first one focused on taking a critical look at the United States: Helen showed excerpts from Who Killed Vincent Chin?, a documentary that chronicles the civil rights questions connected to the 1982 murder of an Asian American man; I showed GroundSpark’s Academy Award winning film, Deadly Deception, which lamblasts the US military industrial complex and the disastrous environmental practices of many major corporations. Both films are crafted to inspire audiences to organize and take action for social justice.

After our sobering arrival story about the student who tried to report on a local demonstration, I wasn’t sure how our night of political organizing 101 would be received. So I was delighted when the students peppered us with questions about equality and environmental protection issues in China. Over and over they asked, “How should we think about these issues here?”

The next night the topic was gender norms, marriage equality, and LGBT identity. Helen showed a Chinese news broadcast covering her own marriage to her partner, Lia, and her testimony in one of the phases of the legal battle to overturn Prop 8 in California. I showed excerpts from Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up. Ching-Ching Ni, the professor who had invited us, told us it was the first time a public lecture had ever been held at Shantou University that addressed LGBT issues—and quite possibly at any Chinese university.

While I have shown Straightlaced to enthusiastic audiences in countless settings, I don’t think I have ever seen an audience as utterly rapt as this one in Shantou. Afterwards the students popped up across the auditorium to share their own concerns, fears, and questions connected to tto the themes in Straightlaced, painting a rich picture for us of where teen/young adult culture in China is falling today.

“I am the only girl to go to the gym to lift weights and everyone makes fun of me”; “Aren’t gay people the reason there is a population decline in the west?”; and most touchingly, “I think I might be lesbian. How do you know if you are a lesbian?”

I wish GroundSpark’s generous network of supporters could have all been in these lecture halls and classrooms with us. I know you would have been as proud as we were that our films were once again igniting change, this time in China.

Thank you for standing with us and for renewing your support this year. And a big thanks to Helen Zia and Ching-Ching Ni for creating this special opportunity!

Historic Film, Choosing Children, Now Out On DVD!



By | blog, Choosing Children, LGBT

kimandChas1980sWe are fast approaching the 30th anniversary of Choosing Children, GroundSpark’s first film (from back when we used to be called Women’s Educational Media). To celebrate, we are releasing a newly mastered version of this historically significant documentary on DVD.

The DVD also features in-depth interviews with me, Kim Klausner—the co-producer/director of the film, and attorney Donna Hitchens. “The Back Story” explores what we went through in the early 1980s to be able to find the pioneering women who had found ways to become mothers as out lesbians and capture their stories on film.

We are delighted to be able to share this DVD with you, our GroundSpark friends and supporters, before it goes on sale to a wider audience.

cc-cover-watch-trailerIt’s been quite a journey to get to the point where I can actually hold this Choosing Children DVD in my hands. Many years ago we learned that the film storage facility where the original 16mm negative of the film had been housed had gone out of business–without tracking us down to return the master!

That set us off on a quest to preserve the film. First, we were selected by the Women’s Film Preservation Fund of New York Women in Film and Television for a small restoration grant. Then, the Outfest Film Festival Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation decided to fund the complete restoration. Working with the UCLA Film and Television Archive, the Legacy Project used one of the last remaining relatively pristine film prints, housed at the Library of Congress, to construct a new 35 mm film print.

In 2010, GroundSpark produced a large benefit screening of Choosing Children in partnership with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, Our Family Coalition, The San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Community Center, Frameline, and the Bay Area chapters of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Dozens of community members made generous donations that enabled us to transfer the new film print into a digital format for DVD. In the last few months, we have worked with Zoetrope Aubry Productions to create a beautiful digital transfer and master the DVD.

Kim and I also sat down on the other side of the camera to be interviewed about our adventures making Choosing Children and the impact of that process on LGBT culture and on our own personal lives. Here’s a little taste of what we are calling the Choosing ChildrenBack Story”, the part where we remember our very first screening, in Boston in December, 1984.

Now, Here’s where you come in! Can you help make sure this important chapter in lesbian feminist history is shared widely? There are many ways to get involved:

  • Order a DVD or stream the film for yourself;
  • If you are affiliated with a college or university ask the media center to order a copy or purchase an educational streaming license;
  • Ask your public library to carry the DVD;
  • Make a gift to help us reach out widely with news about the DVD.

Finally, I want to mark this moment with huge thank yous to many people and organizations that have helped keep Choosing Children in distribution all these years:

  • Margaret Lazarus, who was the executive producer on the film and has distributed it via Cambridge Documentary Films until now;
  • Frameline Distribution, which has also been a distributor;
  • New Day Films, which now has taken over all educational distribution;
  • Sue Chen, who co-produced “The Back Story” with me;
  • All of the original families in Choosing Children, who bravely told their stories back in the day and helped us with the “where are they now” update on the DVD;
  • and Noah Klausner Chasnoff and Oscar Chasnoff Klausner, the two people who were only a dream when Kim and I made Choosing Children but who, today, are the best living proof I can think of that changing the culture so that LGBT people can proudly parent was really a good idea!

Jumping Into the Stream



By | It's Elementary

GroundSpark recently offered a complimentary screening of the educational training version of our film It’s Elementary.

In exchange, we asked that users provide us with a brief description of how they would be putting the film to use. Sifting through the numerous responses, it was invigorating to see the viewer diversity that arose from this opportunity.

Streamers ranged from professors teaching Education courses to the next generation of schoolteachers, to a group of therapists in Sanford, North Carolina learning to work with a student with Gender Identity Disorder, to an art teacher at a San Diego LGBT youth center who hoped to “incorporate art projects expressing the ideas presented in the materials.” We even had a current social studies student write-in to let us know that she was using the film of her own volition to “better prepare [her] for [her] future profession as a social worker.”

Much of the feedback stemmed from expected sources: K-12 teachers, guidance counselors, etc…but I was impressed at the number of educators who were truly going above and beyond for their students’ wellbeing. Teachers in Kent, OH, Washington, DC, Fayetteville, AR and Buffalo, NY planned to stream the film for school administrators, fellow teachers, and PTA meetings to boost understanding of LGBT issues among school staff and parents, while a parent of a gender variant child took the initiative to bring the film to school administrators herself in a proactive attempt to put some LGBT-inclusive curricula in place at her child’s elementary school.

Two individuals stood out who were working not only to educate their students about equality, but also to demonstrate to their students how to teach these concepts to others. In St. Paul Minnesota, Lea Favor, Executive Director of Eco Education planned to use the free stream to train youth leaders to explore “intersecting identities and how this impacts young peoples’ relationship with the environment and each other.” Meanwhile teacher Steven Howell hoped to utilize It’s Elementary to educate his class about sexual minorities, allowing the class to make a presentation on their findings to the school administration “in an attempt to include more anti-bullying lessons into the district’s curriculum.”

In light of this week’s election, some of the issues presented by It’s Elementary over fifteen years ago are suddenly thrust sharply back into the limelight. A Minnesota professor who utilized the free stream for a course he teaches entitled “Working with LGBTQA Families” recognized the immediate urgency surrounding the issue of LGBT rights. “It is a powerful video for students to understand the underlying concepts and dynamics of homophobia and discrimination. This understanding is especially critical at this point as Minnesota votes […] on the Constitutional amendment limiting the freedom to marry.

Among those who responded were professors who questioned whether It’s Elementary would be appropriate to stimulate discussion in a college classroom, or whether the age range of the students in the film would make the subject matter too “young” for students in their late teens and early twenties. We answered these queries, of course, with a resounding “YES, It’s Elementary is for all ages!” but I think this truth becomes still more evident after reading the responses from countless professors who continue to use GroundSpark’s films to great effect in college courses.

It was also enlightening to note the effect shifting technologies have had on the interest in streaming, especially on college campuses. More than one educator noted that they already owned It’s Elementary and had previously used the film in their classes, but that a free stream would be more appropriately tailored to their students’ needs, many of which have “difficulty getting to the library to watch videos.”

Given the scope and variety of the projects paired with the free stream, I was impressed that nearly every one of these responses came from individuals who understood that It’s Elementary isn’t a film one can simply sit back and watch.

A personal story goes a long way . . .



By | Straightlaced

A few months ago, Straightlaced–How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up screened at the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference in Colorado. Wanda Holland Greene, Head of the Hamlin School in San Francisco and long time supporter of GroundSpark, co-presented the film with Social Studies Teacher Kirsten Gustavson to an audience made up primarily of independent school leaders and teachers of color.

Wanda opened the workshop by asking the group to do something we are rarely asked to do in our everyday lives as adults: Think back to when you were a child and try to remember a message that you received about what it meant to be a “proper man” or a “proper woman.” She asked participants to think about what their chosen message was and try to hear it in the source’s voice—was it their mother’s voice, their teacher’s voice, the television, the radio, or maybe their pastor?

Wanda Holland Green and Kirsten Gustavson

Wanda Holland Green and Kirsten Gustavson

Unearthing the messages about who and what they should be in the world, and locating the many different sources of these messages, was incredibly revealing. “I wanted the audience to have an introspective approach to the topic of gender,” Wanda says.  But she also wanted people to bring their insights into their classrooms. She goes on: “So what does it mean to create a safe, inclusive learning environment in our classrooms when gender messages come from so many multiple sources, unique to each individual’s experience? If diversity is a component of excellence, how do we take into account the varying experiences of gender expectations that all of our students face?”

The answer to this question is obviously complex, but one important piece is surely Wanda and Kirsten’s approach of asking educators to think back to when they themselves were young. “Straightlaced allowed us to reconnect our professional work on diversity and inclusion with the very real “stuff” of lived human experience.  By sharing our own feelings and stories about gender, we remembered how powerful the messages are, and many left the session energized and excited to help our young people better understand their own experiences,” Kirsten noted. Sharing our personal stories allows us to see the similarities and differences in what we all experience and offers a chance for dialogue to grow. Certainly the young people in Straightlaced show us what a powerful force stories can be.

Here’s GroundSpark’s challenge to you: Tell us your personal story. Leave a comment about a message you received when you were younger about what being a “proper man” or a “proper woman” means.

Arresting Teenagers Doesn’t Solve Gender Pressures



By | Latest News

I was recently out in western Massacusetts for screenings of Straightlaced and Let’s Get Real. At one of them, the superintendent and assistant superintendent of the South Hadley, Massachusetts school district were in attendance. They were very moved by the films and said they thought they would be very helpful to their work in the district. Bullying, gender, and homophobia must be on their minds a lot right now, because of the suicide of 15-year old Phoebe Prince, who attended high school in their town. Since those screenings I have been following the Prince case closely and today have an opinion piece about it published in The Huffington Post.

We are reprinting it here as well.

Arresting Teenagers Doesn’t Solve Gender Pressures

“It is completely understandable why there has been so much pressure on government authorities in South Hadley, Massachusetts to find someone to blame for 15-year old Phoebe Prince’s suicide last month.

But the issues involved in this case, and in the case of Carl Walker Hoover, the ten-year old boy who committed suicide this time last year a few miles away in Springfield, Massachusetts, are far more complex and cultural than a tale of bullies run amuck who need to be dealt with as criminals.

We can lock up perpetrators and institute all the anti-bullying rules and policies we want, but unless the responsible adults in every community–educators, parents, administrators, and counselors–find a way to open up real, meaningful dialogue about gender and sexuality based pressures and bias–what happened to Phoebe and to Carl is likely to continue.

As a documentary filmmaker who has made several films about youth, bullying and prejudice, I have had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of diverse high school students about the internal struggles they face every day to feel good about themselves in our culture.

Invariably over half the students in every high school classroom I’ve visited–private or public, in rural, suburban, or inner city communities–have jumped at the chance to talk about the pressures they contend with which are connected to societal norms about gender and sexuality.

“Please don’t go,” a female sophomore begged when we visited her history class. “We never get to talk about this stuff but it’s what I think about all the time, every day.”

Phoebe Prince committed suicide after constant bullying at school.

Phoebe Prince committed suicide after constant bullying at school.

When I read about Phoebe, I thought of the many female students we’ve interviewed who have confided about the daily stress they face trying to make sense of the mixed messages they receive from the media, their families, and their peers about how a young woman is supposed to look and act.

Young women are constantly told that their value as human beings is determined by how sexy they are, how much skin they reveal, how close to some ideal of perfection their body curves match. And then they are chastised for crossing some invisible line and “going too far.”

One high school senior told me about the spiral of pressures that led her to turn to serious drugs. “I feel that people are judging me all the time,” she said. “I’m just paranoid, like, what are they thinking, do they think my boobs are big, do they think they are small, do they think my butt’s big?”

If girls fail to tow the line, they are invariably subjected to negative slurs and accusations connected to their sexuality–“slut,” “whore,” “bitch” if they go too far one way, “dyke” if they go the other.

And when it comes to actual sexual activity, it is very challenging to grapple with our culture’s double standard. “Like when a man runs around or sleeps with a lot of women, ” one girl complained. “He’s a player. All the boys give him his props, and they go brag about it. But when a woman tends to sleep around, she’s a whore, a slut or a ripper.”

Similarly, when I read about Carl Walker Hoover last year, I thought about the boys I interviewed who have shared their worries about how they dress, how physically affectionate they can be with their male friends, the expectations they face to lose their virginity and have lots of sexual partners, the way they talk, the way they hold their bodies when they walk–all to fit some unarticulated norm about the proper way to be masculine. They are painfully aware of how one little slip in behavior or appearance could lead to being the recipient of relentless anti-gay slurs.

“Having your sexuality questioned is a very powerful tool in controlling someone,” one male high school junior told me. “And I think that’s mainly why people say (things about that). Because it’s so easy to control someone by questioning something that they don’t know, by making fun of something they can’t help.”

Arresting those who bully may bring some brief consolation to one community. But it does nothing to create a culture where every single student is able to come of age in a supportive, nurturing way.

We need to demand that our school curricula help all students understand that they do not need to play into these destructive cultural messages and they can be allies to each other as they navigate these muddy cultural waters. And we need to work together to ensure that all young people have the space and respect to develop their sexuality and gender expression in authentic, safe ways that match who they really are inside.”

Our whole staff at GroundSpark is working hard to help everyone concerned about “bullying” to dig deeper and start dealing with the sexism and homophobia that fuels so much of it. Please get involved — share this article with your friends and colleagues, and consider making a donation to GroundSpark as well.

Greensboro, NC Educators Take Respect for All to the Next Level



By | Latest News

Last year I went to Greensboro, North Carolina to screen Straightlaced, It’s Elementary, It’s Still Elementary, Let’s Get Real, and That’s a Family! for several different groups of educators in the community. As often happens after these events, attendees left very inspired to take the next step in their communities to put these films to work so that the culture can change to create more safe, inclusive, and successful school environments. People who never before thought that they could take steps to pro-actively address homophobic and other kinds of bias change right before our eyes, and become empowered to take action. Take a look at some of the audience’s reaction to the film:

[vPIP class=”hVlogTarget” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” onclick=”vPIPPlay(this, ‘height=240, name=STLPremiere_VideoFootage, flv=true’, ‘bufferlength=5’, ”); return false;”]North Carolina Straightlaced Premiere!

Audience reactions to the Greensboro, NC premiere of
Straightlaced — How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up in 2009.
Join our Straightlaced group on facebook!

So, I am was very excited to learn that last week, educators in Greensboro did indeed take it to the next level. Annette Green, one of the main organizers, sent us this report:

Respect In Our Schools Training a Success!

“Outstanding!” “Awesome!” “Excellent!” “Great!” “Amazing!”

These were words written on evaluations by the Guilford County Schools teachers, counselors, social workers, media specialists and administrators to describe the Respect In Our Schools training they attended on February 27. The six hours spent at Wesley Long Education Center were jam packed with thought provoking presentations, exercises and discussions to help them understand the issues involved with creating safe and welcoming schools, and give them some tools to do it. GSAFE, along with PFLAG and other community groups organized the training, which was largely sponsored by a grant from Guilford Green Foundation. Presenters were volunteers from GSAFE, Equality NC, GCS, Guilford College and the NC Association of Social Workers .

In addition to learning what state law and GCS policy require in terms of protecting LGBT students, training participants viewed films from GroundSpark’s “Respect For All Series” (by filmmaker Debra Chasnoff) and practiced how these could be applied to various grade levels in the schools. They also worked in teams to identify problems and create Action Plans for their schools.

There was tremendous excitement and a sense of empowerment among participants to take what they learned back to their classrooms. Some other comments on evaluations included:

“Thank you for holding this workshop!”

“Great to get a practical, useful tool to use with my students.”

“I do not feel so scared about backing up GCS policy with my administration.”

“Please continue to do more!”

WE WILL!!!

Dear Sporty Hot Dog Girl



By | Straightlaced

Last week we received an email from a woman named Monique Marshall. Apparently she had attended the Straightlaced premiere in Los Angeles last March. Monique purchased a copy of the film and then took it home to watch with her ten-year-old daughter, Moreau.

Moreau wrote a letter to T’Uh from STRAIGHTLACED

Moreau wrote a letter to T’Uh from STRAIGHTLACED


T’Uh, “the Sporty Hot Dog Girl” in STRAIGHTLACED

T’Uh, “the Sporty Hot Dog Girl” in STRAIGHTLACED

After seeing the film, Moreau asked her mother if she could write a letter to one of the young people in Straightlaced. This is Moreau’s letter to “Sporty Hot Dog Girl:”

Ms letter to TUh1

In the film, after constant badgering from others to look different and act “the way ‘young ladies’ are supposed to,” T’Uh stands firmly by her choice to look different and be herself in the world–“I do what I want. I like being different.”

I went ahead and sent the letter to T’Uh over the weekend and she had this to say in response: “The letter touched my heart and gave me chills. I’m going to write to my new buddy right away.”

Thank you Monique, for sharing Straightlaced with your daughter! The culture change that we need for our young people to be their fullest and brightest selves will take the work of many–especially parents.

Straightlaced at Frameline in San Francisco



By | Straightlaced
The SF crowd anxiously awaits the screening of Straightlaced.

The SF crowd anxiously awaits the screening of Straightlaced.

Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up screened at the Roxie Theater last Friday to a sold out crowd at Frameline 33: San Francisco’s LGBT Film Festival! With a mixed crowd of film lovers, educators, Debra Chasnoff fans, and youth, the film was received warmly at it’s West Coast film festival premiere. Read the rest of this post…

Frameline 33 Screens STRAIGHTLACED



By | Straightlaced

This Friday, June 26 at 6:00 PM, as part of Frameline33 –  San Francisco’s LGBT Film Festival, Director Debra Chasnoff and Producer Sue Chen will be at the Roxie Theater for a local San Francisco screening of Straightlaced

NOTE: On Frameline’s website, the show is listed as SOLD OUT, but rush tickets are available! If you come to the door a half hour or so early and tell the box office to put you on the standby list, you will probably get in, as some unused tickets will become available. Q & A with director and producer after feature. See you there!