By Eileen Glaser, Education Program Lead | blog
With an unusual ice storm bearing down on the city, blowing in from Tennessee, 65 brave souls came to a late February evening event, hosted by the Levite Jewish Community Center in Birmingham, Alabama for a unique opportunity to bring together organizations that serve LGBT people in Alabama, parents and family members, allies, and middle and high school youth for a screening of Straightlaced— How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up.
While the cold had our California-based teeth chattering, the warm reception my training partner, Serian Strauss, and I received from the JCC staff and the appreciative community members made it more than worthwhile. With the popcorn machine crackling not too far away, we got the group started with an icebreaker that mixed the diverse participants into varying pairs to share parts of their experience with others’ assumptions about them connected to their gender.
One middle school student had come with his parents and two ally friends, traveling more than 30 miles to get to the screening. His father has spent many volunteer hours trying to change school policies to create a safer climate in his area. He reviewed our Respect for All Project films and curriculum guides with interest, and wondered, “Are teachers allowed to teach this stuff here?”
The gratitude, hope and excitement to have so many people present and so many different organizations beginning to provide resources, support and advocacy for LGBT youth and adults in Alabama were palpable. Representatives from Alabama Human Rights Commission, the Magic City Acceptance Project, AIDS Alabama, PFLAG and the Safe Schools organization were present in addition to board members from our organizing partner, SOJOURN, and other volunteers. Representatives from these organizations had the opportunity share a bit about their work and their resources and make new connections.
We were impressed by the age diversity present and also by the dedication and passion shown by volunteers who are working to open hearts and minds in their communities, some of whom are spending their retirement working for social change. We thanked one of these leaders for helping to spread the word about the even, saying “folks are here because of you.” She responded – “No, no. I am here because of them.”
We remembered the long history of civil rights activism in Birmingham and were honored to be a small part of continuing that legacy. Much wonderful work has begun in Alabama, much education and advocacy is left to go, and GroundSpark hopes to continue to be a resource for the change-makers there in the future.
This event was part of a series of programs that GroundSpark organized with SOJOURN, with funding from the Amy Mandel and Katina Rodis Fund and our generous other supporters.