Posts Tagged ‘youth’

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.

Launching a New Program for Parents and Guardians to Address Bullying and Build Positive School Climate



By | blog, Let's Get Real, Respect For All Project

PTA Meetings Here We Come!

flier-imageWhen I was making Let’s Get Real, my oldest son was a middle school student. He had graduated from an elementary school that did a good job at community building but then found himself in sixth grade at a school site that didn’t do anything to acknowledge–let alone address –the vast differences among the student body when it came to economic status, race, language, immigration status and family configuration.

My son came home with disturbing stories about racial tension and homophobic harassment in the hall. I went with a group of parents to meet with the principal. She told us not to worry because she had a simple solution to the bullying problem: “we suspend the bullies.” Period. End of story.

I wished then that there had been a way to bring parents and guardians at the school together to talk about what our children were experiencing and work together toward some solutions. Instead I kept working on Let’s Get Real, hoping it could help change the climate at my son’s school and many others as well.

That’s why I am thrilled to announce that GroundSpark and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF) are launching a new initiative to support parents and guardians in addressing bias-related name-calling and bullying in their children’s elementary and middle schools.

Through our Respect for All Project, we are partnering with HRCF’s Welcoming Schools program to provide all the tools and materials needed to present a two-hour evening program for any PTA, PTO, or community group. The program is part of the national effort to address bullying through National Bullying Awareness Month.

The extensive program resouces consist of:

  • a DVD copy and curriculum guide of our highly acclaimed half hour documentary, Let’s Get Real;
  • a new short DVD produced by Welcoming Schools, What We Can Do? Bias, Bullying and Bystanders;
  • a guide to help organizers facilitate a workshop that leads to action at their school;
  • publicity tools, and other support.

I strongly believe that parents and guardians are the third leg of the stool that must be engaged in order to have a safe school. This program and partnership with Welcoming Schools will help strengthen any school’s work with staff and students.

We’ve made it very easy for any group of parents to turn their interest and concern into action. The films and structured activities will help families understand what kinds of bullying students are experiencing and observing and help communities take a serious look at how factors like race, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, economic status, religion, country of origin, physical or learning disabilities are involved in many bullying situations.

To learn more about the program and to sign up for an event and purchase the kit, visit www.groundspark.org/welcoming schools.

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.

The President Gets a ‘B’ on Bullying — Grading The White House Conference



By | Straightlaced

Originally published in The Huffington Post

Hats off to the Obamas for drawing national attention to the problem of bullying in our school communities. Hosting a conference at the White House to draw more media attention to bullying is an excellent step forward.

Like most symbolic White House gatherings, though, this conference recommended some good steps forward but also carefully avoided some important strategies that need to be put in place if we are ever going to truly stop bullying.

Here’s my report card on what I heard on the live feed from the White House Thursday.

Raising the level of public awareness about the importance of addressing bullying in schools:

A+

“Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up,” the president said. “We can take steps — all of us — to help prevent bullying and create a climate in our schools in which all of our children can feel safe; a climate in which they all can feel like they belong.”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Drawing attention to the fact that bias issues underlie many bullying incidents.

B

The president deserves credit for acknowledging that many students are targeted because of some aspect of their identity. “[Bullying] is also more likely to affect kids that are seen as different,” the President said, “whether it’s because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the disability they may have, or sexual orientation.”

He acknowledged the families of two youths who committed suicide last year, one of them, Carl Walker Hoover, because of being tormented by homophobic harassment.

But he failed to explain that bias-infused harassment affects all youth, not just those who have are seen as “different.” Anti-LGBT stigma and the pressure to conform to gender norms, for example, affects all girls and boys regardless of how they may identify sexually at any point in their lives.
Calling for system wide efforts for curricula that address rampant anti-LGBT stigma, racial and ethnic stereotypes, mental and physical disabilities, religious differences, and pressures to conform to gender norms.

C

Acknowledging the families of those who endured bias-based harassment is not the same as calling for pro-active education that prevents that bias from developing in the first place. It is definitely possible to pull school communities together to take initiative against bias. I know we can because we have been helping to do that for years with GroundSpark’s Respect for All Project.

Shifting the focus from individual responses to bullying to communitywide culture-changing ones.

B-

The selection of experts on the panel that spoke after Mr. and Mrs. Obama were focused primarily on psychological and behavioral factors, which, of course, contribute to bullying. But only one, Professor George Sugai, encouraged the discussion to focus on sociological factors, namely changing the culture in schools.

Advocating for funding and programs that train every teacher on how to address bullying and the bias that underlies it.

C

One speaker mentioned that we need more teacher training. While another commented on the fact that while 40 states have anti-cyber bullying laws, none of them have provided funding to enforce them. Lack of training for individual teachers and for school staff as a whole is probably the single most significant stumbling block to changing school culture.


Moving from rhetoric to action

B

The White House announced several programs that Facebook, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and others are launching to step up ways to address bullying.

And kudos are deserved for the federal government’s launch of www.stopbullying.gov, which amazingly includes a section for LGBT youth. But the website has no resources to help schools and educators address bias issues, or to help train teachers or to help with a systematic approach to change school climate.

Overall Grade Point Average

B

Areas for Improvement

1. Tie federal funding for education to mandatory anti-bias and anti-bullying training for school personnel that focuses on school wide culture change, not just stronger discipline.

2. Bravely call for more pro-active curricula that help students learn about why all kinds of stigma, including homophobia, are harmful to everyone and how they can be allies to stop it.

Mr. President, you made significant progress during this grading period, and we hope you can realize your full potential in the semesters to come.

 

School District Does the Right Thing:
Vallejo Won’t Let Students “Opt-Out” of Anti-Bullying Curriculum



By | blog, Latest News, Let's Get Real, Respect For All Project, Straightlaced, That's A Family!

Last night the Vallejo Unified School District 30 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, voted 4 – 1 to continue its anti-bullying curriculum for students in its elementary, middle, and high schools.

The curriculum was put in place as the result of a settlement negotiated by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California on behalf of a lesbian student in the district who was being harassed —by faculty and staff at her school—because of her sexual orientation.

High School Student Takes On Anti-Gay Harassment...And WinsThe district agreed to bring age-appropriate lessons about diversity and standing up against bullying and name-calling into every classroom, and also to provide training to all faculty and staff about anti-gay harassment and discrimination. GroundSpark’s films and educational resources are being used at all grade levels to help implement this plan.

At a contentious board meeting last night, parents were split in their opinions about the curriculum. Many, including the mother of the young woman who had been harassed, applauded the district’s efforts to prevent further harassment.

I saw how it affected her,” Sheree Hamilton said in reference to her daughter, Roxanne. “She fell into a deep depression. She didn’t laugh anymore. She fell behind in school.”

“Teenagers, gay teenagers committing suicide: why? Because this education was not there,” said another parent, Franklin Hernandez.

As has been true in other school districts, the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative activist organization opposed to any discussion of LGBT people in schools, played a role in organizing parents to oppose the district’s anti-bullying work.

At last night’s meeting, some speakers objected to the district having a curriculum that acknowledges families headed by gay or lesbian parents, or curriculum for teenage students that discusses anything related to sexual orientation or gender norms. Others claimed that the district’s implementation of this curriculum without giving them the option to “opt-out” their children from the lessons constitutes “bullying” by the district.

Despite this vocal opposition, the school board members stood behind the anti-bullying curriculum.

We are very proud that the district is using our Respect for All Project resources to help implement its initiative. Elementary school students watch That’s a Family! which introduces respectful awareness of what it means to grow up in families headed by parents who are divorced, single, different races, lesbian or gay, as well as those who are being raised by adoptive parents or guardians.

In middle school they are watching Let’s Get Real, which helps open up discussion about harassment connected to racial tension, religious differences, anti-gay stigma, difference in family income, immigration status and more.

And in high school, students are watching Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, a proven catalyst for helping all upper level students think about how pressures to conform to gender role norms can lead students to collude with anti-gay harassment, engage in risky sexual practices, or get violent.

As part of GroundSpark’s response to this fall’s wave of media attention on teen suicide related to homophobic bullying and harassment, we have been offering free streaming of all of our Respect for All Project films through the end of the year.

Just click on our anti-bullying spark to find out more.

(For That’s a Family! click here for free streaming in support of National Adoption Day)

The Kids (of Lesbians Parents) Are Alright!



By | blog, Choosing Children, That's A Family!

A new study being published in the July issue of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal Pediatrics has found that children raised by lesbian parents are just as strong socially, academically and in total competence than as their peers raised by non-lesbian parents. What great news to read on a Monday morning! Finally, a study published by America’s leading pediatric medical group confirmed what we have known all along and have been working to help others see: that the children of LGBT-headed families exist in our communities and function just like their peers who come from non-gay families. And to read that, in some measures, they are in fact doing better than their peers sent a wave of excitement through our office – because helping the kids of LGBT-headed families succeed is important to our work. Our film That’s a Family! has screened in schools, communities, teacher education programs and more, as a way to allow children and adults to see LGBT parents and their kids in an affirming light. This is crucial not only for kids with gay parents to see themselves reflected in media, but also for others to see that these families are just like their own.

The news also made me think about our 1984 film Choosing Children, about the different ways lesbians were becoming parents and raising children. When Gattrell’s study was first began in 1986, Choosing Children had already been screening to audiences across the country. It was a time when lesbian and gay parents were just gaining mainstream visibility and the lesbian baby boom was igniting. How far we have come, 25 years later, when Gartrell’s study shows not only that children raised by lesbians will turn out okay, they will even excel. On that note, this fall we are screening a newly-restored film print of Choosing Children, celebrating all the wonderful children LGBT people are now parenting. And we’d love for you to join us at this community event. See the invitation and program.

You can read Nanette Gattrell’s study in the journal Pediatrics here.

Sobering Start to our Let’s Get Real Training in Asheville, NC



By | Let's Get Real

At the end of April, our Respect For All Project facilitators, Nancy Otto and Scott Hirschfeld, led a training in Asheville, North Carolina centered around our anti-bullying film Let’s Get Real. The training was organized by Safe Schools for All, an emerging alliance in western North Carolina of organizations committed to addressing bias-based harassment in the region’s schools. Scott kicked off the session by sharing a gripping suicide note of a 14-year old boy, named Hamed who, after being relentlessly tormented by his peers with slurs like big-nose, four-eyes, geek and fag, 14-year-old Hamed became so depressed that he saw only one way out.

IMG_0506

GroundSpark trainer Nancy Otto (standing) facilitates a small group discussion

The training attendees—teachers, after school youth service providers, principals, parents, and a couple of clergymembers—asked if we could share Hamed’s last note to his parents, which Scott read out loud at the training. And so we are reprinting it here below. It was printed in the book Cyber Bullying: Issues and Solutions for the School by Shaheen Shariff (Taylor & Francis, Inc.).There is an article about Hamed online.

Here is the excerpt from Hamed’s five-page suicide note explaining his decision:

“Dear Mom and Dad, The first thing is, I love you Mom and Dad, but you didn’t understand why I had to commit suicide.  There was so much going on and I tried to cope with it, but I couldn’t take it anymore…It was horrible.  Every day I was teased and teased, everyone calling me gay, fag, queer, and I would always act like it didn’t bug me…But I was crying inside me.  It hurt me so bad ……and when people said it, my own friends never backed me up.  They just laughed…  I know that you are going to miss me and that you will never forgive me, but you will never understand.  You weren’t living my life.  I hate myself for doing this to you.  I really, really hate myself, but there is no other way out for me…I love you Dad and Mom.  Please, please tell the people at school why I did this.  I don’t want somebody else to do what I have done.  Mom, after my death please, please go to schools and talk to kids that bullying and teasing has big consequences…Please visit my grave often so I’m not lonely.”

After watching Let’s Get Real and going through the training, the 65 trainees were each eager to start working on the action plan they developed for their own schools and community groups. “It’s an intense way to start off,” Scott reflects, “but it certainly gets us all on the same page about how high the stakes are and how important it is that we all work harder to address these issues.”

Readers Respond to Recent Huffington Post op-ed on Gender Issues in Phoebe Prince Case



By | Latest News
In April, Debra Chasnoff had an op-ed published in the Huffington Post about the underlying gender issues that haven’t been discussed very much in the community response to the suicide of 15 year old Phoebe Prince. (LINK to article). We received a wide range of responses to the article, some published on the HuffPo website, some on GroundSpark’s facebook page, others by email. As always, these issues, and our perspective on them, reach a wide range of people who connect to youth in different ways.
Here are some excerpts from the responses.
• Great article!!  I am so glad you wrote that.  Finally, someone is addressing the core of the bullying — youth are merely acting out the values of society.  It’s striking that most acts of bullying center around a boy – whether it’s competition for a boy, as in Phoebe’s case, or the accusation of being gay, such as in Carl Walker Hoovers case…. I love how you recognize the “problem” as being institutional/societal and the solution as being educational.
• Thank you! – I live in Springfield, MA, I sit in a men’s group in here with men whose children go to the South Hadley schools. I have been watching this closely – with sadness and anger. ??There are good people doing great work out there – like you! And I think that it is time for adult men to go into the shadows of their own adolescence and learn how to help boys become mature, compassionate men. ??I believe that there is a stunning lack of emotional intelligence and basic empathy in our modeling for teenagers – and this case demonstrates how stuck we are. We continue to use ‘carrot and stick’ approaches when these methods of motivating have been shown OVER and OVER to FAIL in psychological & social studies… Our culture is driven by adolescent boy mentality – consume, objectify, compete, detach, blame, hide, attack. ??Boys and girls need to be listened to, accepted, acknowledged, mentored and blessed … every day. In my opinion there aren’t enough adults in our society who know how to do this for each other, let alone for children. I think we need a new movement of adult males. Men who are willing to do the hard emotional inquiry it takes so we can raise the next generations to be healthy, safe and mature men rather than boys in men’s bodies. Ready? www.openmen.org or www.mankindproject.org.
• Arresting and sentencing the students who criminally conspired to torment and abuse a young Irish immigrant will not solve any problems, you are correct in that. However, should the legal system turn a blind eye when peer abuse/bullying includes stalking, statutory rape (it’s a law on the books, and a reason why girls under 16 are called jailbait), and criminal harassment? Do kids get a get out of jail free card for abusing a fellow student? Actions have consequences, sometimes legal ones. Bullying is now 24/7 with social media like formspring.me, facebook, twitter, and texting. Is it time we consider peer abuse to be as harmful to our kids as child abuse.
Dear Debra,
Thank you for this email.  I am a parent of a gay son (who is now thriving in SF as an IT project manager for Wells Fargo), have a local parent support group in Hawaii called Da Moms, and do projects for community outreach and education on GLBT.  We have used It’s Elementary in the past with the state department of education and am working to get greater interest and use of your harassment/bullying, and ofStraightlaced videos.  I am lining up funding and a working committee to hold a 2 day conference for health and social service providers in about a year – and hope to bring in resources from the mainland too.  I plan to make a trip to SF in September and perhaps visit Groundspark then.  You do wonderful work!
Aloha and mahalo (thank you),
• I am an elementary teacher. Very little bullying ever happens in front of me. A LOT happens when adults aren’t looking. There is no perfect way to deal with it. Punishing the bullies makes the victim a bigger target…or provides reason to unleash their henchmen. Shielding the victim would require them being with an adult every second they are at school…totally impractical and it puts another target on their backs. …Ms. Chasnoff suggests schools take a more active role in helping students develop better skills in this area, but the girl who said, “We never get to talk about this stuff,” is correct. Curriculum is all tied to teaching the standards in order to cover the material that will be on the state test. Until educator’s heads are removed from the test guillotine, all the little social extras aren’t going to be done….
• As you know, there are a cadre of trainers who are ready to go to any school to educate faculty about these issues. I am one of the National Educaiton Association trainers and we use your films in our presentations. I believe prevention solves a lot of suffering. If you hear of anyone who needs a training for their staff you can contact PSathrum@NEA.org
Good luck and thanks for taking on this fight.
• Thank you for making the connection to the Prince death; I think these reminders of relevance are very important.    Our middle schoolers know and talk about these events, often seeing them as out there, as if there were little likelihood that their own unkindnesses were of a different order.
• I agree that arresting a few students will not stop bullying at that particular school or any other. I have been following this case closely and it shows that something awful must happen in our society to gain any attention on the issue of school bullying. Despite the attention, the response is not effective; like every aggressive or violent act that occurs, someone must be blamed and punished.
As a public health student, my hope is for prevention. The problem is that prevention is not valued in our society because it does not produce readily observable effects like throwing someone in jail does.

In April, Debra Chasnoff had an op-ed published in the Huffington Post about the underlying gender issues that haven’t been discussed very much in the community response to the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince. We received a wide range of responses to the article, some published on the Huffington Post website, some on GroundSpark’s facebook page, others by email. As always, these issues, and our perspective on them, reach a wide range of people who connect to youth in different ways.

Here are some excerpts from the responses:

“Great article!!  I am so glad you wrote that.  Finally, someone is addressing the core of the bullying — youth are merely acting out the values of society.  It’s striking that most acts of bullying center around a boy – whether it’s competition for a boy, as in Phoebe’s case, or the accusation of being gay, such as in Carl Walker Hoover’s case…. I love how you recognize the ‘problem’ as being institutional/societal and the solution as being educational.”

Image from "Let's Get Real"

Image from "Let's Get Real"

“Thank you! – I live in Springfield, MA, I sit in a men’s group in here with men whose children go to the South Hadley schools. I have been watching this closely – with sadness and anger. There are good people doing great work out there – like you! And I think that it is time for adult men to go into the shadows of their own adolescence and learn how to help boys become mature, compassionate men. I believe that there is a stunning lack of emotional intelligence and basic empathy in our modeling for teenagers – and this case demonstrates how stuck we are. We continue to use ‘carrot and stick’ approaches when these methods of motivating have been shown OVER and OVER to FAIL in psychological & social studies… Our culture is driven by adolescent boy mentality – consume, objectify, compete, detach, blame, hide, attack. Boys and girls need to be listened to, accepted, acknowledged, mentored and blessed … every day. In my opinion there aren’t enough adults in our society who know how to do this for each other, let alone for children. I think we need a new movement of adult males. Men who are willing to do the hard emotional inquiry it takes so we can raise the next generations to be healthy, safe and mature men rather than boys in men’s bodies. Ready? www.openmen.org or www.mankindproject.org.”

“Arresting and sentencing the students who criminally conspired to torment and abuse a young Irish immigrant will not solve any problems, you are correct in that. However, should the legal system turn a blind eye when peer abuse/bullying includes stalking, statutory rape (it’s a law on the books, and a reason why girls under 16 are called jailbait), and criminal harassment? Do kids get a get out of jail free card for abusing a fellow student? Actions have consequences, sometimes legal ones. Bullying is now 24/7 with social media like formspring.me, facebook, twitter, and texting. Is it time we consider peer abuse to be as harmful to our kids as child abuse.”

“Dear Debra, Thank you for this email.  I am a parent of a gay son (who is now thriving in SF as an IT project manager), have a local parent support group in Hawaii called Da Moms, and do projects for community outreach and education on GLBT.  We have used It’s Elementary in the past with the state department of education and am working to get greater interest and use of your harassment/bullying, and of Straightlaced videos.  I am lining up funding and a working committee to hold a 2 day conference for health and social service providers in about a year – and hope to bring in resources from the mainland too.  I plan to make a trip to SF in September and perhaps visit Groundspark then.  You do wonderful work!”

Image from "Straightlaced"

Image from "Straightlaced"

“I am an elementary teacher. Very little bullying ever happens in front of me. A LOT happens when adults aren’t looking. There is no perfect way to deal with it. Punishing the bullies makes the victim a bigger target…or provides reason to unleash their henchmen. Shielding the victim would require them being with an adult every second they are at school…totally impractical and it puts another target on their backs. …Ms. Chasnoff suggests schools take a more active role in helping students develop better skills in this area, but the girl who said, “We never get to talk about this stuff,” is correct. Curriculum is all tied to teaching the standards in order to cover the material that will be on the state test. Until educator’s heads are removed from the test guillotine, all the little social extras aren’t going to be done….”

“As you know, there are a cadre of trainers who are ready to go to any school to educate faculty about these issues. I am one of the National Educaiton Association trainers and we use your films in our presentations. I believe prevention solves a lot of suffering. If you hear of anyone who needs a training for their staff you can contact PSathrum@NEA.org. Good luck and thanks for taking on this fight.”

“Thank you for making the connection to the Prince death; I think these reminders of relevance are very important. Our middle schoolers know and talk about these events, often seeing them as out there, as if there were little likelihood that their own unkindnesses were of a different order. ”

“I agree that arresting a few students will not stop bullying at that particular school or any other. I have been following this case closely and it shows that something awful must happen in our society to gain any attention on the issue of school bullying. Despite the attention, the response is not effective; like every aggressive or violent act that occurs, someone must be blamed and punished. As a public health student, my hope is for prevention. The problem is that prevention is not valued in our society because it does not produce readily observable effects like throwing someone in jail does.”

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.