Author Archive

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.

Can karate classes combat bullying?

By | Let's Get Real, Straightlaced

I’m Sukh, an intern for GroundSpark and a student of public health interested in the issue of school bullying as a public health concern and novel ways of preventing it.

Two weeks ago on KGO News Radio, I heard David Lazarus discussing the topic of bullying with listeners. Some questions that came up include, what makes bullies bullies? What makes victims victims? How can victims defend themselves? Many listeners pointed to self-defense classes as a way not only to build self-esteem, but as a technique for protection in case a bullying incident arose.

Bob Gordon, a member of my cohort in the San Francisco State University MPH program, emailed in and suggested that listeners watch a copy of Let’s Get Real and David Lazarus shared this advice with listeners…Thanks Bob!

So, can karate classes combat bullying? In the field of public health, there is a lot of emphasis on PRIMARY PREVENTION, which is targeting the entire population to prevent a negative outcome (i.e. bullying). While self-defense has its benefits and can be helpful in many ways, I don’t think these classes are the way to prevent bullying. Rather I feel that self-defense is a method of treatment—after the roles of bully and victim have been identified and the relationship between victim and bully has been established.


Methods such as those of GroundSpark’s are ones that are really effective in identifying the root of the problem. GroundSpark films Let’s Get Real and Straightlaced touch on the issue of bias, which takes form in racism, classism, sexism, and various other isms. Creating awareness of diversity and highlighting the need for respect can create an atmosphere of inclusiveness and acceptance. As a result, children can develop healthy relationships with each other that don’t involve bullying in the first place and karate can be valued as an extracurricular activity rather than a necessity.

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.

Lessons from Lexington, KY

By | Straightlaced

Last Saturday was a miserably cold day with dreadful weather conditions in Lexington, KY. While many locals camped out at home with hopes of catching the University of Kentucky basketball game on TV later that afternoon, another group gathered at Kentucky Theater in the early part of the morning in great anticipation of the state’s premiere of GroundSpark’s award-winning film Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up. By the time 10:00am rolled around, over 400 people crowded into the theater, finding any available room on the floor to sit.

Kentucky Theater

“I had no idea there would be so many people who were in interested in this film,” says Travis Myles of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance who introduced the film at the theater. What’s most interesting is the story of how the event came to happen and all the players who made it into that theater last Saturday.

Myles had never heard of GroundSpark’s work until he met Debra Chasnoff last summer at the annual meeting of the Equality Federation, the national network of state-based organizations working for LGBT equality. Debra had been invited to screen the film, and our other anti-bullying documentary, Let’s Get Real, because of the powerful role the films can play in helping states pass comprehensive anti-bullying laws. “I was interested because I think film is one of the best ways to help change the hearts and minds of the key players we need to reach in this movement,” says Travis.

After the showing, Travis approached Debra and “she told me about the local significance and relationship that Lexington played in the pivotal scene in Straightlaced, and immediately put me contact with local folks who were working hard to screen the film for the Lexington community.”

From there, the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, and The Jesse Higginbotham Technology Trust and the family of Hannah Landers, a student in the film who died in a car accident, along with the Fred Mills of the Kentucky Theatre and the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice, the Lexington GLSO GSA, the Voice of Silence and Dunbar’s No Day But Today hosted this spectacularly moving event.

Lexington Premiereth_DSC_9472th_DSC_9451

In the audience, over half whom were high school aged youth, people were sitting on each others’ laps to make room for everyone. The audience was diverse, including a select group of young women from the Florence Crittenton home, a group home dedicated to help pregnant and parenting youth in their journey toward empowerment and independence. “It was amazing,” says Rebecca Woloch, a local parent who was one of the main organizers. “Thank you for allowing us the chance to do this great thing for Hannah and Josh (the student in Straightlaced who committed suicide) and everyone who has ever had to fight to be accepted for who they really are.”

Richard Landers, Hannah’s father, was also quite moved. He, like the rest of the audience, was inspired to keep organizing with Straightlaced. “Several parents told me that they wanted to have the film shown at churches, schools, and placed in school libraries. I am loaning one of our copies to the principal at Hannah’s school with hopes he can arrange to show it to students and/or use it for staff training.”

Josh and Hannah2

For us here at GroundSpark, that would bring our work on Straightlaced full circle. In the film Hannah talks about hearing students in the halls say things like “It’s about time that fag killed himself” after Josh’s suicide. We can think of no better outcome from this event than to have Straightlaced screened at this very same high school, and we look forward to working with the folks who braved the snow last Saturday to keep making change in Kentucky.

Parents Can’t “Opt Out” of Lessons About Family Diversity

By | Straightlaced

In a case that GroundSpark has been following closely, the Alameda County Superior Court ruled this week that lessons designed to address anti-gay and lesbian bullying in the district’s elementary schools do not simply constitute “health lessons” and therefore are not subject to the state’s policy of allowing parents to “opt out” of having their children participate in those lessons. Even more importantly, Judge Frank Roesch ruled that the state education code’s requirement that schools address discrimination and bias effectively supersedes any potential opt-out provisions. Our film, That’s a Family!, used widely throughout the country to support children from all different kinds of families, is part of the curriculum that’s been under debate.

GroundSpark’s Cristy Chung, Director of Community Programs and the Respect For All Project had this to say about the ruling: “This critical decision reinforces the importance of creating safe and inclusive schools for all children and their families. My hope is that we find a way for our communities to support one another and together teach our children what respect really means.”

This ruling is consistent with a 2007 ruling in Massachusetts clearly stating that while parents have the right to direct the upbringing of their children, that right does not extend to directing what a school teaches. (You can read more about this ruling in the It’s Elementary curriculum guide). And that preparing students for citizenship in a diverse society and fostering an environment in which lesbian and gay students can learn are sufficient justifications for implementing LGBT-inclusive curriculum.

Here’s a link to the news story on the ruling in Alameda County, CA.

And to see the trailer or stream That’s a Family!, please click here.

Lifetime Achievement Award for Film Maker Debra Chasnoff

By | Straightlaced

We are very proud to announce that Debra Chasnoff’s alma mater, Wellesley College, recently honored her with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Documentary Filmmaking from the college’s Art Department and Cinema and Media Studies Program.

Lifetime Achievement Award for Film Maker Debra Chasnoff

Lifetime Achievement Award for Film Maker Debra Chasnoff

Here’s a bit from the speech, Beth Pfeiffer, one of the trustees of the college, made during the award presentation:

“Debra Chasnoff, class of 1978, majored in economics. After a short stint in corporate America, Debra went on to follow her true passion—social change. Understanding social change is the result of deep passion and potent pragmatics, she embarked on her filmmaking career in 1984 with the film Choosing Children. Her commitment to equity and understanding informed the film and her courage to speak out and her personal honesty and talent that gave the film a place in history.

Accolades followed immediately, including an Academy Award in 1991 for her subsequent film, Deadly Deception, and they multiply from there. Founder and Executive Director of GroundSpark, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating visionary films and dynamic educational campaigns that move individuals and communities to take action for a more just world, Chasnoff has evolved into one of the most successful and dynamic documentarians of our time. Her latest film, Straightlaced, debuted this year and, having seen it, I’m sure the trail of awards will continue!”

Everyone here at GroundSpark, myself included, take our hats off to our colleague. Thank you for the work you do and the courage you inspire!

Minneapolis Premiere Right Around the Corner!

By | Screenings, Straightlaced

We are gearing up for the Twin Cities premiere of Straightlaced, which will take place Monday November 16th in Minneapolis. This will be the last regional premiere of the film, completing an thirty-city, ten-month long tour of Straightlaced! With an impressive array of community partners and dedicated volunteers working on the ground to fill the seats, word about the event is spreading quickly.

Betty Tisel hard at work in Minneapolis!

Betty Tisel hard at work in Minneapolis!

Super-volunteer Betty Tisel (pictured above), who has been a long-time donor to GroundSpark with her partner, Sarah Farley, is leaving no stone unturned to ensure success. “Imagine these buckets full of cash and check donations,” she says. “Visualize all these tickets being SOLD.” To help fulfill Betty’s dreams, get your tickets!!

I had the pleasure of talking with local radio host Leigh Combs last week about the event. A local teacher, advocate, and GroundSpark supporter, Leigh brought home the need for the Minneapolis community to not only come out to the event, but to start the dialog with young people about their experiences with gender pressures. To listen to the full show, click here. And just this week, I had the chance to talk about the more personal nuances and overall charm of Straightlaced with Todd Melby, a Minneapolis local radio documentarian with KFAI. Todd reminds us that the topic of gender and the pressure to conform affects not only young people, but adults also. You can listen to more of my talk with Todd here.

Please become part of what promises to be an inspiring and interesting community event in Minneapolis! For more information about the event or to sponsor the event please visit the event page. See you there!

Straightlaced in Long Island, NY

By | Straightlaced

On the evening of October 29, a group of students, educators parents and social service providers gathered at the Long Island GLBT Community Center in Bay Shore, NY for a screening of and discussion about Straightlaced, facilitated by GroundSpark national Trainer Scott Hirschfeld. Sponsored by the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth’s Safe Schools Initiative and organized by Director of Youth Services Nick Tryling, this event was part of the initiative’s Transgender Voices & Visibility series. To set the stage for the screening, audience members talked with each other in small groups about the messages they received about gender during their growing up years and how those messages impacted them. After viewing the film, participants engaged in a spirited discussion about the limitations of current gender role norms and expectations, and about strategies for increasing awareness about this issue among their students, colleagues and family members. The group found Straightlaced to be both an affirmation of their experiences and an inspiration to work toward more gender inclusive communities for young people.

Teaching Tolerance and GroundSpark’s That’s A Family!

By | That's A Family!

The acclaimed Teaching Tolerance program recently released a great new activity for young people in efforts to explore family diversity and the different ways in which to define a family. Making use of the 2010 Census and GroundSpark’s film That’s A Family!, the activity challenges students to explore diverse configurations that form families.

Check out this amazing activity!

Young Minds Digital Times Film Competition

By | Straightlaced

This creative and inspiring outlet for youth between the 6th – 12th grade is currently accepting applications! The Young Minds Digital Times Film Competition fosters youth film makers to create poignant and powerful films, all the while competing for a variety of prizes. Check it out and spread the word!

For more information, please email