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GroundSpark’s Film and Facilitation Helps Melt the Ice in Alabama

By | blog

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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.

Back to Basics in Atlanta!

By | Straightlaced


As part of our swing through the South, 35 professionals serving the Jewish community in Atlanta gathered with us to watch portions of Straightlaced – How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up and to learn about how to create more inclusive and welcoming communities for young people of all genders. Some of the attendees were already familiar with the concepts presented, but for many of them, the idea that rigid gender boxes are harmful and limiting for all people – whether they fit in the gender boxes or not – was new.

To best meet the needs of the audience, my co-facilitator, Serian Strauss, and I went back to basics – establishing common vocabulary. We defined the difference between “sex” and “gender” – sex as assigned to each of us at birth and the gender identity that we develop over a lifetime that is greatly impacted by society. Many participants were intrigued by the idea that these two may or may not be congruent, and in different ways for each of us.

We led the “Act Like a Boy” activity from the Respect for All Project curriculum guides to raise awareness about the ways that young people are often confined by gender boxes. The audience identified the ways that boys are expected to be “bread-winners,” “be tough,” and “be handy.” We then explored what names boys are called if they don’t fit in the box. Some audience members were accustomed to these words and were moved to learn how harmful the words can be, and how oppressive they are for all boys – not just the ones that don’t conform to gender norms.


All of the participants explored how they themselves do and don’t fit gender norms and began to consider how to break down the gender binary that is reinforced over and over for kids in their preschool programs, sports programs and faith contexts. One preschool administrator realized that her school’s intake forms only include marital status checkboxes for heterosexual parents, and strategized with us about how to improve her forms. We explored the purpose of the intake form: it was a way for teachers to understand and know about the home life of their students, and suggested an open-ended question – such as “Please share with us who lives in your household,” “Who is in your family?” and “Is there anything else you would like us to know about your family?” She concluded that these kinds of questions would even better serve the intended purpose of the forms!

As we find time and again, inclusion benefits a wider range of people than might be originally expected. In this case, making space for lesbian and gay headed families, also addresses the needs of other family forms – such as a divorced mother. How much better it would be for her to be able to describe her family in positive terms, instead of having to check the “Divorced” box as a way of describing herself, right at the start of her child’s preschool experience! The participants also asked questions about how to address the values of more conservative people of faith who maintain a stricter division between the sexes. These questions were handled by staff from our partner organization SOJOURN (Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity) Rebecca Stapel-Wax and Robbie Medwed, who are working to build bridges and guide Jewish communities towards a more open and inclusive approach.

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 other generous supporters.

Bay Area spring Straightlaced training—free to local educators!

By | Straightlaced

Skirts for Sasha was a beautiful act of solidarity, courage and resistance.

str-cheerleaders-thumbNow what? What can we do the rest of the year?

Join GroundSpark’s Respect For All Project for a FREE one-day professional development workshop and help spark powerful, cutting edge conversations and action!


Calling all middle and high school teachers, counselors, health and wellness coordinators, student leadership advisors, GSA advisors, administrators. Public, religious, charter and independent school staff all welcome!


May 3, 2014, 9:30 – 4:00 Morning coffee and lunch provided.


At a beautiful conference center in Downtown Oakland, BART accessible &, wheelchair accessible.


We will explore how pressures around gender and sexuality are shaping the lives of teens—and how we can help create schools and communities that are safer, more equitable and more empowering for all.

The session will showcase GroundSpark’s powerful film and curriculum Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, directed by award-winning Bay Area filmmaker, Debra Chasnoff. It showcases the wisdom, courage and humor of more than 50 high school students on topics like media and sexuality, “male” and “female” activities, gender identity, cultural expectations, anti-LGBTQ harassment, gender-based violence, and the courage to stand up for those who are different.

Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up is an outstanding resource. In fact, the schools in our study that yielded the most positive results used Straightlaced as one of their implementation tools.”

—Hilary Burdge, Gay Straight Alliance Network Research Program Director

A rare gem that provides a forum for young people to speak eloquently about the courage it takes to break out of the box, live authentic lives, and stand up for justice.

—Bruce Cohen, Producer, MILK

Straightlaced will be a jumping off point for

  • dialogue about gender role stereotypes, cultural and racial expectations, homophobia, and how all of these impact students’ ability to bring their full selves to school and community life.
  • strategizing individual and institutional level action plans.


COST: $0

Really! Thanks to the generosity of the San Francisco Foundation and individual donors, this training is FREE! Limited though, to no more than two participants from any one school site or community organization.

RSVP by April 19th. Register online.

Questions? Email or call 94150 641-4646 ext 302

Groundspark Launches First Ever Respect for All Institute; Educators Applaud Hands-On Workshop

By | It's Elementary, It's STILL Elementary, Let's Get Real, Straightlaced, That's A Family!

rfap-training-smOne by one, rocks with words like courage, humor and perseverance began to pile up. The participants of the first-ever Respect for All Institute introduced themselves, and brought these stones, on which they had written their strengths, to a common table. This activity, “We Rock,” was just the first of many that would build attendees’ skills, capacity and leadership to address bias, deal with bullying dynamics, support diverse students and families, and thereby help all students succeed.

Just like the Institute brought together a group of dedicated participants – teachers-in-training, seasoned educators and administrators, school counselors, curriculum planners and social workers – and their many assets, for the first time Groundspark brings together all of the nationally celebrated films in the Respect for All series in a two day intensive institute.

While we have offered workshops and professional development about important issues such as family diversity, prejudice, bias and bullying, and the pressures young people face around issues of gender and sexual orientation, since 1992, this new Respect for All Institute brings together all of these subjects in a comprehensive training for educators and other adults working with youth.

“This program allows me to be a change agent in my communities, both professionally and personally,” praised one of 35 educators and school staff, who attended this pilot program hosted at the University of Connecticut and in partnership with the National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER).

“Groundspark’s films and guide books provide a wonderful opportunity to discuss challenging topics. I also appreciate the hands-on approach to work with and respond to the diverse constituencies in my school,” she continued.

Groundspark’s approach to creating safe and inclusive schools is about modeling safety and inclusiveness and cultivating a positive, energizing, and hopeful tone in all of our efforts. “I enjoyed the different activities that allowed us to meet other people, role-play and simply be in a vulnerable room where we could all share and relate to our experiences,” offered another participant.

In this environment, participants found that they could more easily explore how identity-based bias manifests and is perpetuated in many areas of school life, laying the foundation for bullying, harassment and violence of all kinds. “I am taking away realizations that bias is all around whether regarding race, culture, family structure or gender,” another educator reflected at the end our work together, “I have to be a leader and teach my faculty about addressing these biases.”

After viewing That’s A Family, participants were invited to draw what a family meant to them. As each shared their drawings, some with laughter and others with tears, the group realized how the definition of family could be a broad one. Raised by a single mom and growing up on her own, one educator realized how her own academic achievement was connected to her family experience and how recognizing the strengths and needs of all families would impact her own students. A light bulb went off as another participant pointed out that even the name; “Parent-Teacher Conference” was not welcoming to the constellations of family members that support some of her students.

Later in the workshop, participants practiced applying the principles of inclusion and safety ideas to students dealing with issues of race and sexual orientation from Let’s Get Real, by brainstorming strategies and solutions they could implement at an institutional level to support similar students at their own schools.

At the end of two full days, educators and administrators devised actionable individual and community plans to take back to their own schools. We hope that leaving the institute with a concrete road map – complete with due dates, strategies for working with colleagues for mutual support and follow-up steps – will springboard inspiration and new learning into powerful action.

One teacher said, “While my school climate is far from perfect, I feel confident that we have an abundance of resources, especially people to make it an inclusive community. I am encouraged by the words and ideas of my colleagues and others who do the work I do. I feel more people share my values than I thought.”

Leaving our first Respect for All Project Institute, participants were excited and empowered to make their schools a place where students and teachers have respect for all. I shared in their excitement and can’t wait to bring this new, comprehensive model to more educators across the country in 2014! We will be hosting a Respect for All Institute in the Bay Area in the Fall of 2014 – let us know if you would like to participate!