Archive for the ‘Latest News’ Category

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.”

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!!!

Why I joined the board by David Kundtz



By | Latest News

Hello to all the friends and fans of GroundSpark. I’m the new guy on the board of directors. Brittney Shepherd, our staff producer, asked me to introduce myself and answer the question: Why did you join the board?

David Kundtz, GroundSpark's newest board member

Meet me, David Kundtz, GroundSpark's newest board member!

To learn more about my background and and our other amazing members of our board of directors, go here.

I’ll begin with John Hume and David Trimble, contemporary heroes of mine. Both politicians, Hume is from the Republic of Ireland and Trimble from Northern Ireland. They are rightly accredited with bringing about peace to the long and violent conflict in Northern Ireland with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Here’s a quote from Hume:

“Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace – respect for diversity.”

And here’s a quote from Trimble:

“There are two traditions in Northern Ireland. There are two main religious denominations. But there is only one true moral denomination. And it wants peace.”

We all want peace. Everywhere in the world. It’s possibly the most sought after and the most elusive of all human desires. And if you’re like me, you’ve often wondered, But what can I do to bring about peace? The thought can be overwhelming; I’m only one little person with very limited resources.

Which brings me, finally, to the answer to Brittney’s question: Why did you join the board? To increase and support and create peace. GroundSpark is a practical and real embodiment of the conviction that, in Hume’s words, “respect for diversity is an essential way to peace.” There will always be many factions, identity groups, and denominations but, in the words of Trimble, “there is only one true moral denomination. And it wants peace.” The work of GroundSpark is something we can all do to bring about peace. “Respect for All” says it all.

That’s the main and underlying reason for accepting the invitation to join the board. But there are many more. A few of them: Being part of a group of amazingly talented and caring staff and board members; being part of an organization respected and influential throughout the country and world; helping to give voice to children and families who are often invisible and ignored. Grateful and honored is how I am feeling as we look to the opportunities offered by the challenges of hard economic times and changing cultural realities. GroundSpark is doing immensely important work. May it continue and prosper.

Thanks for the chance to share some thoughts.

Sincelerly,
David Kundtz

Remembering Del Martin



By | Latest News, LGBT, One Wedding and A Revolution, Prop 8

[vPIP class=”hVlogTarget” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” onclick=”vPIPPlay(this, ‘height=180, name=STLPremiere_VideoFootage, flv=true’, ‘bufferlength=5’, ”); return false;”]Del Martin and Phylis Lyon Wedding

Wedding video of Del Martin and Phylis Lyon.

One year after Del Martin’s passing, we here at GroundSpark would like to remember her and celebrate her life. Here she is at her wedding to Phyllis Lyon in May 2008. Our thoughts go out to Del’s family as we remember this incredible hero and amazing woman.

New trailers for Respect for All Project titles!



By | It's Elementary, It's STILL Elementary, Latest News, Let's Get Real, LGBT

Just a note to say that we have some great new Respect for All Project trailers that are now up on YouTube and the New Day Films website. If you’ve been curious about these films in the past and need a reminder of their power, these trailers are a great reminder! Check them out and let us know what you think!

GroundSpark Remembers Bonnie Tinker



By | Latest News, Straightlaced

A few weeks ago, I received an email from one of the teachers who helped us find some of the students in Straightlaced, letting me know that Bonnie Tinker, the founder of Love Makes a Family in Portland, Oregon had died. Here is an article about the accident. 

Bonnie, who was 61, was hit by a truck while biking in Virginia. I think I first met Bonnie in 2002, when Love Makes a Family helped organize the Oregon premiere of our film That’s a Family! Over the years she also interviewed me for her radio show, and always lent a hand to get the word out about GroundSpark’s work. 

Bonnie was a tireless advocate on many issues, but what I admired about her in particular was her dedication to speaking out about race and its intersection with family diversity issues. I am grateful to Adrienne Ratner for bringing this article to my attention in which Bonnie protested how 20/20 “edited out” the African-American members of her multiracial lesbian-headed family!

We hope to be organizing a Portland screening of Straightlaced in the fall and hope there will be an opportunity to honor Bonnie’s contributions at that time.

One Wedding and a Revolution Featured at 4th Annual Gero-Ed Film Festival



By | Latest News, LGBT, One Wedding and A Revolution, Screenings

One Wedding and a Revolution has been accepted for the 4th Annual Gero-Ed Film Festival held at the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Annual Program Meeting. The festival features films that show positive images of older adults or that highlight aging issues.

Since 2006 the Gero-Ed Film Festival, which is sponsored by the CSWE Gero-Ed Center, has introduced social work educators, students, and leaders to important films, such as One Wedding and a Revolution. With remarkable footage of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, long-time lesbian activists, marrying on their 51st anniversary, this film demonstrates that marriage equality affects people of all ages.

GroundSpark looks forward to having our film featured again this year!

GroundSpark Needs Volunteers!



By | Latest News, Straightlaced

GroundSpark Needs Volunteers!

We are looking for a few special people to help with mailings, processing film sales, data entry and database maintenance (must know Filemaker). If you are in the Bay Area and can commit to a few hours per week, please join us!

Please contact Zeena Batliwalla, Development Associate, to get involved.

Success in Alameda!



By | Latest News, LGBT

Great news from the Alameda School Board! Last night, the board approved their LGBT-inclusive bullying prevention curriculum, despite the outspoken conservative critics from outside the district who flooded their town hall meetings. Their approval contains no opt-out provision, which means every student in the district will receive instruction on learning empathy and respect for difference. While opponents of the curriculum are now threatening lawsuits, the board heard support from folks like you, and knows they have the strength of their community to move forward creating classrooms that are safe and welcoming for every student.

You can read more about the decision in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.