In the course of making documentaries about some of the most important issues of our time, GroundSpark staff develops expertise that is highly sought after in the national media. We are proud to be a spark to help change the national conversation to create a more just world.
National Partners Sign On To Straightlaced Outreach Campaign
Over 15 national education, advocacy, and youth welfare organizations are working with GroundSpark to ensure that Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up is screened all over the country. View the Press Release…
Clashes Pit Parents vs. Gay-Friendly Curriculums in Schools
This NY Times article summarizes the debate over providing gay-friendly curriculum in public schools and the role GroundSpark has played in the debate locally and nationally. Read the article…
Editorial: Bullying Is Everyone’s Problem
This editorial relys on facts and figures from Groundspark and it quotes results from a recent Bay Area survery that finds that “two of every three Sikh boys in middle school — with or without turbans — said they suffered some sort of racial or religious bullying.” Read more… (PDF)
Oscar-winning director defends anti-bullying message in 3 films being shown in Vallejo schools
Director Debra Chasnoff is not surprised by how some parents reacted to her organization’s educational films depicting gay and lesbian families.
“We have seen this kind of reaction in other communities at different times, and I think it’s because it is relatively new that schools would take the initiative to proactively prevent anti-gay bias,” said Chasnoff… read the article here (PDF).
Review of Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up – North of Center Newspaper Lexington, KY
“Powerful….Inspiring…deals with the lives of questioning, intelligent, and courageous young people…. a wonderful exploration of the possibilities being imagined by young people today, and a challenge to the hate and prejudice toward people who are perceived as not conforming to these strict gender and sexual roles.” … read the review here
C.A.R.E. Shows Documentary to Urge Community to Support Anti-Gay Bullying Curriculum in Schools – Alameda Patch
Community gathers to watch ‘It’s Elementary‘ and to explore ways to end anti-gay bullying in Alameda public schools …read the article
“Boys will be boys, or will they? school asks” Riverdale Press
“And before that, students watched Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, a documentary that about young adult’s views of sexuality, emotion, …” Read the article here
Rescreening of ‘Choosing Children’ Documentary Demonstrates Landmark Contribution by Judge Hitchens – Courtside
Bay Area organizations gathered for an emotional rescreening of the landmark documentary ‘Choosing Children,’… read the article
“‘Getting Real’ About Bullying-Related Suicides,” a second article by Debra Chasnoff on the Huffington Post
Debra Chasnoff examines the recent spate of suicides committed by young people as a result of bullying, and discusses actions schools can take to prevent such tragedies.
Article by Debra Chasnoff featured on The Huffington Post
GroundSpark Executive Director and Senior Producer, Debra Chasnoff, composes an op-ed piece on bullying for The Huffington Post
It’s STILL Elementary Is In Bangalore!
It’s STILL Elementary will be shown in Bangalore as part of their film festival, “Nigah Queer Fest 09.” The film will be shown on both April 10th and the festival runs through the 11th.
Straightlaced Featured In Major LGBT Publication
EDGE, “the largest network of local Gay, Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) news and entertainment portals in the world,” interviewed Debra Chasnoff about GroundSpark’s work to end bullying and harassment in schools and featured the piece in EDGE Boston. The article highlights not only Straightlaced, but the work of GroundSpark and GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
GroundSpark to be honored by CUAV at their annual benefit
The Community United Against Violence will be recognizing the work of GroundSpark on Friday, March 20, 2009. This event will include a silent auction, food, music and dancing. Other honorees include: Tom Ammiano & Hank Wilson, Early Gay Safety Advocates; Fresh Meat Productions and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. For tickets and more information please click here.
Straightlaced will premiere internationally at the 23 Annual London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival!
Straightlaced has been accepted at the 23 annual London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival! The festival, the third largest film festival in the UK, attracts over 27,000 individuals and runs from 25 March – 8 April 2009. Straightlaced will be shown on Sunday, March 29 at 16:00 (4 pm local time) at NFT3 and again on Tuesday, March 31 at 18:40 (6:40pm local time) at Studio.
Straightlaced featured in Curve magazine
The best-selling lesbian magazine features a piece about the new film–click here to read the article.
SF360 discusses the Straightlaced premiere!
With a ringing endorsement from San Francisco Schools Superintendent, Carlos Garcia, SF360 highlights the success of the Straightlaced premiere! Click here to read more.
The Huffington Post was at the Straightlaced premiere and is already feeling the film’s positive effect!
Writer for the Huffington Post, Isobel White, discusses her reaction to traditional gender roles after seeing the premiere of Straightlaced. Read the touching story here
Debra Chasnoff is interviewed about Straightlaced on radio station Alice 97.3
San Francisco radio station, Alice 97.3, sat down with Debra Chasnoff to discuss Straightlaced. Check out the interview via podcast
Metblog gives Straightlaced it’s first review!
The popular site, “Metblog,” posted this fantastic piece about seeing Straightlaced and coming away truly moved. Click here to read the article.
Debra Chasnoff Talks About Straightlaced On CBS5’s “Bay Sunday”
Debra Chasnoff and Straightlaced were featured on one of the Bay Area’s most popular Sunday morning talk shows. The December 21st episode of Bay Sunday showed clips from the film and included an interview with Chasnoff about the making of the film and its implications on youth culture and social politics. This marks the first major television coverage of Straightlaced! Check out the segment
Philadelphia’sThe Bulletin Features “It’s Elementary” In A Series On Gay and Lesbian Issues and Area Schools
By John P. Connolly
Originally posted online at The Bulletin on 12/3/2008 Editor’s Note: This is the first part of an ongoing series on homosexuality in school curriculums.
An organization dedicated to promoting diversity in schools has taken its first steps to include gay and lesbian topics in the classroom.
On Nov. 18, the Multicultural Resource Center (MCRC) hosted a showing of the documentary “It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues In School,” at The Baldwin School. Founded in 1990 and housed at Baldwin, the MCRC had its foundations in racial issues for most of its existence. MCRC Director Karen DeGregorio told The Bulletin that times have changed, and the MCRC and its member schools are at a crossroads.
“It’s so interesting, because over the years the very definition of multiculturalism has changed,” said Ms. DeGregorio, who splits her time between a teaching position at Episcopal Academy and MCRC. “In the early ’90s, it was a very different ballgame than what we’re talking about in 2008. And of course, now that we’ve just elected our first African-American president, as well. I think that not that the work doesn’t need to be done, but that a lot of the focus of it will change.”
In the afterglow of yesterday’s historic election, all of us at GroundSpark are excited about the future and the possibilities that lie ahead for our country. The significance of the presidential election cannot be overstated: this is the dawn of a new era for everyone who is working so hard for equality and justice.
Yet this is a bittersweet moment. We elected a brilliant visionary African-American man to be president, but the state of California is poised to write discrimination into our constitution.
While the final votes are still being counted, it appears that Proposition 8 has been voted in, and that the right to marry for same- sex couples will be eliminated. Even if we were to somehow win at this point, this vote— and similar votes in Florida and Arizona— have demonstrated that bigotry, misguided fear, and ignorance still run deep. There is still much work to be done.
A legal strategy has been mounted in the courts to challenge the implementation of Proposition 8 and to ensure that fundamental rights are not eliminated for anyone.
Meanwhile, at GroundSpark we are re-energized. We vow to continue our longstanding efforts to fight bias and prejudice, and to change our culture so that no one in this country would seek to eliminate another person’s rights.
We will not be silenced or deterred by the disappointing passing of Proposition 8.
Today we reaffirm our commitment to reach out to children and youth with the tools to help them understand diversity and to treat all their peers with respect. We know that children who grow up with these opportunities are more likely to uphold these values and defend everyone’s rights as adults.
In particular, we will step up— not shrink back —from our efforts to ensure that our schools are inclusive of all families in their classrooms, including those headed by lesbians or gay men. We will help schools address the widespread prejudice, including anti-gay prejudice, that leads to bullying and hatred. And we will go forward with our exciting new campaign to encourage teens to question their assumptions about gender roles and homophobia.
We hold out great hope that the Obama years will be ones in which more children can grow up to embrace the most basic principles we believe in: equality, justice, and respect for all. We look forward to taking the next steps in this important journey together.
For those of you who haven’t seen the headlines, I wanted to share the sad news that one of our most extraordinary heroes, Del Martin, passed away last week at the age of 87. If you have seen our film, One Wedding and a Revolution, then you have met Del. She and her partner of 55 years, Phyllis Lyon, made history in 2004 as the first couple to get married when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to start issuing same sex marriage licenses. And then again on June 16 of this year, they were again the first couple to be married in California after the California State Supreme court ruled that it was unconstitutional for gay couples not to be able to wed.
I first came across Del Martin’s unparalleled activism when I was in college and I read the ground breaking book, Lesbian/Woman, that she and Phyllis wrote in 1972, a book that I know has helped countless numbers of women find the courage to lead more authentic and proud lives. Years later when I moved to San Francisco, I was a bit in awe to meet Del and Phyllis, and treasured the opportunities to celebrate with them at many historic events.
I also wanted you to know that Del and Phyllis have been dedicated members of GroundSpark’s donor community for more years than I can remember. Every year they have sent in a check to support our work. They’ve applauded at every film premiere. They’ve always stood by me personally and encouraged me to be as visionary and brave as possible. Their stamp of approval and warm blessings have meant the world to me.
Just a few weeks ago, I took a DVD up to the small cottage where they have lived together for over 50 years to show them the footage we shot at the June 16 wedding. Del was very frail and in pain, but she and Phyllis held hands and were riveted to the screen. When we got to the part where they were pronounced “spouses for life” they both cried, and of course, so did I.
I asked them if it would be okay to share this wedding video with the world. “Do you think it will help?” Del asked, referring to the fight for full marriage equality. In November, as I’m sure you know, there is a measure on the California ballot that, if it passes, would change the state’s constitution so that gays and lesbians can never marry again. “If it will help,” she said in a whisper, “then let’s do it.”
I look forward to sharing the footage with you soon, and I carry those last words Del shared with me now as my own personal motto. “If it will help, then let’s do it.”
Thank you Del Martin for being a hero, a leader, and an incredible role model. We’ll miss you so much.
I hope we can honor you and will do our best to send love and support to Phyllis through this difficult time.
Debra Chasnoff tours Alabama with Its Still Elementary
Ten years after Alabama Public Television censored the broadcast of It’s Elementary – Talking About Gay Issues in School, three public screenings of It’s STILL Elementary helped spark a new dialogue and state-wide effort to address the impact of homophobia among youth. In partnership with the newly formed Alabama Safe Schools Coalition, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Equality Alabama, PFLAG Alabama, and the Civil Rights Memorial Center, screenings and panel discussions took place in Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, and Birmingham. The events brought attention to the need for safe and welcoming school environments, as well as to the growing movement in Alabama to create them. Click here to listen to Debra on Birmingham Public Radio.
Respect For All Project National Coalition Addresses Bullying Across the County
The Respect For All Project has spearheaded a collaborative initiative to reach out to educators, youth-service providers and human service professionals. Working in partnership with the National Education Association, the Afterschool Alliance, the Association of Children’s Museums, the Child Welfare League of America, the American School Counselor Association and the National Association of School Psychologists, the national coalition has helped to bring RFAP films and professional development workshops to cities across the country since 2003. The Coalition works to build safer and more inclusive school environments for all children, foster respect for diverse families and strengthen the link between family, school and community.
In April, the National Coalition visited two new locations: Little Rock, Arkansas and Dayton, Ohio. The workshops were well attended and professionals left the room feeling supported and inspired to address bias and harassment among the youth they work with. Local news outlets also attended the workshops to share information about bullying with their community.
Coverage from Little Rock:
Coverage from Dayton:
Windy City Times: Slain Calif. Teen Possible Hate-Crime Victim
By Amy Wooten
Originally posted online at Windy City Times on 2/20/2008
The young, gay victim of a California school shooting has died after allegedly being shot by a 14-year-old classmate because of his sexual orientation and gender expression.
A classmate shot junior high school student Lawrence King, 15, in the head Feb. 12. King was pronounced brain-dead the following afternoon. Charges have been filed to investigate the matter as a hate crime. The attacker will be charged with murder. Click here to read the full article
It’s STILL Elementary Release Sparking Dialogue about Discussing Gay and Lesbian Issues in Schools
GroundSpark is making news with the 10th anniversary of It’s Elementary – Talking About Gay Issues in School and the retrospective documentary It’s STILL Elementary, both of which are being released on DVD in February. Distributed in 1997, the groundbreaking documentary It’s Elementary was the first film to show how elementary and middle school teachers can facilitate age-appropriate classroom discussions that include awareness about gay and lesbian people. The DVD re-released version of the film is accompanied by a new documentary, It’s STILL Elementary, that presents fascinating “where are they now?” interviews with students and teachers from the original film, along with commentary from the filmmakers and other educators leaders who look back at the political backlash the original film received and at the tremendous impact it has had on the American educational system. The new 140-page edition of the film’s accompanying guide is based on the stories of hundreds of educators, parents, principals and professors who have used GroundSpark resources to promote understanding and respect for all. The guide is a clearinghouse of ideas and resources for using It’s Elementary to make change on many levels in the classroom, in schools of education, with school boards and within communities. Check out the media coverage that the re-release is receiving!
It’s STILL Elementary Screenings Support Local Safe School Efforts
The digtal bits are barely dry on GroundSpark’s new DVD-released documentary, It’s STILL Elementary, and it is already touring the nation. It’s STILL Elementary documents the international outpouring of response to the original release of It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School and shows the life-changing impact that It’s Elementary continues to have on educators and young people, including on the children who appeared in the film ten years ago.
This spring, It’s STILL Elementary will be traveling to Seattle, San Diego and Minneapolis where it will help educators and activists understand that talking about gay issues in school is of critical importance to the safe schools movement and to children. Visit our Upcoming Events page for complete information.
January 21-25: Celebrate No Name-Calling Week with the Young People in Your Life!
Long-time GroundSpark partner, The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), is holding its annual No-Name Calling week from January 21 – 25 this year. Join in by planning a No-Name Calling week educational event with the young people in your classroom, or just in your life. You can download a resource kit and lesson plans from www.nonamecallingweek.org.
GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week Creative Expression contest invites students ages 5-15 to illustrate what name-calling means to them through artistic expression such as poetry, artwork or music. The contest winners were announced earlier in January. GroundSpark provided copies of its Respect for All Project films to the winners’ schools.
It’s Elementary Joins the Debate in South Carolina
South Carolinians are asking when it’s appropriate to start talking to children about LGBT people. A parent objected to a movie theater advertisement that had the word ‘gay’ in it. The advertisement, created by The Alliance for Full Acceptance, was shown before a children’s movie. The theater pulled the ad, sparking a wider discussion among community members and in the media. In the midst of the controversy, two South Carolinian newspapers conducted interviews with director Debra Chasnoff. She talked at length about GroundSpark’s pioneering film, It’s Elementary, and let parents know that “in today’s society, most kids are hearing ‘gay’ at a very young age. . . It’s actually irresponsible of adults not to do something proactive to talk to kids about gays and lesbians in a responsible way.” Read Chasnoff’s comments in the the Charleston City Paper
Groundspark celebrates 10th anniversary of release of Groundspark film It’s Elementary
San Francisco, CA, October 1, 2007…GroundSpark – formerly Women’s Educational Media – today announced events celebrating the 10th anniversary and upcoming re-release on DVD of It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School. The groundbreaking documentary was the first film to show how elementary and middle school teachers can facilitate age-appropriate classroom discussions that include awareness about gay and lesbian people. The DVD re-released version of the film is accompanied by a new documentary, It’s STILL Elementary, that features follow-up interviews with some of the original participants, as well as with educators, activists and the film’s production team who discuss the political and cultural reaction to and impact of the original release of the film. GroundSpark will hold screenings of It’s STILL Elementary in New York on Thursday, October 18th, San Francisco on Thursday, October 25th, and Washington, DC, on November 28th, 2007.
It’s Elementary has helped countless educators and parents think about their role in helping to prevent young people from growing up with prejudice toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Rather than focusing on political differences on this issue among adults, the film takes the point of view of children and features them discussing the information and the misinformation that they have absorbed about what it means to be gay or lesbian.
Since its initial release, It’s Elementary has won numerous awards, as well as widespread acclaim from parents, educators, policymakers, and religious leaders. It has been shown to faculty in thousands of schools across the country and around the world, from Alaska to Florida and from Tokyo to Warsaw. The film is widely credited for helping to ignite the national “safe schools” movement, contributing to the growth in the number of gay-straight alliance groups in schools and the increase in the number of K-12 schools with inclusive non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.
The follow-up documentary, It’s STILL Elementary, presents fascinating “where are they now?” interviews with students from the original film, along with commentary from the filmmakers and other educators and leaders who look back at the political backlash the original film received and at the tremendous impact it has had on the American educational system. Paired with the DVD is a newly produced, comprehensive 80-page curriculum guide for educators, which includes lesson plans on how to incorporate LGBT curricula in classrooms.
“When the film was first released a decade ago, It’s Elementary helped spark a movement to make schools safer places for all children to discuss lesbian and gay people in age-appropriate ways,” said GroundSpark Executive Director and Academy Award®-winning documentary filmmaker Debra Chasnoff. “Homophobia hurts all children: one only has to consider the consistently homophobic content of bullying in schools today to realize that this film is more relevant than ever. All of us at GroundSpark are excited to introduce It’s Elementary and its companion documentary, It’s STILL Elementary to a new generation of educators,” Chasnoff continued.
Earlier this year, GroundSpark found itself in the midst of controversy in Evesham Township, NJ. A group of highly vocal parents objected to another GroundSpark film, That’s a Family!, which features children talking about their diverse family structures, including families with divorced and single parents, multi-racial families, families whose children were adopted, and families with lesbian and gay parents. Despite a unanimous recommendation from its own review committee of professional educators, counselors and PTA representatives that the film remain part of the elementary school curriculum, the Evesham Township School Board voted to suspend the film’s use in response to political pressure and intimidation by the minority opposition.
“Fear and ignorance about addressing diversity with children – especially related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – is alive and well,” commented Chasnoff. “The films that are part of our Respect For All Project, such as That’s a Family!, were created in response to the extraordinary impact that It’s Elementary received after its initial release. The goal of GroundSpark’s Respect For All Project is to help create schools and communities where all children feel welcome and safe. The unfortunate recent events in New Jersey demonstrate that our work is as relevant and necessary as ever,” concluded Chasnoff.
GroundSpark creates visionary films and dynamic education campaigns that move individuals and communities to take action for a more just world.
The Respect For All Project, a program of GroundSpark, facilitates the development of inclusive schools and communities that are free from bias and prejudice by providing resources, support and training to educators and youth service providers.
GroundSpark is pleased to let our supporters know that we received a $50,000 challenge grant from the Gill Foundation earlier this year
“GroundSpark provides a critical voice in its remarkable effort of creating positive social change whether it is through the use of award-winning and ground-breaking documentary films, exceptional curriculum guides or compelling workshops,” said Bruce Brothers, the Gill Foundation’s director of operating programs. “The Gill Foundation is offering this challenge grant to encourage donors to help amplify GroundSpark’s voice and strengthen the vital work it does in striving for equality for all.”
HereÂ’s how the challenge grant works: any amount given by current donors above what they gave last year will be matched dollar for dollar by the Gill Foundation.
So if you donated $100 last year, and this year you plan to give $150, the Gill Foundation will match your additional $50.
They will also match every dollar from every new or lapsed donor who gives a gift to GroundSpark this year.
We hope you are up to the challenge! Click here to make an online donation.
Women’s Educational Media is now GroundSpark!
We are very excited to announce that Women’s Educational Media has changed its name to GroundSpark.
Since 1978, we have created and implemented educational campaigns using films that inspire social and cultural change. We are proud of our history and what we have accomplished.
In order to better capture our past achievements, our current work, and where we are heading as an organization, we thought it was important to change our name; and we believe the name GroundSpark successfully captures and communicates our mission, our history and our future.
Although our name has changed, our mission remains the same. GroundSpark will continue to collaborate with its partners to ensure constituents actively engage with the films we produce. While issues that affect women remain a part of what we do, our reach is – and always has been – much broader than that.
GroundSpark will continue to promote dialogue and provide a new framework for looking at a variety of social issues. Our campaigns have and will continue to deal with a wide range of important, often controversial issues, including environmental protection, nuclear weapons manufacturing, access to affordable housing, lesbian and gay parenting, bullying and prejudice among youth.
We believe the name GroundSpark better reflects who we are, and we hope it will encourage more people and organizations interested in our vision for social justice to join in our efforts.
If you have questions about our name change or want additional information about GroundSpark, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
# # #
That’s a Family! Sparks National Dialogue about Family Diversity
There has been a flurry of media attention for That’s A Family! the past couple of weeks. The Evesham Township School Board’s decision to ban the film has sparked major national, and even international, coverage in newspapers, magazines, radio programs, TV shows, and blogs. We have included links to some of the publications below, and are excited about the national dialogue that has emerged about family diversity. If you have a moment, please thank the reporters for their favorable coverage or write to your local newspapers encouraging them to cover the issue. Keep checking back for more updates as this story evolves.
That’s A Family! featured today in the New York Times and on CNN
From Executive Director Debra Chasnoff:
Dear friends and supporters of WEM and The Respect For All Project,
I am writing to update you on a controversy in New Jersey regarding the use of our That’s A Family!curriculum that is now receiving national media attention. Many of you have already sent positive messages after reading today’s favorable story in the New York Times, and I would like to thank you for that support.
Beginning in February, the Evesham Township School District in southern New Jersey received complaints from a small, but very vocal and organized group of parents who objected to the use of the film in the district’s third grade health curriculum. While the entire curriculum was attacked, there was a specific focus on its inclusion of lesbian and gay parents.
The school board responded by forming a review committee made of 27 teachers, parents, and health education experts. Two weeks ago, that review committee announced its unanimous support for the use of That’s A Family!, and suggested that if a change had to be made, they should move the materials to fourth grade, instead of third. After a period of public comment that featured many hateful and derogatory attacks against LGBT people, the school board voted 7-1 to reject their own committee’s advice and ban the film from the district.
In the past couple of days, several major national news media, such as CNN and NBC’s Today Show, have contacted us about featuring this story in their newspapers, radio programs, and TV shows. We look forward to this incredible opportunity to discuss the inclusion and wellbeing of all families and students at a national level. We will be posting links to related stories, as well as other relevant information, on our website in the coming weeks.
At this time, we are also reminded of the organizing power of conservative religious groups to hijack the decisions of a school district and prohibit the valuable conversations needed to create respectful and hate-free learning environments. If you have a moment, please take the time to thank the editors and producers who run this story for bringing this discussion to the nation’s attention, or follow up with a brief letter to the editor.
Thank you so much for your continued support of our work. In times like this, it enables us to turn a potentially negative situation into a national story that advances our work and values.
# # #
WEM dismayed Evesham Township School Board caved to religious pressure and banned That’s A Family!
Decision Rejects Recommendations from Professional Educators and Ignores the Needs of Children from Lesbian and Gay-Headed Families
San Francisco, CA & The producers of That’s a Family! join with New Jersey families and a national network of educational and children’s advocacy organizations in expressing their deep concern about the decision by the Evesham Township School Board to abandon its commitment to family diversity education.
Reacting to pressure from a small group of vocal opponents, the Evesham Township School Board voted to discontinue using That’s A Family!, despite the recommendation from its own special review committee to keep the film as part of its elementary health curriculum. The committee, comprised of educators, teachers, parents, and health curriculum experts, urged the school board to keep the curriculum, moving it to 4th grade instead of 3rd.
“This decision sends the message that not all families ‘and not all children’ are welcome in the Evesham Township School District. It is simply not possible to create a supportive learning environment for children whose families were just erased from the curriculum, “says executive director, Debra Chasnoff, who is also the Academy Award-winning director of That’s a Family!. “We regularly hear from educators, counselors, and parents throughout the country who have found That’s A Family! to be a valuable tool in combating prejudice, encouraging empathy, and creating educational environments conducive to learning. This decision will have a negative impact on the development of Evesham’s youth and the entire community for years to come.”
Following an intensive review process, tonight’s decision goes against the legal, educational, and ethical responsibility of school districts to create learning environments that allow all students to fully realize their potential. Educators throughout New Jersey were shocked at the actions of the school board, and are confirming their own dedication to addressing prejudice of all kinds among their students. “NJEA [New Jersey Education Association] believes schools should provide a safe, welcoming environment where diversity is honored and respected. Students in New Jersey come from many different types of families,” says NJEA president Joyce Powell. “The film That’s a Family! has proven itself to be a valuable resource in communities across the United States. It is unfortunate that the Evesham Township Board of Education has chosen to take that resource away from students who would have benefited from it.”
Families in the district expressed their disapproval of the board’s decision, saying that their sense of community has been shattered. “I feel extremely disheartened. In my role as a College Counselor, I have seen many gay students from this area who have been truly traumatized by their experiences in middle and high school. The board was threatened with job loss if they voted yes for supporting the video. They caved to a political and religious agenda. Tonight I feel as if I have been removed from my community,”says Evesham resident Louise Rubalow.
The ACLU of New Jersey also expressed their disappointment in the board’s dismissal of the recommendation made by experienced educators and families involved in the school district. “The Board of Education could have sent a powerful message that all families, including those headed by lesbian and gay parents, deserve to be treated with respect,” said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “Instead the district’s actions disrespected the hardworking lesbian and gay parents who support the school district. This vote contributes to a hostile environment for lesbian and gay students.” Several residents in the district are now considering legal action against the school board.
In addition to parents and educators, students throughout the district worry that the school board is reversing its long trend of developing safe schools free of prejudice and bullying. “When I stood in front of the board back in February, I told them that it’s important to teach kids tolerance, otherwise kids like me wouldn’t stand a chance. This decision teaches kids it’s okay to hate what’s different. Tonight, the school board took two very large steps backward,”says Stephanie Dallmer, a 2007 graduate of Evesham’s Cherokee High School.
That’s a Family! is an award-winning half-hour documentary designed especially for children in elementary school that is being used across the country. It features elementary school children who are being raised parents of different races or religions, adoptive parents, single parents, divorced parents, gay or lesbian parents, and grandparents serving as guardians. By serving as both a window into the lives of their peers, and a mirror for their own lives, this film breaks new ground in helping students see and understand many of the different shapes that families take today.
RFAP featured in PTA’s national magazine, Our Children; Creating Safe Schools Is Everyone’s Business
by Ryan Schwartz and Debra Chasnoff
Brian, a middle school student, confesses that because of being constantly teased and accused of being gay: “I couldn’t pay attention to anything. And you know I’d just be sitting there doing math, and I’d keep on writing down, I hate this person, I hate this person, I hate the world, I hate my life, or I felt that I needed to, you know, like ditch school everyday or just like kill myself or something… Just, just, just anything to get out of it. You know, I just couldn’t take it anymore.” Brian’s candid honesty, featured in Let’s Get Real, The Respect For All Project’s documentary about bullying and prejudice, highlights why it is so urgent that parents and educators listen and respond to what students are saying about name-calling, bullying, and harassment.
RFAP responds to the suspension of Indiana high school teacher supporting LGBT students
In April 2007, journalism teacher Amy Sorrell was suspended by the East Allen County School District near Fort Wayne, Indiana or an article one of her students, Megan Chase, had written about respecting gay and lesbian people for the high school paper. The school and district administration found the article offensive and believed Sorrell should have gotten approval by the principal to publish the editorial. As a response to the teacher’s ‘insubordination,’ they suspended her employment. Since then, Sorrell has been relocated as an English teacher within the district and will no longer be allowed to teach journalism. The Respect For All Project submitted the following editorial to the Journal Gazette.
Children Should Learn “Gay” Comments Hurt
by Debra Chasnoff Originally published online at the Journal Gazette, May 2, 2007
At our recent anti-bullying training in South Bend, teachers from around Indiana noted the early age at which children start using anti-gay slurs.
In fact, when we visited kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms during the production of our film, It’s Elementary –Talking about Gay Issues in Schools, youth of all ages were using homophobic slurs learned from movies and television. When a third-grade teacher in the documentary asks her students what they think of when they hear the words gay or lesbian, their responses include “sick,” “pervert,” and “AIDS.”
While young students openly express these opinions, few recognize that such remarks offend others in their school and community.
Children are never too young to know that gay and lesbian people exist and are hurt by hateful comments.
School administrators at all grade levels cannot offer students a safe learning environment while ignoring disrespectful slurs in their classrooms.
As an increasing number of districts are paying large legal settlements to students who were harassed because of their perceived sexual orientation, East Allen County Schools should be thanking Megan Chase and her journalism teacher for responding to an unwelcoming environment and taking the first steps to creating a school that is free of hate and prejudice.
# # #
RFAP featured on ABC’s View From The Bay
Michael Courville, National Program Director for The Respect For All Project, was interviewed on ABC’s View From The Bay about our anti-bullying work, including our film Let’s Get Real. With Karen Kenney from Girls Inc, the show explores the epidemic of name-calling and bullying among youth, and offers viewers resources for addressing the issue.
Coverage on WEM Fundraiser for Straightlaced in Bay Windows New England’s Largest LGBT Newspaper
Reality Checkby Jeff Epperly
Originally published online at Bay Windows, April 19, 2007
The total body count in the Virginia Tech massacre wasn’t known before pundits on the left and right began debating gun control, as if guns were the core reason the shootings happened. I didn’t see a single on-air commentator bring up the obvious: girls and women can get guns just as easily as men and boys, yet we don’t see them going on shooting rampages.
As it turns out I found myself April 15 at the Jamaica Plain home of longtime progressive gay attorney Robert Greenwald and his husband, Kurt Einstein, for what was billed as a fund-raiser, but which may turn out to be an instructive counterpoint to the Virginia Tech shootings.
New Jersey Schools Struggle to Include That’s a Family! in third grade family diversity curriculum
On Tuesday, February 13, 2007, Women’s Educational Media board of directors member, Dr. Jo Ann Smith, a retired school superintendent, traveled to Evesham Township to participate in what was expected to be a highly contentious school board meeting.
The Evesham Township School District in New Jersey recently starting using our family diversity film That’s a Family! as part of its elementary school health curriculum. Earlier this month, some parents in the district pressured the district to withdraw the film because it included children being raised in gay- and lesbian-headed households alongside those with divorced, mixed race, adoptive, guardianship and single parent families.
The school board decided to suspend use of the film and has convened a special review committee to determine whether or not it will reinstate it into the curriculum.
WEM’s Respect for All Project has been featured in many media outlets speaking on the importance of children having an opportunity to learn about their peers who happen to have lesbian or gay parents.
Ally Action Gives Us Their First Honorary Ally Award
We were proud to accept the 2006 Honorary Ally Award this past fall from Ally Action, formerly GLSEN of the East Bay/San Francisco, a significant new recognition given to organizations or individuals whose work promotes equality for LGBTQ people.
“We were thrilled to recognize the unique and critically important contributions of Debra Chasnoff and the Respect For All Project with this award,” said Julie Lienert, executive director of Ally Action. “Through their groundbreaking and instructive films, Chasnoff and the Respect For All Project are helping to make schools more inclusive, safer places for all students. For that, they deserve the respect and support of all those who value equality.”
# # #
WEM Films Included in McGraw Hill Textbook
McGraw Hill Higher Education, the major textbook publisher, has selected our film It’s Elementary — Talking About Gay Issues in School and our family diversity film That’s a Family! to be included in SexSource Online, the digital companion to the company’s textbook, Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America.
The clips included from It’s Elementary and That’s a Family! will give students a fresh perspective on how teachers are addressing current debates on same-sex marriage rights and gay and lesbian-headed households with young children, and bring new discussions on these topics into college classrooms.
“The SexSource Online website represents the current shift in education from textbooks and VHS tapes to streaming media. We’re excited to be part of that leap forward,” says executive director Debra Chasnoff, “and pleased that these groundbreaking resources will reach an even wider audience via McGraw Hill.” The clips will be accessible on the password-protected site until 2011.
When I heard the news last week that Vice President Cheney’s daughter Mary and her partner were expecting a baby, I thought, wow, “it’s finally happened.” A true revolution within our lifetime, actually in less than even 25 years.
When is it OK for boys to be girls, and girls to be boys? by Ilene Lelchuk, Chronicle Staff Writer
Park Day School is throwing out gender boundaries.
Teachers at the private Oakland elementary school have stopped asking the children to line up according to sex when walking to and from class. They now let boys play girls and girls play boys in skits. And there’s a unisex bathroom.
Admissions director Flo Hodes is even a little apologetic that she still balances classes by gender.
Park Day’s gender-neutral metamorphosis happened over the past few years, as applications trickled in for kindergartners who didn’t fit on either side of the gender line. One girl enrolled as a boy, and there were other children who didn’t dress or act in gender-typical ways. Last year the school hired a consultant to help the staff accommodate these new students.
“We had to ask ourselves, what is gender for young children?” Hodes said. “It’s coming up more and more.”