Straightlaced Curriculum Guide


From girls confronting popular messages about culture and body image to boys who are sexually active just to prove they aren't gay, the students in Straightlaced illustrate the toll that deeply held stereotypes and rigid gender policing have on all of our lives.

GroundSpark’s comprehensive, accessible 160-page curriculum guide is designed to enhance the use of Straightlaced in school, community group and professional development settings.

“This excellent companion piece provides educators with activities and tools to truly deepen the conversation and learning sparked by Straightlaced.”

—Beth Yohe, Associate Director of Training and Curriculum, National Education Division, Anti-Defamation League

“An excellent complement to the film and an invaluable resource!”

—National Education Association

What’s in the Guide

The curriculum is designed to be used with a companion DVD that includes film clips for the activities, as well as electronic copies of all handouts and materials. For schools and community organizations buying for educational use, the guide and the companion DVD are packaged with the full film in a set. Extra copies of the curriculum guide are also available.

Individuals who purchase the film for home use may choose to order the guide and companion DVD separately.

See how Straightlaced and the Straightlaced curriculum guide align with National Sexuality Education core curriculum requirements.


About the Film and Curriculum Guide
Where to Share
What You Should Do Before Showing Straightlaced to Students
Tips for Facilitating Discussion
Sample Activity: “Got Your Back” (PDF)
Sample Handout: “Straightlaced Stories” (PDF)
Sample Classroom Activity: Gender Stories / Gender Self-Portraits (PDF)
Sample: Discussion Guide #1 (PDF)
Straightlaced Abbreviated Discussion Guides
Assess Your School Climate

About the Film and Curriculum Guide

Welcome to the powerful and complicated world of teens, gender and sexuality. From girls confronting media messages about culture and body image to boys who are sexually active just to prove they aren’t gay, Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up shows the many, many ways, large and small, that gender messages shape young people’s daily decisions, and the toll that deeply held stereotypes and rigid gender expectations have on all our lives.

The film shares the engaging stories of more than 50 high school students from a variety of communities. With courage and candor, these young people open their lives to the camera: choosing between “male” and “female” deodorant, deciding whether to go along with anti-gay taunts in the locker room, having the courage to take ballet or show emotion, confronting eating disorders in their circle of friends, avoiding the restroom so they won’t get beaten up, negotiating different “gender rules” in the US and their home countries, mourning the suicide of a classmate, finding the strength to stand up for someone who’s being mistreated. As their experiences show, the stakes in dealing with pressures around gender, culture and sexuality are very high; there are often intense personal consequences, both for those who fit traditional norms and, especially profoundly, for those who don’t.

Straightlaced includes the perspectives of teens who self-identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning and represent a wide range of racial and ethnic
backgrounds, as well as all points along the gender spectrum. Their experiences highlight the profound connections among gender-role expectations, attitudes toward women and attitudes toward gay and lesbian people—and illustrate many intricate threads linking gender, culture, race and class.

The film covers a wide range of topics, including:

We invite you to use Straightlaced to open critically needed dialogue on these and other issues—and to inspire both youth and adults to stand up against bias and help create school
and community climates that are fully inclusive and respectful for everyone.

Where to Share Straightlaced

In classrooms and schools. Include the film and discussion activities as part of a high school English, social studies, health, leadership or arts curriculum—or anywhere that gender issues, diversity or violence prevention is a topic or concern. The film can provide a focal point for schoolwide assemblies and support the work of social justice clubs, Gay-Straight Alliances, or schoolwide diversity and violence-prevention initiatives. Though geared primarily to a high school audience, Straightlaced can also spark powerful conversations in middle schools.

In student clubs, after-school programs and youth leadership organizations. Use the film and curriculum materials to inspire dialogue and action in out-of-school settings. Straightlaced may have particular resonance in programs focusing on girls’ or boys’ empowerment, youth leadership, media arts, activism, community engagement, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender youth, or violence prevention.

In counseling programs and support groups. Incorporate Straightlaced in teen support groups, adolescent health programs, domestic-violence-prevention efforts and other counseling projects.

At parent/guardian support meetings. Introduce Straightlaced at parent/guardian education and community-support meetings to help parents, guardians and other adults better understand and support youth at home and school.


In the community. Include the film as part of a town hall meeting or community forum on youth issues. Show it at a film festival or as a feature presentation at a conference. Share Straightlaced in faith-based youth programs, summer camps or other community organizations.

As a staff development tool. Use the film and curriculum guide at staff development workshops, trainings or staff advisory meetings.

What You Should Do Before Showing Straightlaced to Students

Consider your audience. Straightlaced is designed to be used primarily with high school students, grades nine and above. You may also share parts of the film (or in some cases the whole film) with middle school students—however, due to the film’s inclusion of mature adolescent themes such as teen sexuality, drug use, violence and suicide, if you will be
using it at the middle school level, please see the section “Special Considerations for Using Straightlaced at the Middle School Level” on p. 17 of the curriculum guide.

Preview the film and curriculum first. Because the film includes sensitive and complex issues, it is especially important to watch it all the way through yourself before showing it to students. In addition, Straightlaced offers the opportunity to discuss a wide range of intersecting subjects, so you may want to spend some time considering your own perspective on the central issues and themes before opening a conversation with youth.

Plan a Straightlaced unit based on your goals for sharing the film with students. Ideally, you will be able to use Straightlaced as both a resource for opening dialogue and a tool for sparking action in your school or community. As you plan your use of the film, be sure to clarify your goals for sharing it with students. Build in enough time—both before and after the film—for young people to reflect and discuss personal experiences, as well as to explore key issues and new concepts. And please be sure to include elements in your unit that help students generate action ideas.

Prepare to discuss complex, personal and unfamiliar topics. Straightlaced covers a variety of issues, including some we rarely have the opportunity to discuss with youth—for example, lesbian and gay identities, adolescent sexuality, the intersection of gender and race, gender-based violence, and transgender experiences. It includes some concepts that will be new to many people, such as the idea that images of gender are different in different cultures, or the idea that there can be a range, or “spectrum,” of gender identities, not just two opposite “male” and “female” categories. To prepare for conversations on these topics, we suggest you do whatever you need to get comfortable talking about these issues yourself. The tone you set will be key in guiding young people’s experience.

Think about how to address the descriptive use of slurs and other sensitive language. In telling their true stories, a few youth in Straightlaced use words that are often considered offensive and inappropriate and that may be hard for some students to hear. We have included young people’s honest accounts of these slurs and insults so that groups using Straightlaced can talk about the meaning and impact of this type of speech and how it gets used.

Commit to creating a safe space for everyone to participate. The issues in Straightlaced are very personal, so it is important to explicitly create a safe and open environment where all youth feel supported in voicing their opinions and perspectives. Be sure to set a clear tone of respect and establish ground rules before sharing the film. During the discussion, avoid letting a few students or a single group (gender, ethnic, etc.) dominate or define the issues for everyone else.

Build support among administrators and colleagues. Invite principals, counselors, organizational leaders and other colleagues to watch the film. By doing so, you can help draw in the larger school or organizational community to conversations about gender, sexuality and safety.

Share Straightlaced with parents, guardians and the community. As part of your Straightlaced unit, consider hosting a parent/guardian or community screening of the film to engage family and community members in exploring these issues. Along with creating a valuable learning opportunity for adults themselves, this will also help them support youth as the students work with Straightlaced resources. Alternatively, you may choose to hold a joint youth/adult screening and discussion. Or you may prefer to support your Straightlaced unit by simply inviting adults—parents, guardians and caregivers—to preview the film and curriculum before you show it to students.

Identify ways to build youth leadership in Straightlaced-related discussion and action. We hope you will find opportunities to enhance your work with Straightlaced by empowering youth to shape and lead key film-related conversations and activities. There are many ways to do this: holding peer-led discussions, sharing the film with a small group of youth who in turn bring Straightlaced to a larger group, offering youth the opportunity to create and facilitate Straightlaced activities, developing youth-led action projects, etc.

Anticipate and strategize about how to deal with potential concerns or resistance. In some schools or communities, talking with youth about certain topics in Straightlaced—such as teen sexuality, cultural pressures, gay and lesbian experience, homophobia, gender as a spectrum, or transgender experience—may give rise to concern or even resistance. Along with proactively engaging administrators and families, we recommend thinking ahead about how to address any such potential discomfort or controversy. It is often most effective to begin with a clear message about why you are choosing to include these issues in your curriculum. For example:

• As part of the school’s diversity or equity mission
• As a way to address bullying or violence concerns that have come up
• As a key component in developing adolescent decision-making skills
• As an aspect of the school’s social justice curriculum
• As a way to help students develop 21st-century skills
• As part of a larger program of creating a safe and inclusive environment

It is also helpful to let people know what topics the conversation will include and how engagement with these issues is appropriate to the age of your students and to the community.

Tips for Facilitating Dialogue

Whatever format you use for discussing Straightlaced, it is important to create an environment of genuine dialogue—where everyone participates, diverse perspectives (expressed respectfully) are welcome, and new understandings have the chance to develop. The following facilitation tips can help foster powerful conversation about the film and its issues.

Use participatory strategies to ensure that everyone has a voice. Given the personal nature of the material in Straightlaced, it is important that all students have a chance to develop and express their own ideas about the film as well as to hear a range of perspectives from others in the group. There are many ways to foster broad participation. One format we like is THINK-PAIR-SHARE, in which students are first asked to THINK (and possibly journal or write) about a particular question. They are then asked to discuss their thoughts in a PAIR or triad, then to SHARE the ideas from their pair in a larger discussion. We also recommend the use of small groups to discuss key themes in the film and/or to generate ideas for school and community action.

Integrate personal and analytical elements. For many students, the best entree to a thoughtful discussion of Straightlaced is through their own personal experiences and connections with the film—students they identify with, stories that touch their hearts, dilemmas they relate to, shared pressures or anxieties, individuals they find inspiring. These are deeply important and need to be part of any Straightlaced discussion.

At the same time, there is also much to be learned by analyzing the broader contexts around the film’s personal elements. For example, how do individual experiences of gender reflect larger systems of power and privilege? How are gender-role expectations connected to experiences of race, culture, class and sexual orientation?

To be most effective, your discussion of Straightlaced should include both personal and analytical elements—and should help young people make the connections between these two levels.

Use quotes from the film to help anchor your conversation. One fun and concrete way to help young people articulate both their personal reflections and their analytical ideas about Straightlaced is by drawing on some of the amazing statements shared by youth in the film.

Model willingness to engage with new or unfamiliar topics and themes. Your Straightlaced unit may open unfamiliar or uncharted conversations—including conversations about deeply personal experiences that you and/or others in the room may never have discussed or, in some cases, even encountered. Embrace this—and do what you can to model comfort and respect in talking about all people and issues that come up. Remember, you will set the tone for the conversation!

It is often very powerful when, through their own ease, facilitators are able to normalize discussing things like sexual pressure, challenging family dynamics, cultural expectations, gay and lesbian experience, gender nonconformity, or peer-group harassment. At the same time, you should feel free to say, “I don’t know” when necessary or to show yourself grappling thoughtfully with new understandings. It is also OK to set respectful boundaries in talking about your own experience.

Adapt the content to your own context and community. While many of the themes in Straightlaced have widespread relevance, some of the details young people talk about can be quite specific. Don’t let students get distracted by differences between their own
communities and the ones shown in the film. For example, in the film, young men shopping for clothes worry about whether their pants are baggy enough. This detail might not be something that resonates for the students in your particular school or community—but if you use this scene to ask about the “rules” they themselves encounter for how guys or girls should dress and what the consequences are for not following these rules, it is very likely they will find they have many things to talk about.


Don’t settle for easy answers. You may find it difficult for youth (and adults!) to talk about several of the topics in Straightlaced and to see or admit the impact that gender has on their own lives, schools and communities. They may be tempted to gloss over some of the more difficult dynamics—exclusion of those who are different, people’s feelings of being
invisible, rejection, objectification, harassment, depression, violence. They may say things like “That doesn’t happen here,” “It’s no big deal,” or “This really doesn’t hurt anyone.” If this is how students initially respond, please help keep the conversation real by probing further. Find out what is working; for example, how do people stand up for each other? In what ways are stereotypes being challenged?

Keep it safe! Use your Group Agreements to be sure the experiences of those who are most vulnerable are respected and validated. It is critically important that the dynamics of bias and exclusion expressed in Straightlaced itself not get reproduced unintentionally in discussions or activities about the film.

Straightlaced Abbreviated Discussion Guides

We also offer these online Straightlaced Discussion Guides which provide streamlined more abbreviated support for sparking dialogue about the complex gender-based pressures affecting today’s youth. Three versions are available to customize the conversation for your specific context.

Discussion Guide for High school youth

Discussion Guide for middle school youth

Discussion Guide for professional development contexts