Posts Tagged ‘Debra Chasnoff’

Marriage Equality in New York? It’s Elementary!



By | It's Elementary, It's STILL Elementary

Sixteen years ago, producer Helen Cohen and I were at PS 87 in New York City filming a fifth grade class during a civics lesson. “Today the law says that if you’re the same sex —two men or two women— you can’t get married, it is against the law,” their teacher explained. And then he set up a class assignment for students to debate whether or not the law should change.

When the news broke last Friday that New York had changed its discriminatory marriage laws, I immediately thought of this incredible scene in It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School, the film Helen and I ended up making with the footage we shot that day.

These children had the opportunity, in elementary school, to think critically—with their teacher’s support—about whether or not it was fair for same sex couples to be denied equal legal rights. Today these same students are 25 and 26 years old! And they are part of the electorate that voted in the current representatives in the New York state legislature.

We couldn’t possibly have imagined when we completed It’s Elementary that it would continue to be so relevant and utilized 16 years later. But every week new copies of the film go out to school districts across the country.

Sometimes it’s because states have enacted new anti-bullying legislation and school districts need ways to help their teachers and staff members understand why it’s so important to be pro-active in addressing bias. Sometimes it’s because there has been some horrible hate crime or suicide and the district wants to do everything it can to prevent another tragedy.

And sometimes, it’s just because the cultural tide is turning and staff need support on how to grapple with their students’ questions about why the government treats LGBT people differently than everyone else.

Educators watch the film, or our companion documentary, It’s STILL Elementary. They use the highly regarded curriculum guide for these films that offers support on how and why to address LGBT issues in school settings. Inevitably these screenings and trainings build teachers’ understanding and confidence, preparing them to lead age-appropriate lessons for their students that are inclusive and welcoming to LGBT people and families.

Even more importantly, they support educational pedagogy which prioritizes critical thinking skills, respect, and compassion.

I hope we don’t have to wait for all of today’s elementary school children to grow up and become voters before we truly have full legal equality throughout the United States.

But for today, we’re celebrating the fact that if we were to film that same scene again right now in New York, the lesson would be different: today, in New York, two people of the same sex do have the right to marry!

Announcing Our National Straightlaced Partners!



By | Straightlaced

Announcing Our National Straightlaced Partners!

Last week, the White House hosted a conference on combating bullying. The same day, both houses of Congress reintroduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act to protect the rights of LGBT and gender non-conforming students in our nation’s schools.

We can’t think of better timing to proudly announce our national partners for the expanded outreach and education campaign for documentary film, Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, about the pressures teens face today because of gender role expectations and homophobia.

We’re honored to have such an esteemed group of organizations working with us to share Straightlaced as a critical tool to help improve school social climates, particularly when it comes to addressing stigma and social pressures connected to gender roles, sexuality, and sexual orientation.

Our partners include: 

Anti Defamation League
ANSWER
California Partnership to End Domestic Violence
COLAGE
Facing History & Ourselves
Gender Spectrum
Girls For A Change
Girls Incorporated

 

GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network
Gay-Straight Alliance Network
National Youth Advocacy Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights
True Colors
PFLAG: Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays
Safe Schools Coalition
Teaching Tolerance

They are helping spread the word about the film, showcasing it at their conferences, writing about it in their newsletters and websites, promoting its distribution with partner discounts, and working with GroundSpark in a variety of exciting ways.

You can help too. Is there a school you know that could use a copy? A social service agency or community group? Does your organization want to become a Straightlaced partner?

Order your copy of Straightlaced today. Or stream a copy and watch it right now.

Contact us to explore partnership opportunities.

Or make a gift to help GroundSpark keep reaching out.

Thank you for helping us, as always, ignite change through film.

Debra Chasnoff, Founding Director & Amy Scharf, National Program Director

P.S. Please check out the amazing work that all of our Straightlaced partners do each day. It’s an honor to be collaborating with each of them.

The President Gets a ‘B’ on Bullying — Grading The White House Conference



By | Straightlaced

Originally published in The Huffington Post

Hats off to the Obamas for drawing national attention to the problem of bullying in our school communities. Hosting a conference at the White House to draw more media attention to bullying is an excellent step forward.

Like most symbolic White House gatherings, though, this conference recommended some good steps forward but also carefully avoided some important strategies that need to be put in place if we are ever going to truly stop bullying.

Here’s my report card on what I heard on the live feed from the White House Thursday.

Raising the level of public awareness about the importance of addressing bullying in schools:

A+

“Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up,” the president said. “We can take steps — all of us — to help prevent bullying and create a climate in our schools in which all of our children can feel safe; a climate in which they all can feel like they belong.”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Drawing attention to the fact that bias issues underlie many bullying incidents.

B

The president deserves credit for acknowledging that many students are targeted because of some aspect of their identity. “[Bullying] is also more likely to affect kids that are seen as different,” the President said, “whether it’s because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the disability they may have, or sexual orientation.”

He acknowledged the families of two youths who committed suicide last year, one of them, Carl Walker Hoover, because of being tormented by homophobic harassment.

But he failed to explain that bias-infused harassment affects all youth, not just those who have are seen as “different.” Anti-LGBT stigma and the pressure to conform to gender norms, for example, affects all girls and boys regardless of how they may identify sexually at any point in their lives.
Calling for system wide efforts for curricula that address rampant anti-LGBT stigma, racial and ethnic stereotypes, mental and physical disabilities, religious differences, and pressures to conform to gender norms.

C

Acknowledging the families of those who endured bias-based harassment is not the same as calling for pro-active education that prevents that bias from developing in the first place. It is definitely possible to pull school communities together to take initiative against bias. I know we can because we have been helping to do that for years with GroundSpark’s Respect for All Project.

Shifting the focus from individual responses to bullying to communitywide culture-changing ones.

B-

The selection of experts on the panel that spoke after Mr. and Mrs. Obama were focused primarily on psychological and behavioral factors, which, of course, contribute to bullying. But only one, Professor George Sugai, encouraged the discussion to focus on sociological factors, namely changing the culture in schools.

Advocating for funding and programs that train every teacher on how to address bullying and the bias that underlies it.

C

One speaker mentioned that we need more teacher training. While another commented on the fact that while 40 states have anti-cyber bullying laws, none of them have provided funding to enforce them. Lack of training for individual teachers and for school staff as a whole is probably the single most significant stumbling block to changing school culture.


Moving from rhetoric to action

B

The White House announced several programs that Facebook, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and others are launching to step up ways to address bullying.

And kudos are deserved for the federal government’s launch of www.stopbullying.gov, which amazingly includes a section for LGBT youth. But the website has no resources to help schools and educators address bias issues, or to help train teachers or to help with a systematic approach to change school climate.

Overall Grade Point Average

B

Areas for Improvement

1. Tie federal funding for education to mandatory anti-bias and anti-bullying training for school personnel that focuses on school wide culture change, not just stronger discipline.

2. Bravely call for more pro-active curricula that help students learn about why all kinds of stigma, including homophobia, are harmful to everyone and how they can be allies to stop it.

Mr. President, you made significant progress during this grading period, and we hope you can realize your full potential in the semesters to come.

 

The Kids (of Lesbians Parents) Are Alright!



By | blog, Choosing Children, That's A Family!

A new study being published in the July issue of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal Pediatrics has found that children raised by lesbian parents are just as strong socially, academically and in total competence than as their peers raised by non-lesbian parents. What great news to read on a Monday morning! Finally, a study published by America’s leading pediatric medical group confirmed what we have known all along and have been working to help others see: that the children of LGBT-headed families exist in our communities and function just like their peers who come from non-gay families. And to read that, in some measures, they are in fact doing better than their peers sent a wave of excitement through our office – because helping the kids of LGBT-headed families succeed is important to our work. Our film That’s a Family! has screened in schools, communities, teacher education programs and more, as a way to allow children and adults to see LGBT parents and their kids in an affirming light. This is crucial not only for kids with gay parents to see themselves reflected in media, but also for others to see that these families are just like their own.

The news also made me think about our 1984 film Choosing Children, about the different ways lesbians were becoming parents and raising children. When Gattrell’s study was first began in 1986, Choosing Children had already been screening to audiences across the country. It was a time when lesbian and gay parents were just gaining mainstream visibility and the lesbian baby boom was igniting. How far we have come, 25 years later, when Gartrell’s study shows not only that children raised by lesbians will turn out okay, they will even excel. On that note, this fall we are screening a newly-restored film print of Choosing Children, celebrating all the wonderful children LGBT people are now parenting. And we’d love for you to join us at this community event. See the invitation and program.

You can read Nanette Gattrell’s study in the journal Pediatrics here.

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!!!

Dear Sporty Hot Dog Girl



By | Straightlaced

Last week we received an email from a woman named Monique Marshall. Apparently she had attended the Straightlaced premiere in Los Angeles last March. Monique purchased a copy of the film and then took it home to watch with her ten-year-old daughter, Moreau.

Moreau wrote a letter to T’Uh from STRAIGHTLACED

Moreau wrote a letter to T’Uh from STRAIGHTLACED


T’Uh, “the Sporty Hot Dog Girl” in STRAIGHTLACED

T’Uh, “the Sporty Hot Dog Girl” in STRAIGHTLACED

After seeing the film, Moreau asked her mother if she could write a letter to one of the young people in Straightlaced. This is Moreau’s letter to “Sporty Hot Dog Girl:”

Ms letter to TUh1

In the film, after constant badgering from others to look different and act “the way ‘young ladies’ are supposed to,” T’Uh stands firmly by her choice to look different and be herself in the world–“I do what I want. I like being different.”

I went ahead and sent the letter to T’Uh over the weekend and she had this to say in response: “The letter touched my heart and gave me chills. I’m going to write to my new buddy right away.”

Thank you Monique, for sharing Straightlaced with your daughter! The culture change that we need for our young people to be their fullest and brightest selves will take the work of many–especially parents.

In memory of Hannah Landers



By | Straightlaced

At every screening of Straightlaced where there is a Q and A afterwards, someone always, understandably, asks, “Who is Hannah Landers?” Because at the end of the film, a title comes up that says:

In memory of Hannah Landers
September 28, 1990 – May 6, 2008

Hannah_Landers

In May of 2008, Sue Chen, my co-producer, had booked a plane ticket for Hannah and her mom to fly out to meet us in San Francisco so we could film a second interview with her. But days before they were supposed to come, Sue received a horrible phone call, and learned that Hannah had been killed in a car accident. We all were devastated.

We finished the film without that extra interview and all knew immediately that we would dedicate Straightlaced to Hannah’s memory, and by extension, to the spirit of her activism.

Then we started working on the world premiere. Much to our surprise, Hannah’s parents, Richard and Michelle Landers, were really excited to fly out to San Francisco to be there; they wanted to be part of the big audience that would be seeing the film for the first time.

Hannah had told us that her dad was an administrator at a Baptist church. I confess that of few of us here had some preconceptions about what kind of views a person who held that job might have about the point of view in our film.

We wondered: how would the Landers feel about the film? How would they feel being in a theater filled with close to a thousand Bay Area activists?

It turned out our concerns were for naught. The Landers’ response was so moving to me, and taught me a powerful lesson about my own stereotypes.

“We enjoyed the entire evening and sincerely appreciate the time we spent with you and the other Groundspark board of directors members and staff,” Michelle wrote to one of our board members. “Everyone was so wonderful, gracious and hospitable – we are very glad that we made the trip.”

“The film is fantastic and we are even more proud of Hannah than we could have imagined. She was incredibly passionate and wise for someone her age and she spent a lot of energy fighting what she saw as the injustices of the world. She was a champion for the underdog and a spokesperson for those who wouldn’t or couldn’t speak for themselves. We miss her terribly, but are very inspired that her words and actions will continue to help young people.”

Fast forward several months. I am so proud to be able to tell you that on January 9th, Straightlaced will have its Kentucky premiere on January 10th, 2010 at the State Theater at the Kentucky Theater at 10:15am. Richard and Michelle have worked with Rebecca Woloch, the mother of another student in whose memory the memorial garden in the film is dedicated, to organize the screening. They will be doing a fundraising pitch at the event and want the proceeds to be split between GroundSpark, the Hannah Landers Memorial Scholarship Fund, and a local suicide prevention group doing work in Josh Shipman’s memory. Please download the event flyer for more information on the event.

We, too, are also inspired that Hannah’s words and actions are helping so many people—of all ages—along with those of all the courageous young people who appeared in Straightlaced, and all of our other Respect for All Project films.

Our new year’s wish for you is that you continue to feel inspired and courageous. To look inside yourself, to challenge your own stereotypes, and to find the strength to be a champion for those who can’t or won’t speak for themselves.

Thank you from all of us at GroundSpark. Let’s stick together in 2010.

Debra Chasnoff
President and Senior Producer

Help GroundSpark bring the stories of courageous young people like Hannah to communities across the country in 2010, by making a donation to GroundSpark today!

GroundSpark films make a great gift! Please buy one today or donate a film to a school that can’t afford one.

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



By | That's A Family!

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

Check out this amazing activity!