“I’m ready for 2015 to end!” Have you been thinking that? Some days, I do too. But I want to remind you of four fantastic things that happened this year—in small part because of GroundSpark’s culture changing work—and because of your support.
When we started our Respect for All Project 20 years ago, the idea that marriage equality would become the law of the land wasn’t even a pipedream. So, at the time, it was stunning when we filmed fourth graders for It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School having a reasonable classroom discussion about whether or not gay people should be allowed to marry.
THIS YEAR, the Supreme Court finally settled the debate the students are having in this scene!
(Click photo to see the scene)
What’s more, the number of colleges of education ordering educational streaming licenses for It’s Elementary continued to grow—which means the next generation of K-12 teachers is learning how to support their students to develop critical thinking skills and a passion for justice.
Fifteen years ago, when we produced a film that modeled how to talk to children about all different kinds of family structures—including those with gay or lesbian parents, it was still illegal for gay people to adopt children in many states. No wonder That’s a Family!struck a nerve in school district after school district.
<<< (Click to watch trailer)
THIS YEAR, couples in Mississippi, the last state in the country that still bans gay couples from adopting, filed suit to challenge that law. It’s gratifying to see schools in more conservative areas coming around to use That’s a Family! Now they really have no excuse but to be inclusive of all different kinds of families.
When we were making Let’s Get Real, our documentary about bias-based bullying, I remember people scoffing. “That’s just the way kids are. And that’s the way it will always be.” Only a handful of states had any laws or policies addressing the bullying epidemic.
(Click to watch trailer) >>>>
THIS YEAR, Montana finally became the 50th state to get on board. It has become completely unacceptable for schools to ignore this issue any more. And GroundSpark launched a new campaign to reach out to PTAs to use Let’s Get Real to help parents and guardians understand what they can do to help the climate at their children’s schools.
When we were filming Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, one of the gay students in the film talked about how, by appearing on camera, he was putting his Eagle Scout award at risk because the Boy Scouts had a ban on gay members and troop leaders.
THIS YEAR, the Boy Scouts finally dropped the ban, something we could barely even hope for when we made the film! And hundreds of teachers took advantage of the Straightlaced free streaming for Ally Week and No Name Calling week that GroundSpark provided with the help of our donors.
As 2015 comes to a close, let’s honor these victories. Please take a minute to renew your support to GroundSpark with as generous a gift as you can. You can help insure that we will be able to ignite change with film just as successfully in 2016.
With an unusual ice storm bearing down on the city, blowing in from Tennessee, 65 brave souls came to a late February evening event, hosted by the Levite Jewish Community Center in Birmingham, Alabama for a unique opportunity to bring together organizations that serve LGBT people in Alabama, parents and family members, allies, and middle and high school youth for a screening of Straightlaced— How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up.
While the cold had our California-based teeth chattering, the warm reception my training partner, Serian Strauss, and I received from the JCC staff and the appreciative community members made it more than worthwhile. With the popcorn machine crackling not too far away, we got the group started with an icebreaker that mixed the diverse participants into varying pairs to share parts of their experience with others’ assumptions about them connected to their gender.
One middle school student had come with his parents and two ally friends, traveling more than 30 miles to get to the screening.His father has spent many volunteer hours trying to change school policies to create a safer climate in his area.He reviewed our Respect for All Project films and curriculum guides with interest, and wondered, “Are teachers allowed to teach this stuff here?”
The gratitude, hope and excitement to have so many people present and so many different organizations beginning to provide resources, support and advocacy for LGBT youth and adults in Alabama were palpable.Representatives from Alabama Human Rights Commission, the Magic City Acceptance Project, AIDS Alabama, PFLAG and the Safe Schools organization were present in addition to board members from our organizing partner, SOJOURN, and other volunteers. Representatives from these organizations had the opportunity share a bit about their work and their resources and make new connections.
We were impressed by the age diversity present and also by the dedication and passion shown by volunteers who are working to open hearts and minds in their communities, some of whom are spending their retirement working for social change.We thanked one of these leaders for helping to spread the word about the even, saying “folks are here because of you.”She responded – “No, no.I am here because of them.”
We remembered the long history of civil rights activism in Birmingham and were honored to be a small part of continuing that legacy.Much wonderful work has begun in Alabama, much education and advocacy is left to go, and GroundSpark hopes to continue to be a resource for the change-makers there in the future.
This event was part of a series of programs that GroundSpark organized with SOJOURN, with funding from the Amy Mandel and Katina Rodis Fund and our generous other supporters.
As part of our swing through the South, 35 professionals serving the Jewish community in Atlanta gathered with us to watch portions of Straightlaced – How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up and to learn about how to create more inclusive and welcoming communities for young people of all genders. Some of the attendees were already familiar with the concepts presented, but for many of them, the idea that rigid gender boxes are harmful and limiting for all people – whether they fit in the gender boxes or not – was new.
To best meet the needs of the audience, my co-facilitator, Serian Strauss, and I went back to basics – establishing common vocabulary. We defined the difference between “sex” and “gender” – sex as assigned to each of us at birth and the gender identity that we develop over a lifetime that is greatly impacted by society. Many participants were intrigued by the idea that these two may or may not be congruent, and in different ways for each of us.
We led the “Act Like a Boy” activity from the Respect for All Project curriculum guides to raise awareness about the ways that young people are often confined by gender boxes. The audience identified the ways that boys are expected to be “bread-winners,” “be tough,” and “be handy.” We then explored what names boys are called if they don’t fit in the box. Some audience members were accustomed to these words and were moved to learn how harmful the words can be, and how oppressive they are for all boys – not just the ones that don’t conform to gender norms.
All of the participants explored how they themselves do and don’t fit gender norms and began to consider how to break down the gender binary that is reinforced over and over for kids in their preschool programs, sports programs and faith contexts. One preschool administrator realized that her school’s intake forms only include marital status checkboxes for heterosexual parents, and strategized with us about how to improve her forms. We explored the purpose of the intake form: it was a way for teachers to understand and know about the home life of their students, and suggested an open-ended question – such as “Please share with us who lives in your household,” “Who is in your family?” and “Is there anything else you would like us to know about your family?” She concluded that these kinds of questions would even better serve the intended purpose of the forms!
As we find time and again, inclusion benefits a wider range of people than might be originally expected. In this case, making space for lesbian and gay headed families, also addresses the needs of other family forms – such as a divorced mother. How much better it would be for her to be able to describe her family in positive terms, instead of having to check the “Divorced” box as a way of describing herself, right at the start of her child’s preschool experience! The participants also asked questions about how to address the values of more conservative people of faith who maintain a stricter division between the sexes. These questions were handled by staff from our partner organization SOJOURN (Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity) Rebecca Stapel-Wax and Robbie Medwed, who are working to build bridges and guide Jewish communities towards a more open and inclusive approach.
This event was part of a series of programs that GroundSpark organized with SOJOURN, with funding from the Amy Mandel and Katina Rodis Fund and our other generous supporters.
Each year, in classrooms around the country, teachers of all kinds are tasked with implementing the National Sexuality Education Standards – a list of seven learning objectives established by leading health officials, researchers and educators in 2011. Yet many of those educators continue to struggle to find engaging and effective tools to teach what can often feel like a complicated topic.
“One thing that continues to impress us about Straightlaced and the accompanying curriculum is that there is nothing else like it out there. We can’t think of anyone else who is addressing gender in such a meaningful way with young people. And gender must be addressed if we’re going to make real change when it comes to dealing with sexism, homophobia and transphobia.”
– Lucinda Holt, Director of Communications, Answer, the national sexual education training organization
In an increasingly diverse world, where harassment, bullying and relationship violence are all too common experiences for high schoolers, teachers need to be ahead of the curve when it comes to discussing gender and sexuality. So we’ve aligned our award-winning documentary film-based curriculum and resource Guide with the national sex ed standards, to make it easier for high school educators to engage their students!
“We believe firmly, as these standards outline, that addressing the constraints of gender norms will help all students live healthier lives.” said Debra Chasnoff, founder of GroundSpark. “Aligning Straightlaced with these standards is about working towards achieving that goal.”
Through our alignment we’ve outlined the specific activities, video clips and lesson plans that can be used to meet the requirements for various grade levels. And because everything connects to our award-winning youth-focused film, we know these interactive lessons are especially likely to resonate with teenagers.
We also know that we can’t afford to wait any longer to implement these ideas and improve sexuality education.
According to a 2011 Dove study, 72% of teen girls feel enormous pressure to live up to society’s beauty ideals. While the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network reports that 85% of LGBT youth in the U.S. are verbally harassed at school each year. These factors can lead to diminished self-esteem, absenteeism and lower grades.
GroundSpark is committed to improving school environments for youth everywhere, and our Straightlaced Curriculum and Resource Guide, now aligned with the National Sexuality Education Standards, is a powerful tool to help us all create safer, more inclusive classrooms.
The district agreed to bring age-appropriate lessons about diversity and standing up against bullying and name-calling into every classroom, and also to provide training to all faculty and staff about anti-gay harassment and discrimination. GroundSpark’s films and educational resources are being used at all grade levels to help implement this plan.
At a contentious board meeting last night, parents were split in their opinions about the curriculum. Many, including the mother of the young woman who had been harassed, applauded the district’s efforts to prevent further harassment.
I saw how it affected her,” Sheree Hamilton said in reference to her daughter, Roxanne. “She fell into a deep depression. She didn’t laugh anymore. She fell behind in school.”
“Teenagers, gay teenagers committing suicide: why? Because this education was not there,” said another parent, Franklin Hernandez.
As has been true in other school districts, the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative activist organization opposed to any discussion of LGBT people in schools, played a role in organizing parents to oppose the district’s anti-bullying work.
At last night’s meeting, some speakers objected to the district having a curriculum that acknowledges families headed by gay or lesbian parents, or curriculum for teenage students that discusses anything related to sexual orientation or gender norms. Others claimed that the district’s implementation of this curriculum without giving them the option to “opt-out” their children from the lessons constitutes “bullying” by the district.
Despite this vocal opposition, the school board members stood behind the anti-bullying curriculum.
We are very proud that the district is using our Respect for All Project resources to help implement its initiative. Elementary school students watch That’s a Family! which introduces respectful awareness of what it means to grow up in families headed by parents who are divorced, single, different races, lesbian or gay, as well as those who are being raised by adoptive parents or guardians.
In middle school they are watching Let’s Get Real, which helps open up discussion about harassment connected to racial tension, religious differences, anti-gay stigma, difference in family income, immigration status and more.
And in high school, students are watching Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, a proven catalyst for helping all upper level students think about how pressures to conform to gender role norms can lead students to collude with anti-gay harassment, engage in risky sexual practices, or get violent.
As part of GroundSpark’s response to this fall’s wave of media attention on teen suicide related to homophobic bullying and harassment, we have been offering free streaming of all of our Respect for All Project films through the end of the year.
Just click on our anti-bullying spark to find out more.