Posts Tagged ‘sojourn’

GroundSpark’s Film and Facilitation Helps Melt the Ice in Alabama

By | blog

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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.

Back to Basics in Atlanta!

By | Straightlaced


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.

Partnering with SOJOURN to Bring Respect For All to the Southeast

By | It's Elementary, Let's Get Real, LGBT, Respect For All Project, Screenings, Straightlaced, That's A Family!

We’re headed down south to help transform community conversations from Atlanta to Birmingham!

Joining forces with the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN), GroundSpark will help bring powerful new educational programming to communities across the Southeastern United States later this month, centered on our award-winning Respect for All documentary series.

“GroundSpark’s films are the perfect complement to the work that SOJOURN does throughout the Southeast. They tackle issues surrounding gender normativity and identity, homophobia, and family relationships in a real, down-to-earth way,” says Rebecca Stapel-Wax, executive director of SOJOURN. “Each documentary features children and teens who are living these experiences daily.”

SOJOURN, who seek to promote increased understanding and acceptance of individuals across the spectrum of gender and sexual orientation, will lead inspiring conversations and lesson plans around four of our films – Let’s Get Real, Straightlaced – How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, That’s A Family!, and It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School – from February 21st to the 23rd, in public school districts, independent schools, and Jewish community organizations.

“We are thrilled to be able to reach new audiences in the south through this partnership with SOJOURN,” says GroundSpark’s president and senior producer, Debra Chasnoff. “There is exciting work happening now in Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama to support all students to be their best, fullest selves. We are honored that our films, curricula, and professional development programs will be utilized to expand that work even further.”

This transformative partnership is made possible through a grant from the Amy Mandel and Katina Rodis Fund. For more information and to register for these events and programs, please see GroundSpark’s events calendar!