Posts Tagged ‘Straightlaced’

School District Does the Right Thing:
Vallejo Won’t Let Students “Opt-Out” of Anti-Bullying Curriculum



By | blog, Latest News, Let's Get Real, Respect For All Project, Straightlaced, That's A Family!

Last night the Vallejo Unified School District 30 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, voted 4 – 1 to continue its anti-bullying curriculum for students in its elementary, middle, and high schools.

The curriculum was put in place as the result of a settlement negotiated by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California on behalf of a lesbian student in the district who was being harassed —by faculty and staff at her school—because of her sexual orientation.

High School Student Takes On Anti-Gay Harassment...And WinsThe 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.

(For That’s a Family! click here for free streaming in support of National Adoption Day)

A personal story goes a long way . . .



By | Straightlaced

A few months ago, Straightlaced–How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up screened at the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference in Colorado. Wanda Holland Greene, Head of the Hamlin School in San Francisco and long time supporter of GroundSpark, co-presented the film with Social Studies Teacher Kirsten Gustavson to an audience made up primarily of independent school leaders and teachers of color.

Wanda opened the workshop by asking the group to do something we are rarely asked to do in our everyday lives as adults: Think back to when you were a child and try to remember a message that you received about what it meant to be a “proper man” or a “proper woman.” She asked participants to think about what their chosen message was and try to hear it in the source’s voice—was it their mother’s voice, their teacher’s voice, the television, the radio, or maybe their pastor?

Wanda Holland Green and Kirsten Gustavson

Wanda Holland Green and Kirsten Gustavson

Unearthing the messages about who and what they should be in the world, and locating the many different sources of these messages, was incredibly revealing. “I wanted the audience to have an introspective approach to the topic of gender,” Wanda says.  But she also wanted people to bring their insights into their classrooms. She goes on: “So what does it mean to create a safe, inclusive learning environment in our classrooms when gender messages come from so many multiple sources, unique to each individual’s experience? If diversity is a component of excellence, how do we take into account the varying experiences of gender expectations that all of our students face?”

The answer to this question is obviously complex, but one important piece is surely Wanda and Kirsten’s approach of asking educators to think back to when they themselves were young. “Straightlaced allowed us to reconnect our professional work on diversity and inclusion with the very real “stuff” of lived human experience.  By sharing our own feelings and stories about gender, we remembered how powerful the messages are, and many left the session energized and excited to help our young people better understand their own experiences,” Kirsten noted. Sharing our personal stories allows us to see the similarities and differences in what we all experience and offers a chance for dialogue to grow. Certainly the young people in Straightlaced show us what a powerful force stories can be.

Here’s GroundSpark’s challenge to you: Tell us your personal story. Leave a comment about a message you received when you were younger about what being a “proper man” or a “proper woman” means.

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.

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.

Straightlaced Wins a CINE Golden Eagle Award!



By | Straightlaced

Every year the CINE Golden Eagle Award is bestowed upon filmmakers as a recognition of excellence in production. Straightlaced was one of the films chosen for the award this year and we are definitely excited about this!

With the West Coast film festival premiere last week at Frameline, the FREE Los Angeles screening at OutFest, and the new CINE Golden Eagle Award, Straightlaced has been causing movement far and wide!

Straightlaced at Frameline in San Francisco



By | Straightlaced
The SF crowd anxiously awaits the screening of Straightlaced.

The SF crowd anxiously awaits the screening of Straightlaced.

Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up screened at the Roxie Theater last Friday to a sold out crowd at Frameline 33: San Francisco’s LGBT Film Festival! With a mixed crowd of film lovers, educators, Debra Chasnoff fans, and youth, the film was received warmly at it’s West Coast film festival premiere. Read the rest of this post…

Frameline 33 Screens STRAIGHTLACED



By | Straightlaced

This Friday, June 26 at 6:00 PM, as part of Frameline33 –  San Francisco’s LGBT Film Festival, Director Debra Chasnoff and Producer Sue Chen will be at the Roxie Theater for a local San Francisco screening of Straightlaced

NOTE: On Frameline’s website, the show is listed as SOLD OUT, but rush tickets are available! If you come to the door a half hour or so early and tell the box office to put you on the standby list, you will probably get in, as some unused tickets will become available. Q & A with director and producer after feature. See you there!

Suing A School District To End Bullying



By | Straightlaced

In response to Vallejo Unified’s settlement of a lawsuit about anti-LGBT harassment, the Angie Coiro show is going to be talking about safe schools litigation tonight. On the show from 6:30-6:50ish will be Lance from Straightlaced, who filed his own lawsuit. He will be talking about his own experiences as well as Straightlaced.

You can listen live at http://www.green960.com/pages/tgs.html.

Straightlaced Brings Visibility to Safe Schools Efforts in Kansas



By | Straightlaced

Anne Mitchell, of Equality Kansas, sent us the following message after hosting two Straightlaced screenings in south-west Kansas:

Screening Straightlaced in Garden City and Dodge City, Kansas was so exciting, and brought together over 50 educators, youth, and activists. This was the first time we have hosted a proactive event, instead of being reactive to negative situations we hear about.

Read the rest of this post…