Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Frameline sends LGBT
films to CA schools


Filmmaker Glenne McElhinney is working with Frameline to help create an online LGBT curriculum.(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)

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Audiences attending the annual San Francisco LGBT film festival often wonder if the films they are seeing will receive wider distribution.

The answer, at least for a few films shown at Frameline, is that they will be distributed for free to hundreds of schools throughout California for teachers and LGBT student groups to screen.

The program, known as Youth in Motion, launched in 2008 and has released eight DVDs – five of which are compilations of shorter films – that come with curriculum and action guides that provide suggestions for how to teach or discuss the films.

"We try to be very mindful and pick films that are representing a lot of different types of stories and balance culture," explained Alexis Whitham, Frameline's educational programming and acquisitions manager. "We are trying to talk to teachers and students to see what they want and need."

One of two selections in 2010 was Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, a 2002 film about the out gay black man who was a close confidante of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and helped organize the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, D.C.

One of last year's releases combined two short films under the title of "Telling Our Stories." It included the documentary Don't Erase My History, which featured a group of Bay Area youth on a quest to learn about queer history, and the fictional movie Change, about an African-American teenager struggling with being gay on election night in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected as America's first black president and California voters adopted the same-sex marriage ban known as Proposition 8.

Among the first four DVDs released five years ago was one titled "Gender Matters" that featured six short films about transgender and gender non-conforming young adults. In a comment posted online about the films, teacher Jan Speller said she had shown several in her junior college prep English classes.

"I'm extremely grateful for your program, the films, and the curriculum and action guides, which were particularly helpful in discussing the meaning of gender before viewing," stated Speller, identified as a gay-straight alliance adviser at El Camino High School in South San Francisco. "Film is a powerful resource in the classroom, and students' media literacy is more developed and astute than many adults realize. These shorts make a topic that would be tricky to discuss so much more accessible through the narratives and media."

A joint project between Frameline and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, the two organizations are now rolling out the program nationwide. In July a new collection of short films, likely eight total, will be selected for the next Youth in Motion DVD release that will be sent to schools outside of California for the first time.

Until now, said Whitham, "We have had trouble figuring out how to do it nationally."

A private funder has stepped up to help pay for the national rollout, and the plan is to send a copy of the DVD to every school with a GSA.

"We find that teachers need resources and development. We are trying to create resources and be a clearinghouse that teachers can use," GSA Network research manager Hilary Burdge said earlier this year at a program about LGBT films in schools hosted by the San Francisco Library.

Frameline has received $100,000 in support since the program started in 2008 from individual donors, the Irvine Foundation, and the Bob Ross Foundation. The latter foundation, named for the Bay Area Reporter 's late founding publisher, is a separate legal entity from the newspaper.

The filmmakers whose works are chosen waive the typical compensation they would receive for distributing their work.

"They are not getting the same amount of money they would get through typical distribution channels," said Whitham. "They know the purpose of distributing it this way is not going to make money back from their effort. But it will make such an impact on students, that is the motivation."

Jallen Rix, who directed the documentary Lewd and Lascivious about a 1965 police raid of a gay masquerade-themed fundraiser in San Francisco that premiered at Frameline this year, said he would be honored to have his film be selected for the Youth in Motion program.

"It would be a great choice," said Rix, noting that his film showcases how religious leaders worked with LGBT organizations to host the dance. "There are no naked men or cussing, so it would work really well in schools."

Los Angeles-based filmmaker Glenne McElhinney, whose class=st> On These Shoulders We Stand documentary recalls the early days of L.A.'s LGBT community and played at Frameline in 2010, also praised the Youth in Motion program.

"I think it is wonderful the films are getting into schools and are being shown," she said.

Plus, the DVDs remain in either the school library or with the GSA adviser so incoming students can access them, noted McElhinney, who is part of a safe schools coalition formed in southern California working with local school districts and county boards of education on how to make sure their curriculum is LGBT inclusive.

"It is important for students so they don't feel so isolated," she said.

McElhinney won a $7,000 Cal Humanities grant for a new web series she is calling Tales of California. It is geared to be an online LGBT curriculum resource for teachers teaching 11th grade civil rights history and 12th grade government classes.

"It will be a series of short documentaries geared to California classrooms, about 12 to 18 minutes long, and teachers can teach around the media," she said.

Over a five-year period McElhinney envisions posting several hundred short videos online showcasing a variety of LGBT topics. One of the first ones will focus on the history of the rainbow flag and should be uploaded by late 2013 or early 2014.

She is negotiating with OutFest, the Los Angeles LGBT film festival, and Frameline to use their archives of LGBT documentaries. The plan calls for her to work with the filmmakers to cut them down to a shorter format.

Content such as nudity and foul language would also need to be edited out before the film clips could be shown in schools. She hopes to finalize the arrangement by the fall.

"We are in discussions about collaborating together and contacting filmmakers and cutting some of the existing films to fit into the curriculum guidelines," said McElhinney. "It is kind of groundbreaking in terms of trying to get the content into schools. We are paving the way for educators across the country."

Mills College provost and professor Dave M. Donahue
(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)

Student teachers create the film guides

To create the curriculum guidelines for some of the selected films in its Youth in Motion collection, Frameline has worked with Dave M. Donahue, an associate provost and professor of education at Mills College in Oakland. The gay San Francisco resident teaches graduate students studying to become certified professional teachers.

"One of the projects we work on is learning about developing curriculum not only for their classrooms but other people's classrooms. We want to prepare teachers to be leaders in the profession," said Donahue.

Due to the adoption in 2011 of the state's FAIR Act, which stands for Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education and mandates that textbooks and instructional materials in California public schools include contributions of LGBT Americans, Donahue said there is a growing need for LGBT curriculum in the state.

"There is not a lot of stuff out there," said Donahue, who moderated a discussion about the FAIR Act last weekend as part of Frameline's programming this year.

The need for LGBT teaching tools is likely to grow as more states follow California's lead.

"As it becomes more the norm, more schools will be looking for curriculum like this," predicted Donahue.

Mills students worked on the accompanying materials for the Brother Outsider film and assisted with the Telling Our Stories DVD released in 2012. They also have presented their LGBT curriculum work at various teacher conferences around the state, including at annual meetings of the California Council for the Social Studies and the California Association of Teachers of English.

Teachers from what is considered to be the state's more conservative inland areas have been particularly interested in the materials, said Donahue, as they have been grateful to learn about LGBT curriculum that fits into the context of their American history classes.

"When we presented the Brother Outsider DVD two years ago in Sacramento, we had a lot of teachers from the Central Valley, like Merced and Modesto, come up to us," he said.

They also respond positively to the fact that the curriculum is written so that it meets the standards issued by the state department of education, said Donahue.

"It gives teachers ammunition in terms of feeling supported if they are unsure how supportive school administrators will be in including LGBT curriculum. If we can say this meets state standards, they can't get 'in trouble' for doing it," he said.

San Francisco resident Rene Pena-Govea, 28, who had been to Frameline with her LGBT friends, worked on the curriculum guide for Change prior to completing the Teachers for Tomorrow's Schools graduate program at Mills.

"I thought it was very powerfully made," said Pena-Govea, who considers herself to be a straight ally. "And I liked the fact it was addressing issues of race and sexuality and the ways in which those intersect and maybe affect each other. What it means to be a person of color and a queer person and how that may divide loyalties."

She was hired last year to teach at the June Jordan School for Equity, the smallest public high school in the city located in the Excelsior district next to McLaren Park, and found herself showing the film to her students, one of whom was an out lesbian.

Primarily a Spanish teacher, Pena-Govea was also required to teach a combined English class for 11th and 12th graders. Designed to be a college level course, Pena-Govea selected teaching materials based on the theme "Discourses of Race and Culture."

"We looked at how race and gender oppression intersect and at different kinds of identity," she said.

She used the Frameline film in addition to several other films and pieces of literature that had to do with sexual orientation or gender identity and also people of color.

"I think I felt fairly confident in our Frameline curriculum. I haven't seen a movie like Change ever," she said. "I would encourage teachers to teach Change and other films like it and not be scared of any reactions they anticipate. I had a great reaction with my class and a really respectful dialogue. I think it brought a lot to their learning."

To learn more about the Frameline films available for use in schools, visit

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