The Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is creating a series of videos called the “Stories Project.”
“These videos will be an ongoing oral history project that looks at the experiences that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and educators experience while at school,” says Josh Wagoner, director of the project. “Some of the topics we cover in the videos include coming out, bullying and seeking support.”
The project will span multiple years and consist of various videos that will cover different topics. All of the videos, however, must express the ongoing theme of how did your sexual orientation effect your school experience.
The first film in the video project compares the high school experiences of recent graduates to people who have been out of school for 40 or more years. The film is done through on-camera interviews and asks people to recall some of the things they remember most about high school.
“We are trying to see if these different generations of people went through similar experiences and if there has been any long-lasting impact on them,” says Shawn Jeffers, education committee chair for the project.
Probably not surprisingly, the younger people — who are fresh out of high school — said their experiences had more of a impact on them today compared to the older interviewees.
“A lot of the older people we interviewed said this topic was just not talked about when they were in school,” Wagoner says.
“However, they did say that they would have done better in school if they were not scared of being bullied. Many said they just blended in and were quiet, so they did not draw attention to themselves.”
That is something that GLSEN activists say still occurs today.
“One of the younger students we interviewed told us a story about how they were being bullied every time they raised their hand in a class at school,” Jeffers says. “Every time he raised his hand, the other students would laugh at him. He went and asked his guidance counselor what to do and she told him to not raise his hand anymore.”
Another video the group plans to create is a film about teachers and other members of the school community, who cannot be open about their sexual orientation because of fear they may be fired from their job. The group plans to also use on-camera interviews to tell these powerful stories.
“We want the viewer to see what it is like to work at a school for 30 years and never be able to tell your co-workers about your partner,” Wagoner says. “That is a huge piece of someone’s life and it is astonishing that some people can never talk about it.”
GLSEN wants the videos to serve as a training manual for educators who may not know how to handle the tough questions students can ask.
“If a teacher is not prepared and a student comes to them and asks them a question about this topic, the teacher may be uncomfortable and awkward,” Jeffers says. “If they think about the conversation ahead of time, they will be more prepared and it will help them be more comfortable talking about this subject.”
Beyond educating others on how to be accepting and supportive, GLSEN hopes to provide some encouragement for teens that are struggling.
“We want to provide a resource to students to let them know they are not alone and that others have gone through the same experiences,” Jeffers says. “Students can feel alone as they struggle to find their own identity, and we want them to know they are not alone and we are here for them no matter what.”
For more information on the “Stories Project” visit GLSEN’s website at chapters.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/cincinnati/home.html.