It’s STILL Elementary

This past week I had the privilege of attending the National Safe
Schools Roundtable, a gathering of advocates from around the
country, this year held in Washington, DC. The group is mostly made
up of activists and professionals concerned with LGBTQ youth in
schools, though there is growing participation by those, like
myself, who are primarily concerned with LGBTQ parents and their
children’s issues in schools. (Note: The children of LGBTQ
parents can, of course, be LGBTQ, as well.)

More than 50 organizations were represented, from PFLAG chapters in Dayton, Ohio to
national groups like my own. The Roundtable is in its second year,
and aims (primarily) to further communication and collaboration
between all those doing work to make schools safer, better place to

I came away from three days of meeting, planning, caucusing, and
(that’s right) compulsory yoga stretching encouraged by the work
we’re doing and the work we’ve yet to start. I was especially
impressed by the newly released documentary retrospective, It’s
STILL Elementary, produced by GroundSpark and co-sponsored by my
organization, Family
Equality Council
, and many others.

Still Elementary
looks back at the controversy surrounding
, the groundbreaking documentary from the mid 90s
that showed us how truly easy it can be to talk about “gay
issues” in schools. A lot has happened since It’s Elementary
was released back in 1996.

It’s Elementary was directed by Debra Chasnoff and Helen Cohen.
Chasnoff won the 1992 Best Documentary Short Subjects Academy Award
for Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our
Environment . She was also at the time a new (lesbian) mom.
Chasnoff, Cohen and others involved wanted to explore the issue of
talking about homosexuality with younger children. In their own
experiences, it had been just about as easy as explaining
heterosexuality – or, as you might more accurately put it, why
mommy loves daddy and daddy loves mommy. Rearrange some words
there, and you’ve got just about the same approach to explaining
homosexuality to kids.

Chasnoff and crew fought long and hard to get schools to agree to
let their teachers “pilot” these discussions in the classroom
and on film. After a number of years of championing their cause and
compiling footage, they were ready to release. Initial reactions,
in such “limited forums” as San Francisco and other major
cities, were relatively positive. The film is moving, to say the
least, and certain youngsters stuck out as particularly

In 1999, after three years of building support and community around
the film, its creators thought it ready to hit the national stage.
It’s Elementary ran on more than 100 public access stations
around the country. In some communities, such as Boise, Idaho, the
issue of whether to show It’s Elementary or not dominated
headlines for weeks on end.

What’s so powerful about the documentary is how it deflates the
radical right’s apocalyptic messaging around the existence of
gays and lesbians. Not only are elementary-aged children aware that
gays and lesbians exist, they’re curious about them. They see the
hate and ridicule spewed in our media and entertainment cultures.
They hear the slurs. They know that name-calling is bad, and are
curious why this group of people is called out so much. The film
does nothing to force or coerce these discussions in schools; it
merely provides the space for them to exist.

Since its release in 1996, It’s Elementary has traveled far and
wide, literally making an impact across the globe. In the same
period of time, the number of gay-straight alliances supporting
friendship and understanding between kids of all sexual
orientations has grown from just a handful to well over 3,500
nationally. Many concerned individuals and organizations have
contributed to this process, any number of which I spent the last
few days with at the Roundtable in DC. But I believe It’s
Elementary reminds us how important some products of our work
really are. And if you haven’t seen It’s Elementary, I highly
recommend that you do.

And remember, it’s a film the whole family should see.