By Elliot Owen
Bay Area Reporter
Frameline, the San Francisco-based and internationally known queer cinema nonprofit, recently released a new collection of films for its Youth in Motion program.
Formerly a statewide program that enables students and educators to access LGBTQ-themed films, the initiative was opened to all 50 states for the 2013-2014 school year, as the Bay Area Reporter noted in a story last June.
Since its launch in 2008, Youth in Motion has provided free films accompanied by complementary discussion guides and curricula to over 500 schools in California. A distributor of films for over 30 years, Frameline is also the producer of the San Francisco LGBT Film Festival, which turns 38 this June.
Now, in what began last summer and was officially announced last month, schools outside the state can also sign up.
Because Frameline receives between 600 and 800 film festival submissions per year, the organization “is really well-positioned for a program like Youth in Motion,” said Alexis Whitham, Frameline director of educational programming and acquisition.
“Nationally, there’s a lot of people that don’t have access to queer cinema,” Whitham said. “The idea with Youth in Motion is that we have amazing films and we’re able to get those films to people who need them, people in rural areas or places where there isn’t a large queer community, particularly youth that are creating their own communities within schools through gay-straight alliances.”
Upon creation of Youth in Motion, Frameline partnered with Gay-Straight Alliance Network, a San Francisco-based organization that links student-run GSA clubs to one another to share support, leadership development, and training in the fight to end harassment and discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Before Youth in Motion,” Whitham said, “GSAs had access to really great activist material through GSA Network but not necessarily the media material to support it. Our partnership allows us to access GSA Network’s well-established pipeline to the student clubs so we can get those kids the media materials they need to facilitate conversations.”
Within California, the program has seen great success. Since 2008, nine film collections covering a range of subjects have been made available. Representing an extensive scope of LGBTQ realities is a central tenant of the initiative – the intersections of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, class, disability, and age are relatably addressed for elementary to high school students through stories about classmate crushes, bullying situations, authentic self-expression, and more.
Independent curricula creators and organizations like GSA Network and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network professionally develop the curricula and action guides that complement each collection.
“The intended impact is to provide students with a variety,” Whitham said, “to show them that the LGBTQ experience is incredibly diverse and not necessarily what you see in mainstream media. We’re also giving teachers and students the tools they need to talk to allies. Many GSA advisers may not be LGBTQ but the curriculum gives people the terminology, the language to talk about things.”
Jan Speller, a former English teacher at South San Francisco’s El Camino High School for 13 years, was an adviser for the school’s GSA. She found out about Youth in Motion through GSA Network because, she said, “they do a good job putting teachers, students, and community-based organizations together for resources.”
Speller, a lesbian, joined the Youth in Motion mailing list in 2008 and, now teaching at Baden High School in South San Francisco, continues to use the films and curricula.
“Students are more receptive to learning about LGBTQ people, to having their horizons broadened in terms of their understanding of sexuality and gender than adults think they are,” Speller said. “The films are a great vehicle to talk about difference. Youth in Motion provides high-quality films and curricula for students at different grade levels for free. They help improve school climate and culture which means safer schools.”
Now, Youth in Motion is having the same impact but on a national scale. Since last August, 100 new schools outside California registered, bringing the total number of schools serviced by the program to 620 in 34 states. The expansion of the program is being financed by the Bob Ross Foundation and private funders. Ross, the Bay Area Reporter ‘s founding publisher, died in 2003, and since his death, the foundation has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to nonprofit organizations.
“As a nonprofit organization,” Whitham said, “you need more resources to facilitate expansion. Funding was certainly part of it for Youth in Motion. Also, our mission over the past few years has been about expanding beyond the Bay Area to meet the national need for queer content.”