Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus is a photographic essay that explores a wide spectrum of experiences told from the perspective of a diverse group of young people, ages 14 to 24, identifying as queer (i.e., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning). Portraits are presented without judgment or stereotype by eliminating environmental influence with a stark white backdrop. This backdrop acts as a blank canvas, where each subject's personal thoughts are handwritten onto the final photographic print. With more than sixty-five portraits photographed over a period of ten years, Speaking OUT provides rare insight into the passions, confusions, prejudices, joys, and sorrows felt by queer youth.
Rather than a slick coffee-table book only available to those who could afford to pay $40 or more, we decided to crowd-source the funding of the first print run so that the book would only cost $14.95. Thank you to all the people who donated over $25,000 to get this book out into the world.
Speaking OUT gives a voice to an underserved group of people that are seldom heard and often silenced. The collaboration of image and first-person narrative serves to provide an outlet, show support, create dialogue, and help those who struggle. It not only shows unity within the LGBTQ community, but also commonalities regardless of age, race, gender, and sexual orientation.
With recent media attention and the success of initiatives such as the It Gets Better Project, resources for queer youth have grown. Still, a void exists which Speaking OUT directly addresses: this book is for youth, by youth.
Speaking OUT is an award-winning, nationally and internationally shown and published body of work. These images have been published in magazines such as the Advocate, School Library Journal, Curve, Girlfriends, and Out, and showcased by the Human Rights Campaign, National Public Radio, Public Television, and the U.S. Department of Education. The work continues to show in galleries, universities, youth centers, and churches around the world.
"Queer youth have a powerful story to tell and Rachelle Lee Smith has given voice to them through her stark, gorgeous photography. Speaking Out captures the essence of LGBTQ young people - proud, visible and with something important to say. Smith's collection offers a glimpse of Generation Equality you won't easily forget." -Candace Gingrich, Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) Associate Director for Youth & Campus Engagement
"Rachelle Lee Smith has created a book that is not only visually stunning but also gripping with powerful words and even more inspiring young people! This is an important work of art! I highly recommend buying it and sharing it!" -Perez Hilton, blogger and television personality
"It's often said that our youth are our future. In the LGBT community, before they become the future we must help them survive today. This book showcases the diversity of creative imagination it takes to get us to tomorrow." -Mark Segal, award-winning LGBT journalist
"The power of a look, a pose, and a story can be seen through Rachelle Lee Smith's photography and the youth who opened up their raw emotions, insecurities, and celebrations to us all. Sharing stories saves lives, but also reminds us that there can be continual struggle in finding identity and acceptance." -Ryan Sallans, author of Second Son: Transitioning Toward My Destiny, Love and Life
"It's wonderful to see so many happy kids. You wouldn't have seen such a crowd fifty years ago. Sometimes things do get better."-Ed Hermance - Owner Giovanni's Room, the oldest LGBT book store in America
"Rachelle Lee Smith's photographic project presents us with the face and the voice of this generation of LGBT youth: they are passionate, angry, funny, and committed. As an openly gay educational leader, I think this project is critical-not only for young queer people, but for their teachers, parents, mentors, and friends. We need to put this project in libraries and schools across the country!" -Sean Buffington, President and CEO, The University of the Arts
"These are portraits of a revolution. Photographer Rachelle Lee Smith gives lesbian and gay youth an outlet to speak for themselves. Simple, yet powerful photos of queer youth speak reams." -Advocate
"The young people profiled in this remarkable book represent the tip of the volcano of a new generation transforming and revolutionizing the society and its institutions by challenging overall power inequities related not only to sexuality and gender identity categorizations and hierarchies, but they are also making links in the various types of oppression, and are forming coalitions with other marginalized groups. Their stories, experiences, and activism have great potential to bring us to a future where people across gender and sexuality spectrums will live freely, unencumbered by social taboos and cultural norms of gender and sexuality." -Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, Ed.D. - Professor, Iowa State, University of Massachusetts
"The perfectly executed photographs, the passionate handwritten text, the insights, secrets and revelations all combine to make this a powerful body of work. Ms. Smith has shown a light on a group of young people and illuminated the world in which they live."-David Graham, Award-Winning Photographer
"This is a STUNNING book. And it's important. It's important that the next generation is SEEN the way it sees itself. We rightfully put a lot of emphasis on being heard-on words. But a picture is worth a thousand words, and this book's striking focus on the AESTHETICS of this group of queer youth is thoroughly refreshing. Bravo!"-Innosanto Nagara -Author, A is for Activist, Co-founder, Design Action Collective, Oakland
About the Artist:
Rachelle Lee Smith is an award-winning, nationally and internationally shown and published photographer. Rachelle's work in Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus combines her passions for activism and photography to tell the stories of, and provide a rare insight into, the evolving passions, confusions, prejudices, fulfillment, joys, and sorrows of queer youth.
Book Foreword by Candace Gingrich and Afterword by Graeme Taylor:
We're thrilled that we get to feature perspectives from an activist who has been working on GLBTQ issues for decades and a youth who stood up for a teacher and then took the world by storm as the start and finish of this book.
At age 14, Graeme Taylor skyrocketed to international attention when he confronted a school board for not defending gay rights in it's schools. In the process, Graeme became one of the youngest and most widely known openly gay teens in America. He was interviewed on MSNBC's Jansing and Co. and the Ellen Degeneres Show and is now the subject of a short film, "Shrug."
Candace Gingrich is an LGBT rights activist with the Human Rights Campaign. Her involvement in the movement for queer equality began when her brother, Representative Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, was elected House speaker. She lives in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Welcome to the first of three stories about ways Green + Frugal = Happy! We'll list the other two stories at the bottom of this one.
There's a big, giant, bag in our garage, filled with... plastic bags, the kind we used to get all the time at the supermarket, before we became enlightened enough to start carrying our own reusable bags everywhere we went. A few years ago when Cool Cities San Mateo began meeting in our shop one of their big goals was to get a law passed requiring merchants to charge ten cents for every bag a customer needed. Just ten pennies, one dime, could make people stop and think and learn new habits. Cool Cities succeeded and judging from the number of people saying "no" when we offer them a bag for a dime, and more importantly the number of people who always carry a reusable bag with them, the law is truly a success.
Way back in the day, when we first started Reach And Teach, we were speaking at a gathering of seniors (folks in their 70's and up) about our new venture and the person who invited us told us it was a bring-your-own-bag lunch, but that we shouldn't bring our own, she would provide our lunch. She'd made us delicious sandwiches, home-made cookies, and she gave us our lunch in something we'd never seen before... a ChicoBag. Andy Keller, who invented ChicoBags, is one of the people we credit with helping to educate the public about the environmental harm caused by single-use bags. He created a bag that you could always have with you, that folded up into its own attached pouch, and with the addition of a carabiner (metal loop with spring-loaded gate), allows you to attach your bag to your belt or purse so it is always handy.
June 7-15 at the San Mateo County Fair Reach And Teach will have an exhibit where we continue to educate folks about the harm done by single-use bags, plastic water bottles, and paper towels. And, in Reach And Teach style we'll recommend alternatives that are better for the environment AND your wallet. Bag Monster, a prop created by Andy Keller, will be at the fair (Craig Wiesner donning the costume or... volunteers are welcome). Why? Don't people already know the harm done by single-use bags? Not enough. Here are some startling statistics:
100 Billion Plastic Bags Used by Americans Each Year
Average 600 Bags Per Person Per Year
2.2 Billion Pounds of Fossil Fuels and 3.9 Billion Gallons of Fresh Water to Produce
Costs $4 Billion Dollars a Year (Retailers/Consumers)
Creates 1 Billion Pounds of Solid Waste and 2.7 Million Tons of C02
Takes 1,000 Years for Plastic Bag to Decompose
100,000 Sea Turtles and Other Marine Animals Die Each Year Because of Plastic Bags
There are already giant swirling garbage patches that have formed in our oceans caused by plastic bags and bottles. Whether we can clean up that mess is one question which the average person may not be able to influence, but whether we continue to create more and more of that mess is something that each of us can personally have an impact on. Our friends at Klean Kanteen support Klean Kanteen support the important work of 5 Gyres Institute. To understand the impact of plastic pollution, 5 Gyres studies the five subtropical gyres by sailing through them. Unlike other ocean conservation organizations, 5 Gyres doesn't just take scientists out into the ocean, they take artists, writers, musicians, journalists, students, teachers - anyone who will serve as a 5 Gyres Ambassador for change. The goal is to give stakeholders from all walks of life an authentic vantage from gyre central. Check out their video.
Reach And Teach is proud to work with companies like ChicoBag and Klean Kanteen, pioneers in educating the public about the harm caused by plastic bottles and bags, AND creating high-quality alternatives.
And, in case you are wondering what to do with your giant bag full of plastic bags from the bad old days before you were enlightened, most supermarkets have recycling bins for those bags. Typically, they CAN NOT go in your normal big blue bin at your house. Those bags require special handling so please find a place that truly does have the ability to get them recycled.
If you had to guess what made up one third of all landfill waste what would you guess? Go on, take a few moments and think about that one. Believe it or not, the answer is..... paper towels! Wait what? But.... I only use a few of those a day, you might say. Nope. The average person uses 100 rolls of paper towels a year. When we were working on "greening" Reach And Teach, we looked at all of our daily habits at work and at home and one of the things we quickly realized was how often we went for the paper towels for quick cleanups. Why? They're convenient, relatively cheap, and we figured we could toss them in the compost bin. If only.
Here's the lowdown on paper towels in the good old USA:
13 billion pounds of paper towels are used each year
⅓ of All Landfill Trash is from paper towels
Average Person Uses 3,000 Paper Towels Each Year
100 Rolls Per Year Per Person @ $150 Per Person, 100 Trees and 125lbs of Carbon Dioxide
Replace w/Skoy Cloths for just $15 a Year
Wait, what? There's an alternative to paper towels? Of course. Many public bathrooms have replaced paper towels with air dryers. Around the kitchen you can use a sponge, a rag, or.... Reach And Teach is pleased to offer, Skoy Cloths! We've secretly substituted our paper towels in our kitchen and in our soap refilling station area with Skoy Cloths and we like them so much we're offering them to our customers. Four cloths to a package, at just $7.20 each, can save you a lot of money and help the environment, including saving lots of trees. It takes ONE TREE to make a roll of paper towels, not to mention the energy, water, transportation....
If you'd like to try Skoy Cloths for yourself, click here to visit our web store. And... if you happen to be in the San Mateo area June 7-15 2014, visit the Reach And Teach exhibit at the San Mateo County Fair. You might just run into plastic bag monster who will teach you all about alternatives to paper towels, plastic bottles, and single-use bags. (Yeah, the bag monster will be none other than Craig Wiesner - something you've just got to see to believe).
Reach And Teach has been invited to exhibit at the San Mateo County Fair (June 7-15) and we decided to focus on choices people can make that are move environmentally sound AND which help them save money. Frugal + Green = HAPPY! One of the most damaging habits Americans have fallen into is the use of plastic water bottles. You've seen folks walking out of your local supermarket with literally hundreds of plastic bottles of water, or maybe you've actually been one of those people. We've got to admit, there were a few events in the last five years where that seemed like the only good option for making sure folks had access to water. The impact of plastic water bottles on the planet and on our wallets is staggering. That's one reason why we're thrilled to have Klean Kanteen products available in our shop. They are not only a wonderful alternative to plastic water bottles, but they are also incredibly well made, reasonably priced, and the company gives back so much to the world every single day.
Here's a video from just one of the organizations Klean Kanteen supports.
Here are just a few of the facts about plastic water bottle use to consider:
Americans use 50 Billion Plastic Water Bottles Per Year
That's 1,500 Plastic Bottles Per Second
Americans Spend $22 Billion Dollars A Year Just for the Water in Plastic Bottles
That's $346 Per American Per Year (versus $0.48 cents for tap water)
80% of Plastic Water Bottles that Could Be Recycled STILL End Up in Landfill
2,500,000 Tons of Carbon Dioxide Are Produced Manufacturing Plastic Water Bottles
90% of Ocean Trash is Plastic Bottles and Bags
A Klean Kanteen water bottle costs just $20 and the water you'd need to fill it from your tap (even filtered) over and over and over again all year long is just $0.48 cents.
Frugal + Green = HAPPY!
Click here to visit our Klean Kanteen ordering page.
Our next Frugal + Green = HAPPY! story will be about the impact of single-use plastic and paper bags and how you can save money and the planet by swapping to reusable bags. Here's a preview of how Craig's going to be dressing up to make this point. And... if you'd like to volunteer to be "Bag Monster" any time June 7-15 at the San Mateo County Fair, please contact Craig.
In April 2014, Reach And Teach was honored to receive the 2014 Sustainability Award from Sustainable San Mateo. The following video was created by Rick Bacigalupi of BACIPIX for the awards ceremony. We are so grateful to Rick and all the wonderful people who appear in the video and ALL of the people who support Reach And Teach and our goal to transform the world through teachable moments.
There once was a village located at the bottom of a bend in the river. The residents of that village were the most charitable people you could imagine. If someone in the village fell on hard times, the rest of the village took care of him. If a family needed food, the village fed them. If someone's house was destroyed, everyone chipped in to rebuild it.
One day, as children were playing at the edge of the river, they saw three bodies floating down. Frightened they ran to the village center and told some of the adults who ran down to the riverside and dragged the bodies out. All were dead, bodies battered. One was a woman, one a man, and one a child.The people of the village, being compassionate and charitable, buried the bodies with great ceremony and tears.
As the days, weeks, and months went by, more bodies floated down the river, and eventually, several people in the village dedicated their lives to fishing those bodies out and burying them. Each time, the entire village would gather and pray and mourn.
One day, after this had been going on for years, a child stood up during the burial ceremony. Normally, children were expected to sit quietly during such gatherings, but she stood up and walked to the grave that had been dug and said "Wait!" The entire village looked at this little girl and wondered what she could possibly have to say. "I know that we are doing charity when we take these people out of the river and care for their bodies and bury them but..." She turned slowly around to look into the eyes of all the people in the village before she asked "Why doesn't anyone go up the river and find out where these people are coming from and why they're dying? Maybe we could do something about that."
Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth and I (Craig Wiesner) were invited to We Day California in Oakland on March 26th. 16,000 young people, most of whom had been involved in some kind of local and/or international service (from small things like bake sales to large things like travelling to Africa to build schools), were gathered to be congratulated on their work and inspired to go out and keep changing the world. Amy Jussel, who spent years in media/marketing as an indie advertising/branding pro, has spent the last decade using those skill sets to teach about media literacy and the power of media messaging, said as we left the event that We Day had used all of the tools in media's arsenal as effectively as she had ever seen in her career. As someone who spent much of my career as a trainer, working on figuring out the best way to grab an audience's attention and move them to action of some sort, I agree.
This gathering was as elaborately staged, loud, and tightly scripted and choreographed as a One Direction concert, with kids cheering and screaming with equal enthusiasm for the likes of Selena Gomez as they did for Nelson Mandela. Craig and Marc Kielburger, who head up Free the Children which runs We Day, rocked the crowd over and over again with their exuberant, revival-tent, crowd-wowing speaking style, finishing each other's sentences and moving around the two stages at the event with all the energy that two 20-somethings can muster (and we 50-somethings could envy).
As an older activist, I come to these events somewhat sceptical. Putting on a spectacle of this nature is expensive and to make it happen requires huge sponsors which, in this case, included Allstate, Microsoft, and Unilever, all of whom also got prime stage time to speak to the kids. Of course these representatives of multinational mega-conglomerates want to get their brands in front of tens of thousands of the up and coming generation of consumers. When the executives from these companies stood up to speak, would they be telling the children that one way to solve the world's problems was to buy and use their products? Well, yes.
But I was pleasantly surprised that one of the first corporate speakers, from Allstate, used a good chunk of his time on stage to encourage the kids to use their voices to speak out against injustice, to not simply be charitable, as most of them had been to get invited to this event, but to go home later and ask the hard questions about why people are homeless, hungry, and dying, and if necessary, to stand up and protest. And that encouragement was repeated, over and over again, by celebrities, including Martin Sheen, business executives, rappers, non-profit leaders, and the kids themselves.
All of this gave this gray-haired activist hope for the future and lessened the discomfort with the brand-building that was also clear and present throughout the event. I'm now very aware of just how many brands fall under Unilever umbrella and how much more effectively we can change the world with a Microsoft tablet.
Despite a bit of that brand-building, the audience was also hearing the phrase "social justice" used by many of the speakers. This made me wonder what the audience thought that phrase meant, if they were thinking about it at all amid all the other words, music, lights, videos and rap stars that were competing for their attention. I would have loved to have had someone on stage tell the kids to text a definition of social justice to "hash tag..." something. There was lots of hash tagging and selfie-shooting going on.
Another important message weaved throughout the event was the importance of travel, getting out of your comfort zone and putting yourself in a completely new and different place, not only to do good work, but also to connect with people from very different cultures. Free the Children provides opportunities for youth to travel. Here's a video about their program.
Amy Jussel and I are in total agreement that travel is one of the key ways to open people's eyes to alternative realities than they live each day and we were glad to see this emphasis on travel. There was one aspect of travel, though, that could have been mentioned and wasn't. These 16,000 kids had gathered from all over California for the event, most of them coming from outside of where the event took place, Oakland. The We Day kids don't have to travel to another country to see poverty, hunger, violence, human trafficking and slavery. Nor would they have had to travel far to meet people living far different lives than their own. Hopefully the folks who put on We Day will incorporate something into future gatherings where they let attendees know that "just outside of this stadium, just a few blocks away, there are people who need your help and injustices that need your voices."
How many of the 16,000 attendees at We Day Oakland California will become school-yard, neighborhood or world-changers? Speaking with kids during the lunch break we heard incredibly strong enthusiasm for going out and making a difference. "I wish I had been at a We Day during my first year of High School instead of this year when I'm graduating!" One young man told us. His schoolmate, a freshman, smiled broadly knowing that he was just getting started. We told the soon-to-be in college student that he'd have plenty of opportunities to rock the world in the years to come too.
So, can a huge, corporate-sponsored, mega-event like We Day, filled with celebrities like Orlando Bloom, Selena Gomez, Magic Johnson, Seth Rogen, Martin Sheen, and J Cole create a ripple of movement that brings about real change? To quote Craig Kielburger who was once asked why a 12 year-old was taking on the issue of child labor, "Why not?"
There's more than enough work to be done. The rivers are flowing with the dead and dying, the hungry and abused, the cold and broken. Lots of hands are needed to pull the bodies out, bury the dead, and care for the wounded. Just as importantly, we need people to go up river, find out why there are so many battered bodies, stand up for justice, speak truth to power, and clean those rivers out.
Can a few words from Orlando Bloom help one child to be like that little girl in the village?
Thank you to Free the Children and We Day for inviting us to be part of this event. Photos in this story are from the We Day web site, courtesy of We Day. The river image at the start of this post is from RiniArt.org.
And yes, thank you to the sponsors who helped make the event possible. Now, for some strange reason, I feel the need to go get some Ben and Jerry's ice cream.
Silicon Valley’s forgotten public offering: 18 percent of our community lives in poverty
"I fundamentally disagree with the notion that companies are only accountable to their customers or shareholders. The fact is, companies are an integral part of our society. All entities should be stepping forward and working together to address community needs." -- Sid Espinosa (Microsoft)
Our friends at Kids Can Make A Difference sent us the latest issue of Idea Clearning House, a newsletter from the Finding Solutions to Poverty and Inequality Alliance, a project of IEARN.org. As Derrick and I were walking this morning we were talking about the massive inequality in wealth we're seeing all around us. As we walked, we noticed the line of people waiting for bags of produce offered in the parking lot of the First Presbyterian Church of San Mateo was longer than we had ever seen it. These were our neighbors, struggling to make ends meet, getting a small boost from a bag of produce. Unemployment in Silicon Valley is under 5%, yet working people, families where parents are working two and three jobs, still can't put enough food on their table.
Our neighbors are also people working for corporations and this newsletter offers important and concrete ways people at these corporatiions can be good neighbors, and how being good neighbors can be good for everyone. We asked permission to share this newsletter and the answer was a resounding YES! Please consider sharing this with friends, especially those working for companies that are doing well financially. We all need to work together so that hard-working people don't have to stand in line waiting for food, or at least to make sure that those who do are greeted with an abundance of help.
Silicon Valley’s forgotten public offering: 18 percent of our community lives in poverty
What an exciting time to be in the Valley. It seems every month turns up another major IPO and another handful of new local billionaires. As the economy staggers to find its footing, the tech industry eagerly anticipates more IPOs, more innovation, more advances in technology and more growth in the sector. It seems the tide is starting to raise all boats again.
There is now only one region in the nation with a higher concentration of top household earnings (>$191,469), and that is Fairfield County, Conn., which is essentially a suburb of New York. Fifteen percent of Silicon Valley households earn nearly four times the national average, and billionaires have become the new millionaires.
And yet, in some ways, Silicon Valley is failing. One in four Hispanic students drop out of school by high school, and the dropout rate for the general population is a shocking 18.1 percent. In a region with unprecedented and ever-increasing wealth, 18 percent of our residents are living in poverty. The Silicon Valley wealth divide is increasing. In a region famous for innovation and entrepreneurship, huge swaths of our population are being left behind, without the skills or opportunities to engage.
There’s no panacea here; there’s no quick fix. But there is a need for innovation and entrepreneurial thinking. It’s not just educators, academia, government entities, or nonprofit organizations that are needed to exact measurable change. There is a need for wide-scale, cross-sector engagement. And in light of these recent IPOs, I want to suggest that corporate involvement in addressing a community’s needs can never start too early.
I fundamentally disagree with the notion that companies are only accountable to their customers or shareholders. The fact is, companies are an integral part of our society. All entities should be stepping forward and working together to address community needs.
But if the societal responsibility alone isn’t compelling, there are tangible business benefits to focus on. Positive brand recognition and great PR tend to follow good deeds. Establishing and maintaining a culture of philanthropy can also provide a leg up in recruiting and retaining top talent in a competitive employee marketplace, especially with socially conscious Millennials. There are tax incentives. And as the company grows, so too can the extent of its role in addressing the most crucial community issues.
If that is still not reason enough, just focus on the bottom line that we are simply not producing enough qualified workers for the tech industry. To continue thriving as a region, Silicon Valley will need future talent to unleash the next wave of revolutionary innovations and gain ground in increasingly competitive markets. But where will it come from with less than eight percent of our nation’s high schools offering AP-level computer science curriculum?
I was recently speaking with the CEOs of several local startups who all said the same thing: “We’d love to help… as soon as we start making more money.” But I would challenge that approach. Taking on a leadership role in the community can start the day a company is born. It doesn’t have to involve donating massive sums of money. Here are five ways a young company can engage, starting today:
1. Start thinking about philanthropy right away. Make it a topic of discussion at leadership meetings. Build it into the marketing plan. Creating a culture of giving starts from the top down and should touch every aspect of the business model. 2. Empower employees to get engaged. Support and institutionalize volunteerism. Launch a giving campaign. Create a culture of involvement and ownership. 3. Choose a policy or community issue and become involved. Join industry associations or executive boards. Offering informed insight and constructive feedback or introducing an organization to a new network of contacts can give that organization access to resources they otherwise would not have. 4. Consider a cause-marketing campaign for crucial issues facing the community. Tying important issues directly to sales can help address important social problems and benefit the bottom line. 5. Start small with strategic philanthropy. Target an underserved region, study its social needs, choose one, and engage.
I hope that we continue to see an increase in IPOs and produce great wealth for companies and individuals. Our country continues to thrive because of it. And simultaneously, I hope that all companies, regardless of size or stage, will recognize the importance of their role in the ecosystem of our community – and that they will actively engage and partner to address the issues we face.
Microsoft Silicon Valley’s Sid Espinosa heads up corporate citizenship for Microsoft in the SF/Bay Area. Sid worked in the Clinton administration, led global philanthropy for HP, and joined Microsoft a few years ago. He was also the first Latino Mayor of Palo Alto.
Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld shared a post that struck a very loud chord, loud enough that with his permission we're sharing it here. Dr. Blumenfeld is one of a group of wonderful people who have reviewed the pre-release version of Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus, a powerful photo-essay book by Rachelle Lee Smith which we are publishing this Fall. Dr. Blumenfeld's experience, as described in this post, is all too familiar, not just to those of us who lived back in the day, but today.
Despite incredible progress for GLBTQ rights and increasing levels of understanding and acceptance, taunting, bullying, name-calling, and other hurtful behaviors are still epedemic in our culture. Dr. Blumenfeld alerts us to an article in the Feb 17 2014 issue of Pediatrics, in which a Boston Children's Hospital study clearly and compellingly shows the long-term impact on quality of life bullying can have, especially bullying that occurs over long periods of time.
We're sharing Dr. Blumenfeld's post in the hopes that it will spark a desire in anyone reading it to make a difference. After his post we share a YouTube video of a song called "Don't Laugh At Me" which we hope people will use to start a conversation with children AND adults in their lives. Talk about the pain that our words, laughing AT someone, teasing, bullying can cause. If each one of us takes the time to find a way to talk about this with someone, we may be able to start to make a real difference. Boys and girls shouldn't come home from school crying, or be afraid to go to school, or go to school with stomach aches because they know how bad it is going to be. We can make a difference.
Thanks Dr. Blumenfeld for sharing your story, and thank you Mosaic Project, for providing a song and an entire curriculum that can be used to truly make a difference.
I dedicate this commentary to my life-long friend and comrade,
Lawrence (Larry) J. Magid, who has been there himself,
and who always has been there for me.
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” This stands as one of the great lies our culture teaches us growing up. Another myth states that bullying is simply a sign of a youthful rite of passage, that “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls,” and that it will toughen them to better meet the demands of life.
In a new longitudinal study conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital and published in the February 17, 2014 online issue of Pediatrics, while the results might appear rather intuitive, researchers confirmed that the longer the period of time peers bully a young person, the more severe and lasting the impact on that person’s health.
I did not have to wait for the recent study to understand full well the long term consequences of bullying. For most of my years in school, I was continually attacked and beaten by my peers who perceived me as someone who was “different.” Names like “queer,” “little girl,” and “fag” rained down upon me like the big red dodge ball my classmates furiously hurled at one another on the schoolyard. I would not – or rather, could not – conform to the gender roles that my family and peers so clearly expected me to follow, and I regularly paid the price.
This kind of bullying and policing of my gender started the very first day I entered kindergarten. In 1952 I attended public school in Bronxville, NY. As my mother dropped me off and kissed me good-bye on the cheek, I felt completely alone and began to cry. My new teacher walked up to me and said, in a somewhat detached tone of voice, “Don’t cry. Only sissies and little girls cry.” Some of the other boys overheard her, and quickly began mocking me. “The little girl wants his mommy,” one said. “What a sissy,” said another. Without a word, the teacher simply walked away. I went into the coatroom and cried, huddling in a corner by myself, until she found me.
Not knowing what else to do at this time with what they considered as my gender non-conformity, my parents sent me to a child psychologist at the age of four until my 13th birthday because they feared that I might be gay (or to use the terminology of the day, “homosexual”), and because they were afraid for my safety.
There was a basic routine in the “therapy” sessions. My mother took me out of school every Monday and Thursday at 11:00 to the psychologist’s office. I walked in, took off my coat, and put it on the hook behind the door. The psychologist then asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted to discuss. I invariably said “no.” Since I did not understand why I was there in the first place, I surely did not trust him enough to talk candidly.
When I was less than forthcoming in our conversations (which was on most occasions), he took down from the shelf a model airplane, or a boat, or a truck, and we spent the remainder of the hour assembling the pieces with glue. In private sessions with my parents, he told them that he wanted me to concentrate on behaviors and activities associated with males, while of course avoiding those associated with females. He instructed my parents to assign me the household tasks of taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn (even though we lived in an apartment building and we did not have a lawn), and not washing or drying the dishes. Also, he also told my parents to prevent my playing with dolls or to cook. And – as if this all was not enough – he advised my parents to sign me up for a little league baseball league, which despite my hatred of the sport, my father basically forced me to join for two summers.
“When you wave,” my father sternly warned one afternoon on the front steps of our apartment building when I was eight years old, “you MUST move your whole hand at the same time. Don’t just move the fingers up and down like you’re doing.” He grabbed my arm, and despite my free-flowing tears and cheeks red with shame, he vigorously demonstrated the “proper” hand wave for a “man.” Then, as if anticipating the scene in the film La Cage Aux Folles (and the U.S. remake The Birdcage), my father took me into the backyard and forced me to walk and run “like men are supposed to move their bodies.” Obviously, I had previously been doing something wrong. “Of course the other children pick on you,” he blamed. “You do act like a girl.” I was humiliated.
Despite this, I developed what would become a lifelong appreciation of music and art. In the fifth grade, I auditioned for the school chorus and the music teacher accepted me along with only a handful of boys and about 50 girls. The scarcity of boys in the cast was not due to any gendered imbalance in the quality of boys’ singing voices. The determining factor was one of social pressure. I and the other few boys in the chorus were generally disliked by our peers. In fact, most of the other boys in our class picked on us, and labeled us “the chorus girls,” “the fags,” “the sissies,” and “the fairies.” The girls, on the other hand, who “made it” into the chorus were well respected and even envied by the other girls.
I can see now that this all amounted to an insidious and dehumanizing fear and hatred of anything even hinting at femininity in males. This is, of course basically thinly veiled misogyny, and it nearly succeeded in taking my life.
Looking into the bathroom mirror, my 14-year-old self stared back at me, tears rolling down into the sink below. All I could envision was the continual and relentless attacks: boys flicking my ears from behind aboard the school bus, girls loudly giggling as I walked by, peers isolating me on the school yard keeping me from playing games or joining them for lunch, students flinging food at me from multiple corners of the lunchroom, boys waiting for me with constant blows to my stomach and face when teachers weren’t looking.
I don’t remember where, but I learned that if I took more than the recommended dosage of aspirin tablets, I could develop serious internal bleeding. Seeing no way out, I opened the bathroom medicine cabinet turning my 14-year-old reflection away. Reaching inside, I grabbed the 1000-count aspirin bottle, and with hands shaking, soundlessly twisted off the cap as not to arouse suspicion from my family just beyond the door. Then with seeming effortlessness, I poured a handful of pills as if I were pouring salt into a shaker. With little hesitation, I lifted my clenched hand toward my mouth and tossed the white disks into my mouth, choking and gagging as they hit my throat, then heaving back toward my tongue, then teeth, then into the sink.
Though I was angry at myself for not having the “stomach” to kill myself, I was also relieved because I suppose at least a part of me still wished to live.
All things considered, my life turned out fairly well. I entered college in 1965 during a time our society underwent dynamic changes. I joined with others to demonstrate our opposition to the war in Vietnam; I worked with students of color in our common struggle against housing discrimination around our campus, and I helped plan ecology workshops to highlight the state of our increasingly polluted planet. I chose to join a therapy group in my college counseling center, which gave me the support to “come out” as gay. I later went on to become a teacher for blind children, a journalist, and a tenured university professor.
As I am writing this today at age 66, I consider myself not as a victim, but rather as a survivor of the bullying and abuse from those earlier times. When my therapist diagnosed me having Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, along with Social anxiety disorder, moderate agoraphobia, and clinical depression nearly 25 years ago, I was actually relieved, for then I could begin to let go of the self-blame I had carried for so long.
Today, I often hear Steven Sondheim’s song, “Anyone Can Whistle,” in my minds ear, a Broadway show tune about a person who has accomplished many difficult tasks – like speaking Greek, dancing the tango, even slaying a dragon – but who seems incapable of managing simple things like whistling.
Anyone can whistle, that's what they say -- easy. Anyone can whistle, any old day -- easy. It's all so simple. Relax, let go, let fly. So someone tell me, why can't I?
In my life, I earned numerous degrees including a doctorate, and I published quite a number of books and peer reviewed journal articles. I have been asked to speak throughout the United States and around the world on varied topics, and I have been given a wonderful opportunity to travel to places I only dreamt about when I was younger.
I have come to understand full well, though, and I have come to accept my severe limitations due to the damage I endured from those earlier times. Sondheim’s “whistling” stands as an analogy for relationships.
Though I have attempted to develop long-term romantic relationships along my way, I have come to endure the harm to my emotional self. I have lived alone since 1977 following a series of tries at sharing residences with trusted roommates, though none of these living arrangements worked for me.
In truth, sticks, stone, and names can damage the body as well as the spirit, and they all can kill. Fortunately, schools have at least begun to leave the myths and lies behind, and to take actions. Most notably, we are witnessing more schools conducting programs to empower the so-called “bystanders” – those who know of the bullying, but often feel powerless to step in – transforming them into active “upstanders” intervening to stop the abuse.
With knowledge, understanding, and interventions, young people are now leading the way to a better future. So…
Maybe you could show me how to let go, Lower my guard, Learn to be free. Maybe if you whistle, Whistle for me.
Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).
It is with certainty that we know people reading Dr. Blumenfeld's story will feel the pain and will wish that the world were different. It is with equal certainty that many will then ask themselves, "But what can I do?"
You CAN make a difference!
Watch this YouTube of the song "Don't Laugh At Me" and then find someone in your life with whom you can share it. Too many people of ALL ages get pleasure from other people's pain. We all need to talk about it and work together to change that.
At a gathering of over 200 middle school children, during an exercise where the kids were asked to walk to one side of the room or the other, depending on their answers to certain questions, every single child in the room walked to the "yes" side when asked if they had ever laughed at someone because of a particular trait in that other child. 90% walked to the "yes" side when asked if they had ever been laughed at that way. If we can impact that, we can make a huge difference in everyone's lives. This little song can be the launching point for conversations about that.
Here are the words to the refrain:
Don’t laugh at me. Don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. Deep inside we’re all the same. We all need hope and care and love. Don’t laugh at me.
This song is one of many included in the Mosaic Project Curriculum, a comprehensive curriculum that has made a huge difference in creating more peaceful and accepting schools around the world.
Watching this video, singing or listening to this song can be a great start to an important process of talking about and planning how to handle situations where someone is being teased, bullied, laughed at... Just feeling bad for the people who are picked on isn't enough. We all have an opportunity to at a minimim NOT participate in such behavior, but we can also step up and make it stop whenever we see it.
Find someone in your life with whom you can share this video, watch it together, and then discuss it. Discussion items can include questions like these:
Were you ever teased, bullied, laughed at? If so, how did it feel and what did you do about it?
Have you ever participated in bullying, teasing, laughing at someone else?
Why do people treat other people that way?
Did you ever see anyone standing up for someone who was being bullied, teased, or laughed at? If so, what happened?
Did you ever stand up for someone? If so, what happened? If not, why not?
What are some of the things people are afraid of having happen if they stand up against this kind of behavior?
A great way to prepare for being an upstander instead of a bystander is to rehearse what you will do the next time you see someone being teased, laughed at, or bullied. Rehearse with one or two other people who can play roles like the one doing the bullying and the one being bullied. We ALL have the ability to stand up!
Reach And Teach offers a wide variety of resources for helping children, teens, and adults understand bullying and take action. Here are just a few of those resources.
We've got some great events happening in our San Mateo shop the coming weeks. Mark your calendars! See below for all the etails:
We're located at 144 West 25th Avenue. (near El Camino Real) in San Mateo. There's plenty of free street parking and we're less than a mile from the Hillsdale Caltrain station. We're open Tuesday through Saturday 11am to 6:30pm (later on some evenings for events).
Your Event HERE At Our Shop in San Mateo - And Where Is Here Anyway? (Shop Address and Hours)
We make our space available to non-profits and others who want to host a speaker, workshop, fundraiser, film showing... all kinds of things, and we do it all for free! We just ask that your program include time for your guests to browse around the shop! Click here to contact us if you'd like to have an event in our shop.
Meet Some of the People Behind Reach And Teach Products
One of the greatest joys we have is getting to know the people behind the products that transform the world through teachable moments. For our holiday newsletter we wanted to share a bit about some of the local folks with whom we work. These are people we've gotten to know, who treat us as though we're their biggest customer, and treat their employees and the planet with the deepest respect, and give back to their communities and the world.
EM-Labs and Skallops
Wandering through the Maker Faire we were overwhelmed by all of the gadgets and gizmos but nothing stopped us in our tracks the way a giant Skallops contraption did. We soon learned that this creature been built out of playing cards and these little wooden thingies called "Skallops" invented by the team at E&M Labs.
The young man in the booth told us about the company he and some friends had founded. Using these little wooden pieces with slots into which you can slide cards, you can build just about anything... including a lovely company that manufactures Skallops in Mountain View California, using sustainably sourced wood, with assembly/packaging done by physically and developmentally disabled folks.
We got to know the team at Blue Orange Games having booths near each other at the Green Festival. There are four things we love about them. 1. These are people who truly cared about the planet and are incredibly committed to making sure that anyone making their products is paid a living wage and would work in a safe and healthy environment. 2. The games are REALLY fun and engaged kids and adults in a way that actually took them away from their "devices." (That's our friend Shane from the Spot on 25th playing his favorite game.) 3. The games are beautifully made and a joy to play with. 4. Blue Orange gives back to the community.
And... their warehouse and office are just a short distance from our house! We visit the folks there all the time and in doing so we've gotten to know them even better. They are wonderful LOCAL people who treat us like friends, not just customers.
Every morning Toby gets to visit a dog park on the way to work. One morning as he was scampering we started chatting with one of the other dog's pets. We told her about our store and she said "Well in a shop like that you've got to have ZOOB!"
A few days later she stopped by our shop with some ZOOB and we had to agree. ZOOB is a building kit that covers two very important types of people: those who like very clear instructions on how to build something, and those who like to be given a challenge and then use their creativity and imagination. We invited one of our young friends over to the shop and after his eyes lit up just looking at the box, he went wild building things.
ZOOB kits are really well made, incredibly fun, and the founder of the company and his team are fanatic about making sure the folks who manufacture the kits are paid a living wage, treated well, work in safe conditions, and that their work enhances the community in which they live.
Not only that, they treat us as though we are their biggest customer rather than joining the race to the bottom in which so many other toy-makers are running.
If you're curious, ZOOB is an acronym for Zoology,Ontology (the branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being), Ontogeny (the development of an individual organism, usually from a simple form to a more complex form), and Botany. ZOOB is all about creating a love of math, science, engineering, and art in boys and girls of all ages. Our young toy tester LOVES ZOOB.
Each of the companies above has incredibly wonderful people working near us and they've made it clear that they not only value our business but treasure our mission of transforming the world through teachable moments. They are committed to making the world a better place and we're proud to consider them partners in peacemaking.
Thank You Everyone AND Wishing You a Wonderful Holiday Season
We feel very blessed to be working with wonderful people locally and across the planet and we are especially grateful to all of you, who take Reach And Teach out into your world.
We only do a newsletter around once a month but if you want to keep up with us a little more please like our Facebook page.
And.. please DO consider sharing this newsletter with someone who might not already know about Reach And Teach (see forward to a friend link on the bottom of this message)... AND... if you're struggling to figure out just the right gift for someone, please consider giving them a Reach And Teach gift certificate. Click here to buy one online and we can email it to them!
We wish all of our partners in peacemaking, friends, and fans around the world a very happy holiday season and look forward to a great new year.
Wishing you peace, Craig and Derrick and Toby
Thanks to Susan Munroe, a local photographer, for this wonderful photograph.