At David Thompson secondary school in southeast Vancouver, teacher Maureen Rieder rallies about a dozen youth each year for a "Challenging Homophobia" group. Some of the youth are out, some are not, and some are just straight supporters. Rieder, a senior math teacher who is out to her students, believes there are about 200 gay and lesbian students at the school, if the oft-cited "10 percent of the population" statistic is correct. She wants them all to feel safe and supported, but she knows many will resist involvement in her group because "kids are afraid of being labelled."
That's where the value of film comes in. Out in Schools, a program run by Vancouver's Out on Screen, has visited the school twice since its pilot project began in 2004. Rieder reports that more than 40 Thompson students came to see the films-far more than are directly involved in her group.
"They loved it; they gave it a round of applause," she told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview between classes. "They definitely want to see more films."
Thanks to new grants from VanCity and the Vancouver Foundation, Out in School's budget almost tripled this month, from $8,000 to $23,000. Youth in this city, and across the province, will definitely get to see more films. Out on Screen's executive director, Drew Dennis, told the Straight that films are an excellent "springboard for discussion. If we said, 'We want to come into schools and talk about homophobia,' most people would go 'Ugh.' And the kids would go 'Yawn.' Films engage; they're accessible."
Out in Schools was started for a simple reason: to become a film-viewing member of the summer Queer Film & Video Festival, one must be 18, according to B.C.'s film classification regulations. Plus, the summer festival is a difficult time to round up youth.
Last school year, the program visited Vancouver Technical school, Moscrop secondary, Winston Churchill secondary, Thompson, and Prince of Wales secondary. At Prince of Wales, the Gay-Straight Alliance Club organized the biggest viewing of a film yet. Class Queers, by Canadian filmmaker Melissa Levin, attracted 80 students.
"For a student club that usually has its posters ripped down, there was an unusually high turnout," Dennis said. Dennis anticipates more challenges getting into schools as the program attempts to extend into more conservative pockets of the province.
At the same time, Dennis has recognized a hunger among youth for alternatives to Hollywood. So far, Out in Schools is one of the only venues to bring independent film directly to students. In the future, Out on Screen's staffers hope that the film program becomes part of the Grade 10 career and personal planning curriculum.
The program (outonscreen.com/) is currently looking for both donors and schools to visit.