Local filmmakers are creating a documentary about how the climate for LGBT students and educators at South Florida schools has evolved since the late 1970s.
"Schools, of course, just like the society has, have changed amazingly in 20 to 30 years, so we really want to show that," said Bruce W. Presley, founder and president of Downtown Loft Studio, the Lantana-based company producing the film.
The documentary will feature historical background from experts as well as personal accounts of LGBT students and educators.
Presley, who is the film's executive producer, and his crew have begun conducting interviews but are still seeking LGBT individuals who attended or taught at a middle or high school in the tri-county area between 1976 and 2013 and experienced isolation, bullying or assault.
The filmmakers chose to trace back to 1976 because it was the year that Miami-Dade County amended an existing ordinance to prohibit discrimination on the basis of "affectional or sexual preference," joining a wave of some three dozen United States cities and counties at the time to extend protections to gays under law, starting with East Lansing, Mich., in 1972.
A dogged campaign spearheaded by pop singer and anti-gay activist Anita Bryant led to residents voting to repeal the amendment just six months later and then similar repeals in other parts of the country. Although it would be another 21 years before Miami-Dade's LGBT community regained its short-lived protections, the ordeal gave fuel to the gay rights movement both locally and nationally.
"A lot had been done about the impact of Anita Bryant and other issues and laws and ordinances and things relative to society at large, but there's been very little focus on the schools — the impact that these events that were taking place in society at large had on the kids in the school district — and that's where we want to look," said assistant producer Donald Cavanaugh, who runs workshops to help schools, organizations and businesses create more LGBT-friendly environments through his organization Tri-Angle Consulting LGBT.
Ultimately the film will emphasize the positive developments in local schools, like those brought about by Safe Schools South Florida, the nonprofit organization sponsoring the documentary.
Former high school teacher and counselor Robert Loupo founded Safe Schools in Miami-Dade County in 1991 to make schools safer for students who are LGBT, perceived as such or have LGBT parents, as well as LGBT staff.
"We're hoping that by having this film made others can see and have recorded a history of what people coming together can do in positive change for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth and the educators," said Loupo, who will help narrate the documentary.
During the early '90s, Safe Schools was instrumental in making Miami-Dade County Public Schools the first school district in the southeastern United States to include sexual orientation in its discrimination and harassment policies, which inspired similar changes in neighboring counties.
It holds district-wide conferences for students in schools' Gay Straight Alliance clubs, as well as training workshops to help school educators, administrators and counseling personnel recognize and intervene in bullying and harassment related to sexual orientation. One of the most effective components of the latter workshops is a panel of LGBT students.
"Safe Schools allows the student to get up and talk and tell their story and be questioned by teachers, and it really has a huge impact. People who've been teaching 20 years have never had this kind of conversation with a student before," said executive producer Presley, who is a retired teacher and has long served on the Safe Schools Board of Directors.
"The thing that we're really hoping to achieve by this [film] is to show school people and parents and so forth that there really are ways of making the lives of gay kids better, and the process of making it better is communications between the teachers, the students and the parents."
Presley said he is aiming to wrap filming by November.
"The big effort will be the editing," he said. "The usual approach in a documentary like this is to film anywhere from, let's say, 100 to 150 hours, and then edit that down to an hour. It's a very lengthy process."
He said the goal is to release the documentary around February and get it shown at local and national film festivals and on television.
"Our real dream would be HBO."
Those interested in being included in the documentary should email info@DowntownLoftStudio.com or call Cavanaugh at 561-543-0373. To learn more about Safe Schools South Florida, visit SafeSchoolsSouthFlorida.org.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun