When I was in sixth grade, I recall being very anxious about puberty. About boys. Occasionally about girls. About everything. Things were changing in all of us, none of us were savvy about any of it. There was gossip and lots of it.
None of the gossip was great (who was dating who, who had gotten their period), but often there was cruel gossip about someone who was suspected to be gay, most likely because they weren’t going with someone or because they were short. Or nerdy. Or played the clarinet. Or any number of reasons. These kids, gay or not, were subject to some terrible bullying and ill treatment.
Back in my 1982 middle school there was little to no information about Gay Rights, Gay Straight Alliances, or Anti-Bullying campaigns in school. You just straight-arrowed it, denied any odd feelings about the same sex and tried to blend in. High school was better, college better still, but mostly that was because my oddball friends and I were lucky enough to be in a college town with a decidedly liberal bent and in theater. Other kids, in other towns, were not so lucky.
The lack of support was very hard for kids in 1982, and today, in 2011 there is lack of support, still. We’ve seen this in many terrible and tragic suicides in recent months. Because of these suicides and the bullying surrounding them, Dan Savage and thousands of others have made videos encouraging kids to stay alive, stay connected and promising that it gets better.
And I believe it does get better. I want to highlight a program here in Austin designed specifically to integrate social justice issues into a theater frame with an outcome of a social justice project that the class produces and facilitates. The program is called CIA: Courage In Action, and it’s produced by Austin’s own Theater Action Project.
The project is creative, fun and weaves a world where students are secret agents of change. They learn about peacemakers like Ghandi, King, Mandela and more, then pick projects to take on and raise the roof about. My son’s class has picked three amazing issues to organize around; Ending Violence Against Women, Ceasing Animal Abuse, and Gay Rights.
I was tearful and proud when my son showed me the “protest signs” above that his classmates had made. They are planning a concert and marching slogans. They are becoming allies for each other in ways we, years ago, never had the support to become. We tried to have each others backs and figure it out for ourselves, but we had no one in the schools actually SHOWING us how to organize, how to be there for each other, showing us that bravery is something small but powerful belonging to each of us.
I’m proud of my city and of it’s commitment to equality, and the amazing Theater Action Project for bring this amazing intersection of art and action together in a way kids can understand.
I’m proud of my child for so naturally standing up for his friends, for his family members and for people he doesn’t even know.
Change can happen and indeed it already is.
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