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It Gets Better Maine

This Monday, December 13th, the Portland Phoenix is teaming up with the Portland Public Library and GLSEN-Southern Maine for a full day of anti-bullying and tolerance programming at the Rines Auditorium in the library. Here's the press release:

Portland, ME – Portland Public Library is a hosting an informational event on Monday, December 13 from 11:30 AM to 8 PM titled “It Gets Better: A Portland Partnership to Prevent Bullying.”  This collaborative community event, organized by GLSEN-Southern Maine, The Portland Phoenix, and Portland Public Library, will be at the Library in the Rines Auditorium on the lower level and is free and open to the public.

In light of recent media reports of bullying-related teen suicides across the country, Maine groups are stepping-up their outreach and education in hopes of preventing any such occurrences here.  This “Safe Zone” and drop-in event will allow the public to gather resources, learn more about the work being done and how they can help, watch a documentary on the topic, and to film their own testimonial.

GLSEN is the leading national organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students.  Maine’s two GLSEN chapters, GLSEN-Southern Maine (Portland) and Downeast GLSEN (Ellsworth) together support 53 high school Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in 13 of Maine’s 16 counties.

According to the 2009 GLSEN National School Climate Survey, 9 out of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are harassed in middle school and high school.  60% of LGBT students report they are afraid to go to school, and they skip school at five times the rate of the general population, resulting in lower grades, higher dropout rate, and dramatically higher-than-average suicidality.

The Portland Phoenix will be spearheading the taping and uploading of “It Gets Better” video testimonials. Interested visitors need to sign up when they arrive and will be filmed in order.

“I was extremely moved by the It Gets Better Project videos and noticed that there weren't very many from Maine, said journalist Deirdre Fulton.  “As compelling as the messages "from away" were, I wanted to hear more local voices -- and I imagined that young people would, too. I started the local version of this project in October but this event gives us a greater opportunity to reach more people at once.”

Portland Public Library recently received the Charlie Howard Library collections originated by Maine Speak Out Project as a donation from Community Counseling Center in Portland, Maine. This collection of LGBT books, videos and materials, dedicated to the Bangor teen bullied and killed in 1984, is being cataloged by the Library in hopes of making it available to the public soon.

The many pieces of this community event include:

 

11:30 AM –

6 PM

“It Gets Better” Video Taping - Mainers are encouraged to drop in to film a message of hope and encouragement for young people across the State. 

 

Following the lead of President Obama, some prominent Mainers have been invited to record their own testimonials.  The Portland Phoenix was inspired by the It Gets Better Project (http://www.itgetsbetterproject.com/) and the Make It Better Project (http://makeitbetterproject.org/) and journalist Deirdre Fulton has filmed six videos so far, all of which are available for viewing at the Portland Phoenix's You Tube site: http://www.youtube.com/portlandphoenix.

 

Mainer Susan Young, the mother of Zac Young – a top four finalist on Bravo’s Top Chef: Just Desserts reality show, will be greeting visitors, talking about how she supported her famous son, and encouraging youth to not give up and to follow their dreams.

 

Previously recorded video testimonials from the It Gets Better Project will be aired on the big screen through-out the day.

 

Materials and volunteers will be on-hand through-out the day.

6 PM

The documentary film “Bullied” from the Southern Poverty Law Center will be screened for the public.

 

“Bullied” is the story of Jamie Nabozny who experienced constant anti-gay harassment from sixth grade through high school without appropriate response from school staff. He  was driven out of his school and won a milestone victory in a lawsuit against his school district for failing to protect his right to a public education.

6:45 PM –

7:45 PM

GLSEN-Southern Maine will lead a student/faculty/parent panel followed by public discussion. They will also discuss their Safe Space Kit program.

GLSEN’s new Safe Space Kits for secondary schools will also be featured.  On Nov. 1 GLSEN sent one free Safe Space Kit to every public middle and high school in Maine – over 400 schools.  Maine GLSEN chapters and GSAs are ready to help schools use these Safe Space Kits to reduce the school-based anti-gay harassment that has been leading to such tragic loss of young lives.

Students of GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) will help lead the discussion panel and their work to make their schools safer for all will be on display.  Other LGBT-and-allied organizations invited to share resources at this event include: PFLAG, USM's Center for Sexualities & Gender, UNE, Equality Maine, Maine Civil Rights Team Project, Maine TransNet, Trans Youth Equality Foundation, RBPA, DEPA, COLAGE, RCAD, and faith communities.

If you are interested in participating as a resource, please contact Betsy Parsons of GLSEN-Southern Maine at: GLSEN@gwi.net.

For information about Portland Public Library’s Teen Library, contact Justin Hoenke at: 207-871-1700 ext. 772 or Hoenke@portland.lib.me.us.

If you are interested in filming an “It Gets Better” testimonial but cannot attend on this date, please contact Deirdre Fulton of The Portland Phoenix at:  dfulton@phx.com

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