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Gender-Bending in the South: How Straightlaced Got Us All Tied Up in Jackson

Sarah Young,
ACLU of Mississippi
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July 2, 2009

The smell of popcorn is wafting through the Red Room at Hal and Mal’s in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. Moviegoers creep through the door, some tentative, others confidently waving at friends and familiar faces. The crowd is small — about 40 people. I recognize a local beloved priest, he himself “in the closet” about supporting an ACLU of Mississippi event. I won’t tell the reporter I saw him inside.

Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition Members Anna Davis, Chelsea Speed and Shane Holman

The Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition (MSSC), of which the ACLU of Mississippi is a founding partner, has decided to screen Groundspark’s new film Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up. We thought it would be an excellent way to raise awareness about gender identity and gender roles, educate the public about the MSSC, and raise some funds for our annual conference and other coalition expenses.

Our coalition, started in the fall of 2008, is almost entirely youth-led (if your definition of youth is 25 and under) and a unique model of LGBTQ organizing in the South. The beautiful thing about Straightlaced is that the documentary is told entirely by youth in their voice. Many viewers remarked that they haven’t seen a movie quite like Straightlaced with such diverse youth telling their experiences so candidly. Groundspark is partnering with community organizations around the country to screen Straightlaced and we were proud to host the first and only screening in Mississippi.

In Mississippi, being out and open about being LGBTQ-identified is in itself revolutionary. Likewise, an ally can face similar consequences of verbal or physical harassment. But it doesn’t stop individuals coming out, speaking out, and learning about their Constitutional rights in schools and communities.

My priest friend came up after the movie and gave me a big hug. “Sarah, that movie was phenomenal! I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” he said with a smile. He might not be fully open about being here tonight, but at least he came out. It might happen more slowly in Mississippi, but it is definitely happening.

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