"The Teen Files"
show on hate and prejudice

This 1999 article wars written by Gabi Clayton for the PFLAG-Olympia newsletter just before the show aired.

"The Teen Files" TV show I taped in December will be airing here in the Seattle area on March 13th (KSTW 8-9p.m.) and in different parts of the country at other days/times between March 5-14, 1999. 

This is a TV special, made for a youth audience, on hate and prejudice. They had me sit down and talk to four homophobic teenagers. These are tough kids but not really hard-core or violent. (Another segment that they taped on race prejudice included a teen who is a skinhead - a really rough segment to do, according to the producer.) When they asked me to be on the show, the segment producer said, "It struck me that your story might be the emotional push that these kids would need to see the human side of the effects of intolerance."

I have done a lot of work in the past with tough teens - even gang members - and I liked that work. I am usually pretty comfortable in this kind of situation, but I was nervous about being able to reach them about this very personal subject in such a short time.

The four teenagers - two boys and two girls - were 15-16 years old. We introduced ourselves and I told them I was the mom of two sons and I was there to tell them about my youngest son, Bill. I talked to them for a long time and told them all about Bill from when he was a baby until he was assaulted and committed suicide. All the time I was talking, I was passing them photos of him too. And they were responding. I saw little smiles at the stories and the pictures, and I saw them react to what happened.

They asked me questions. "Did his brother love him and get along with him?" - Yes, and they fought too, as brothers do. "How did he kill himself? Did he hang himself?" - No, he took an overdose.

They said things like, "He was just a regular kid -- one I could be friends with," (with some surprise). And, "I never thought of a gay person having a family - having a mother who loved them before...."

The producer asked me to say what I wanted them to get from this experience, and I told them to carry Bill with them and that if they heard homophobic comments or jokes - to think about what that could mean to someone gay... and to speak out about it if they could. I told them I knew how much that was asking, and not to put themselves in bad situations either - because I know how hard that can be. I felt I needed to acknowledge that too.

In the end, as we were finishing, they seemed open to it so I asked them if they wanted a hug, and they all did. Wow!

The director and the producer seemed happy with what happened. The segment on homophobia is supposed to be 12 minutes of the hour show. We will see how it is put together when it airs. However the show turns out, I know I have had an impact on those four young people, and that feels really good.

A note after it aired:  Arnold Shapiro Productions did a fabulous job editing this film and I highly recommend it. I use it when I speak to groups - if I have time I show the whole film and if time is tight I show the section on homophobia which does stand on its own.

"Teen Files: The Truth About Hate" can be ordered from Discovery Education. See this page where it is listed there with other films. It is available in DVD and VHS formats in a long (49 minute) and short (32 minute) version. I've never seen the short version, which is also available in Spanish.

Here is a RealAudio interview with Chuck Limbert, San Francisco police officer on his Teen Files experience and his work with youth on hate issues on GenderTalk # 204, May 3, 1999.

You may also want to read On tolerance and bigotry which is my response to a San Diego Union-Tribune article, 
"Pickets protest board's editing of tolerance film - Gay segment deleted by Grossmont Union"
about "Teen Files: The Truth About Hate" being censored in March 2002. 

1999 Gabi Clayton


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