Justin’s Gift, a nonprofit in the Anoka-Hennepin School District area dedicated to youth and anti-bullying, will screen the documentary Same Difference at an event on July 17.
Same Difference is a documentary project “that shows the difference between learning in a supportive school climate versus an oppressive school climate” by tracing the paths of two gay teens, one of which is Justin Aaberg, a student in the Anoka-Hennepin School District who took his own life in 2010.
The other, Graeme Taylor, came out in high school and found acceptance in a supportive school district.
The film examines the differences in those two stories, and how a supportive environment influences LGBT youth, and how an unsupportive environment, such as the Anoka-Hennepin School District, can have catastrophic consequences. That school district continues to be embroiled in controversy as religious conservatives work to prevent any positive changes in school climate for LGBT youth. It took a lawsuit and a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to get even minimal changes in the district, and even those have been ferociously fought by the Parents Action League, a “hate group” that opposes “the homosexual agenda.”
Same Difference will screen twice on July 17 at the First Congregational UCC of Anoka, with a viewing at 6:30pm and another at 9:30pm. Each screening will be followed by a panel discussion. The panelists will include Tammy and Shawn Aaberg, the parents of Justin Aaberg; Katie MacDonald, a close friend of Justin Aaberg; Jefferson Fietek, a teacher who spoke out publicly against own school district’s policies after losing a student to suicide; and Kyrstin Schuette, a former student who was plaintiff in a lawsuit against Anoka-Hennepin.
Tammy Aaberg told The Column that the important thing about screening a film like Same Difference is that people will understand the difference a respectful climate for LGBT youth can make in a school.
“It is important for those who advocate safety and acceptance for LGBT youth because referencing this film — and the stories of Justin’s and Graeme’s coming out experiences at a young age and growing up in different school districts, but both accepting homes — can help show people that [teaching LGBT acceptance] is not about teaching a ‘sexual lifestyle,'” she said. “It’s about knowing who you are at a young age, being able to talk about it and not be shamed and picked on, but instead to be able to safely learn and be yourself in a safe, accepting environment.”
She added that it can help create a world where “stories for our youth are more like Graeme’s story and a lot less of Justin’s story.”
“With the right administration and policies being made — and actually enforced in the schools — and ALL children being accepted and treated equally, we can have a lot more of our students surviving and thriving like Graeme and not buried in the ground like Justin.”
She hopes it will help residents pay more attention to who sits on local school boards such as Anoka-Hennepin, and spurs support for bills like Sen. Al Franken’s Student Nondiscrimination Act.
Date: Friday, July 17th at 6:30pm or 9:30pm
Location: First Congregational UCC of Anoka located at 1923 Third Avenue South, Anoka, MN 55303
Admission: $5.00 suggested donation (credit cards accepted)
Silent Auction: There will be a silent auction to support the programs of Justin’s Gift at each screening (credit cards accepted)
Sponsors: Twin Cities Pride and First Congregational UCC Anoka
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About Same Difference: The film is directed/produced by Joshua Sweeny. Kyle Wentzel served as the films Producer/Co-Director and Cinematographer. Learn more about the film at http://www.samedifferencefilm.com