NORMAL VALID LIVES
Every single person we know has been affected by bullying in some way. Think about it. If you weren’t bullied yourself, then perhaps your child was, or your bother or sister, a friend, a neighbor. Someone you know has been bullied. It’s an epidemic in this country that often times seems to be ignored by those who could actually do something to stop it.
We believe that this story of incredible bravery — a story of students and adults who fought against terrible odds and of the injustices committed against them by their own schools and communities — must be told.
The issues Normal Valid Lives raises are ones at the forefront of public debate: bullying, same-sex relationships, and the treatment and rights of LGBTQ citizens. Our aim is to engage viewers in this debate while also telling the story of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, thereby demonstrating the necessity of protections for LGBTQ students and the importance of curbing bullying in our schools.
In making the film we will interview a large majority of those involved, including family members, friends, those bullied and those who bully, school board members, and politicians. The people who were touched most by this tragedy. People on both sides of the issue, to get a better understanding of what happened, why it happened, and how we can prevent it from ever happening again.
If we can open eyes to what’s going on in every school in every city in every state, perhaps we can not only help bring dignity and compassion to all students, we can also save lives.
Please note: because of our 501c3 fiscal sponsorship from The Film Collaborative, every contribution made to Normal Valid Lives is tax deductible.
Just north of the Twin Cities lies Minnesota’s largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin. It is a microcosm of the US, filled with urban, suburban, and rural populations. In less than two years, nine students there would commit suicide and countless more would try, leading Minnesota State Public Health officials to declare the district a “suicide contagion area.” The common thread? Nearly all nine students were bullied, and four of the nine were bullied for sexual orientation. The deaths followed years of systemic LGBTQ discrimination and the Anoka-Hennepin School Board’s adoption of a highly controversial policy –– that all staff “remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation” –– that many teachers interpreted to mean they could lose their jobs should they intervene in sexual-orientation-based bullying.
These events inspired grassroots organizing by the Gay Equity Team, a group of pro-LGBTQ parents who fought to eliminate the “neutrality policy.” It also sparked counter-organizing by the Parent Action League, an anti-LGBTQ Christian evangelical organization that was later declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Eventually, the U. S. Departments of Justice and Education launched investigations into civil rights violations of LGBTQ students in Anoka-Hennepin. And shortly after, with the help of lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Minneapolis law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, six students filed a lawsuit against the school district. After considerable resistance from the school board, Anoka-Hennepin School District finally agreed to a historic consent decree in March, 2012. This decree gave the Justice Department oversight of the district for five years, overturned the neutrality policy, strengthened the rights of LGBTQ students, and established anti-bullying preventions to make schools safer for all.
As we move closer to the start of production we plan to launch a sweeping social media campaign, much as we have with out feature documentary A Dog Named Gucci, which had 63,000 likes before the film’s premiere. We will connect with LGBT groups on all social media platforms, making them not only aware of the film and its subject matter, but also giving them a voice in the issues we’ve addressed. And just as we did with A Dog Named Gucci, we will reach out to LGBT musicians to provide a soundtrack to the film, which will help us gain even more exposure through their social media reach.
We plan to begin distribution of Normal Valid Lives on the film festival circuit and then hold screenings with LGBT groups across the county, using the film as not only a tool for education, but for discussion as well. We will aim for a limited theatrical release, and then distribution on all ancillary platforms including DVD, VOD, iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon streaming. We will also seek screenings via public television. (Note: our three previously completed documentaries have all received distribution as described above.)