As yet another youth has been tried and convicted for having committed an anti-gay murder-18-year-old Army Pvt. Calvin Glover was convicted this month of having murdered Pfc. Barry Winchell-the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Dec. 20 launched a new public service announcement calling on America's educators to increase efforts to address anti-gay prejudice in schools as a means to reducing anti-gay violence in society. The provocative spot features Judy Shepard, the mother of slain University of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard.
Noting a 1998 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects report which states that approximately 45% of anti-gay hate crimes are committed by people under the age of 23, GLSEN Executive Director Kevin Jennings stated, "As yet another trial ends, we are reminded that the work to end anti-gay hatred is just beginning. The names have changed but the story sadly remains the same. The murderers of Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, and, now, Barry Winchell, were all under twenty-two, just out of school, and driven to murder because they never learned to deal with the real world - a world that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Our schools have a responsibility to do better, to teach young people to respect differences and not allow hatred to be borne of them."
The 30-second spot begins with Mrs. Shepard sitting in an empty elementary classroom, talking about the lessons of respect that went unlearned by her son's murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. After looking at photos of Matthew, she emotionally asks, "Isn't it time we teach [our children] something new?" The words, "End Hate/Begin in Our Schools", then appear.
This latest campaign follows on the heels of a highly successful effort GLSEN made last October when it partnered with MTV to target youth with a message aimed at reducing anti-gay name calling in schools. MTV officials estimate the spot reached over 30 million youth a week on its network. It was featured on The Today Show, Good Morning America and CBS This Morning.
Both PSAs were produced by LA-based Public Interest Productions, a team of film industry and financial professionals dedicated to educating the public about health and civil rights issues. Partnering with Palme D'Or-award winning commercial production company Radical Media, Director Michael Franzini and Executive Producer Trip Wilmot assembled a team of top-notch Hollywood talent, including director of photography Oliver Wood (Face/Off) to create the spot.
Since her son's tragic death on October 12, 1998, Mrs. Shepard has focused much-needed national attention on ending homophobia in schools. "Young people learn powerful lessons in school, and those lessons can lead them to do wonderful things - or terrible ones. If we reach students while they're still young, we can break the cycle of hatred," she said.
Established nationally in 1994, GLSEN is the largest national organization working to end anti-gay bias in America's K-12 schools. For information call (212) 727-0135 or visit www.glsen.org.