It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School

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It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School
It's Elementary Talking About Gay Issues in School VHS.png
1996 VHS release
Directed byDebra Chasnoff
Helen Cohen
Release date
Running time
37 minutes
78 minutes
CountryUnited States

It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School is a 1996 American documentary film directed by Debra Chasnoff and Helen Cohen. It focuses on teachers educating elementary schoolchildren to not be intolerant of those who are gay or lesbian. The film received positive reception, but it also received backlash from conservatives. Two sequels were released.

Summary and background[]

Released in 1996, the film was the first to provide educators with information on how to prevent discrimination against people who are gay. It was directed by Debra Chasnoff and Helen Cohen. It focuses on teachers educating elementary schoolchildren to not be intolerant of those who are gay or lesbian. In the film, first-grade through eighth-grade students talk about LGBT subjects. The younger children were often more accepting of those who are LGBT. The film has two versions which are either 37 minutes long or 78 minutes long.

Chasnoff wanted to direct an educational video series that deals with teaching children about issues involving gays, but she learned that there was not much information about the topic that was aimed towards educators. She said, "The current conservative political climate, which is incredibly hostile to the mere mention of homosexuality, has made many teachers afraid of talking to kids about gays and lesbians". The lack of available information motivated Chasnoff to continue trying to complete the film. Chasnoff and producer Cohen talked to American teachers who already had curricula involving gays. It was hard for them to gain entry into the schools and multiple staff and parents did not want to be recorded. Some of the parents kept their children away from the school during filming. The schools are in New York, Madison, Wisconsin, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and San Francisco.

The educators of the toured elementary and middle schools were teaching about homosexuality to their students in multiple ways. The educators include a fourth-grade teacher who "encourages her students to brainstorm on the words "gay" and "lesbian," and to talk about the roots of their associations, assumptions, and attitudes". An eighth-grade teacher dismantled stereotypes about gay and lesbians while also having their students interview a man and woman who are homosexual. A principal of an elementary school held a photography event at the school named Love Makes a Family, in which "families with gay and lesbian couples at the heads of households" are depicted. The film includes similar situations in other classrooms.


It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School was released in several film festivals. The film was released on VHS in 1996 by New Day Films and it was released on DVD in 2008 by the same distributor. The DVD includes closed captioning, Spanish subtitles, educator resources and special features. The special features are deleted scenes, an interview with the director, and the sequel It’s Still Elementary. A guide with 136 pages is included which is about how to use the film within school systems and communities.

In 1999, PBS refused to televise the film on its national affiliate stations, but the broadcaster sold the airing rights to other stations by using an independent company. As of the time when an June 7, 1999, article from The Baltimore Sun was published, 89 public television stations decided to air the film, 80 of them refused to carry it, and 53 of them had not made a decision. The film did not receive much support from PBS due to backlash from the American Family Association. Prior to airing the film, television stations received "calls, letters and e-mails urging them not to broadcast It's Elementary". Program director of KCWC Ruby Calvert said, "I've had lots and lots of calls from people in Wyoming" and that she was struggling with scheduling the film. Academic B. J. Bullert stated, "You don't have to be gay to understand the civil liberties aspect of this. Public TV's original mission is providing a forum for these voices."


The film received a positive reception from the National Education Association (NEA) president and the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA). The NEA president said in response to the film, "Schools cannot be neutral when we're dealing with issues of human dignity and human rights". Starting with its release, more than 3,000 educational institutions obtained the film and it has received awards. It has been shared in thousands of settings within the United States and internationally. A 1999 journal article from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom states, "With inspiring footage shot in schools across the country, the film takes viewers inside first through eighth grade classrooms to find out what young students have to say about a topic that often leaves adults tongue-tied".

Conservatives such as the head of the Family Defense Council were upset with its release. Chasnoff and Cohen received backlash from groups that claimed that they "were promoting a homosexual agenda" and brainwashing children into a "homosexual lifestyle". Conservatives in Idaho were against public broadcasting of the film and set up billboards that opposed the film. The American Family Association (AFA) responded to the film with one of their own, titled Suffer the Children: Answering the Homosexual Agenda in Public Schools. The AFA's film has comments from It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School that are out of context and makes it seem that children are being "taught to be homosexual in the classroom".


The film was awarded the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary in 1997. It won Best Documentary at the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and the Chicago International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It was awarded the CINE Golden Eagle for Teacher Education and Best Educational Film at the Northern Lights International Film Festival.


Ginny Markell, the president of the PTA, presented one of the film's sequels That's A Family! at the White House. That's A Family! shows children talking about homosexual households and other families that differ from the common household. The families include parents that are " divorced, adoptive, guardian, parents with drugs, multi-racial, multi-religious, or disabled". The film was directed by Chasnoff. It was released in 2000 and it is 34 minutes long.

Another sequel was released that was titled It's Still Elementary. The film is about how the lives of the student and teachers of the first film have been since the original film was released. Just like the first two films, It's Still Elementary was directed by Chasnoff. It was released in 2007 and it is 47 minutes long.


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