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Documentary gives enlightenment on high school students' sexuality

The talk is brutally frank in "Put This on the Map," a documentary film that interviews more than two dozen Seattle-area high school students about their "queerness."

There is, for example, Jordan, a contemplative 16-year-old who reveals how she has been pushed in the hallways of school and told she was going to hell for "being queer."

On top of it all, she's totally misunderstood by her family.

"My parents," she says at one point, "have no idea of the best parts of who I am."

Another student, Mike, explains how he ended up dropping out of high school after telling his parents he was gay.

"If it went easier with them, I think I would've stayed in school and completed my diploma," he said.

The 34-minute film -- which examines the highs and lows of being gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender through the stories of 26 young people -- got its first showing in Western New York Monday evening in the University at Buffalo's Center for the Performing Arts.

About 200 people showed up for the documentary, which was followed by a question-and-answer session with the director, Sid Jordan, and one of the former high school students featured in the film, Landon Tan.

Jordan, who was the director of a Seattle youth center, made the film between 2008 and 2010 as a training tool for staff members and to share "those stories that aren't being told."

Now she and a group of young people who identify themselves as "queer" are traveling across the country for training sessions and film screenings.

Jordan said she hopes that their efforts can help broaden the conversation about bullying and homophobia beyond the actions of individuals, focusing instead on systemic and institutional practices that allow those instances to occur.

Accompanying Jordan and Tan was University of Washington student Charisse Bersamina, who hopes to enlist more people in an effort to "reteach" gender and sexuality.

"I want others to be inspired and encouraged to do, in short, what I'm doing," Bersamina said following a 90-minute presentation at UB.

The university's School of Social Work also will offer student training sessions today with the group.

The school offers courses that explore the topics of diversity and oppression, so the subject of the documentary film "is not really a stretch for us in terms of thinking about these issues," said Nancy J. Smyth, the school's dean.

The film, noted Smyth, was an effort to get viewers to listen to diversity.

"What it's partly trying to get us to do is break open some of these boxes in our heads," she said. "I don't think we realize how constrained we become by checking off these stereotypes."

Tan, who in the film is a 17-year-old student at Lake Washington High School discussing what it's like to be "queer" and transgender, is now a Seattle poet, performer and organizer who goes by the initials "L.T."

The film has been shown at film festivals in San Francisco and London, and presented at college campuses around the country.

"I didn't think it would get this bIg," Tan said. "I imagined it being shown in some anonymous health class and that I would never see it again."

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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