Stop Homophobic Bullying in Schools

by Western Justice Center
Zariya, cast member for 2 years
Zariya, cast member for 2 years

The morning after the election we had a scheduled rehearsal  for a teacher training session to be held that night in Costa Mesa, California. Almost every one of our student-actors had eyes swollen from too little sleep or from crying at the election returns. One asked, "what happens when the bully gets even more power? Or when he gets one of the most powerful positions in the world? What happens to us then?"

It was a simple question... but still a question that no one wanted to answer.

An incredible amount of dedication to the program and increased commitment to making schools safer got us through a difficult rehearsal and then a training that night.  The young actors were amazing.  The teachers were engaged and appreciative.

One elementary school teacher remarked, "I really did not want to go anywhere tonight, I felt so overwhelmed. My 2nd graders were asking about "the wall" they had heard about from the news and wanting to know if their parents would be thrown over this wall. Their parents are citizens but the kids just hear something about a wall for Mexicans and they are scared. I just wanted to go home and cry.  But I am so glad I came here tonight. Learning about how to make kids safer in class (no matter why they are bullied or tormented or frightened) is the most important thing I could possibly do tonight and you made it so interesting and gave us so many tools. Thank you for tonight. The training made me feel more prepared and your students made me feel more hopeful."

From that first day after the election, we could tell that this training program is needed more than ever. We wish we could offer it to any school that wanted it. We just don't have the capacity to add more sessions without more funding. 

But you can help!

On  Tuesday, November 29, 2016, we are participating in #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving.  

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is offering a 50% match on donations made on #GivingTuesday, November 29th up to the first $1 million raised on is the largest amount of matching funds GlobalGiving has ever had in one day!

Will you help us qualify for some matching funds?  Just make a donation to this project as soon as possible after 9:00 pm PST /midnight EST on MONDAY, November 28.  

We will send you a reminder next week.

Thank you for your generous support of this project- you are helping thousands of students have a safer, more welcoming environment from kindergarten to senior year!

Students setting up "The Restaurant" activity
Students setting up "The Restaurant" activity

     Before we train educators using interactive theatre, we need to prepare the young actors who will participate in the trainings.  Our class begins with activities designed to build trust and safety in the group, we also introduce some of the basics of improvisational acting.

     One fun activity is called "The Restaurant". The stage is transformed into a restaurant and students are assigned to play different types of customers or restaurant workers.  Students are randomly assigned roles and are allowed to experience improvisation all together. It's easier to learn this type of natural (non-comedic) improv without having an audience.   We also have some great storytelling activities.  Students sit in groups of four and tell a true story of something unusual that has happened to them.  Eventually, they choose one of these stories and every group member learns to tell it as if it was their own experience.  We develop this into a contest that awards points for convincing the audience that this experience happened to the storyteller (whether it did or not) and also for guessing the true storytellers.

     We have a great time and everyone begins to learn the skills that will be needed when we beginning trainings in October!

During "The Restaurant" - a marriage proposal
During "The Restaurant" - a marriage proposal
Students improvise in "Whose Story is It?"
Students improvise in "Whose Story is It?"

We are closing in on the end of the school year and want to pause to thank you for helping us make 2015/2016 a huge success!

  • We trained 278 K-12 teachers this school year!
  • 91.7% of teachers who attended the trainings indicated that they believe they will be more effective intervening in homophobic bias and conflict as a result of the training.  
  • We had our largest cast ever and every one of them was thrilled to be a part of the program!
  • We expanded the training to cover more about transgender students and transphobia in schools. We have found that we need to start with some pretty detailed information about bathroom usage laws and dispel some myths! 
  • We are proud to have added Teach for America to our client list and look forward to doing more with them!

Now we are in the midst of interviewing and auditioning students for our next cast. We were able to accept 6 students who were still on the waiting list from 2014/2015 and will add more students in the coming weeks.

Thanks again for your support for this unique and effective approach to ending homophobic bullying and making schools safer for all LGBTPQ++ students!  

When we train teachers on making classes safer for students targeted by homophobia, we need to provide an overview of laws and statistics about LGBT student safety.  Although the information in the overview is important (and our trainers are engaging) it just isn't as EXCITING as the theatrical component of the training!

The theatrical scenes show the many ways that students can be excluded or harassed due to biases about sexual orientation. The scenes are interesting and interactive and the actors are fun to watch!  It's a tough act to follow.

So we decided to use student artwork to liven up the presentation. The teachers love it!  I think using this type of illustration (instead of photos or more realistic drawings) allows the teachers to imagine their own students -no matter whether they teach kindergarten or 12th grade. 

We thought you might like seeing some examples of the illustrations. We chose the artist (Peter Ferris Rosati) because his drawings don't depict students of any particular race, age or gender. Again,this helps the teachers to see their own students as the ones that might be vulerable in class. 

We hope you enjoy the drawings and that you see how your investment allows us to keep finding creative ways to help teachers understand this issue and transform their own classrooms.

We are so grateful for your help!


Listening to the director during rehearsal
Listening to the director during rehearsal

     This school year we have the largest class we have ever had and we still have a waiting list!   We have a new teaching assistant, Tim, who was in our class several years ago.  He still looks young enough to play a student but can also pull off playing the teacher.  He is a very talented actor and we are glad to have him back!

     As we head for winter break, we are preparing for one more educator training. We are happy to report that it’s our first training for Teach for America!    TFA recruits outstanding college graduates to become teachers in low-income communities for a two year period.  We are thrilled to offer over 100 of these corps members training in preventing and intervening in homopobic bullying!

     Then in January, we will continue to train K-12 teachers from 97 different schools on making their classrooms safe and inclusive for LGBT students. 

     We’ve got an exciting year ahead of us, and we can’t thank you enough for your support!  We hope you stay with us for 2016 and help us make school safer for thousands of students!

The cast answers teachers
The cast answers teachers' questions
Tim rehearsing to play the teacher
Tim rehearsing to play the teacher

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Organization Information

Western Justice Center

Location: Pasadena, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Lori Nelson
Executive Director
Pasadena, CA United States
$47,254 raised of $60,000 goal
825 donations
$12,746 to go
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