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Panel discusses Gloucester pregnancy uproar at premier of documentary

Posted by Your Town  March 5, 2010 03:16 PM

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“The Gloucester 18,” a 67-minute documentary about teen pregnancy in that community, tells the tale of what became a national story from the perspective of the locals -- and the local media that first reported the story.

The Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy hosted the Thursday premier, which included a pre-show reception and a five-member panel discussion after the show. An audience of almost 300 attended the private screening at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge.

“We thought it was an opportunity to have the girls tell their story,” director John Michael Williams said to the audience before the film started.

The film opens with recognizable scenes of Gloucester: the “Man at the Wheel” Fishermen’s Memorial, an American flag rippling in the wind, children playing on a playground. These are distinctive images of Gloucester; but also universal images of American life in a small town.

The spark for the national story came with a report in Time Magazine that several girls in the community had intentionally become pregnant as part of an alleged "pact.'' The allegation about a "pact" was never proven, but it drew national attention to Gloucester.

Panelist and local free lance journalist Anne Driscoll referred to herself as “part of the deluge that ended up in Gloucester.” She said when she first arrived on the scene, that she couldn’t walk five feet without tripping over a reporter. “I’m proud to be a journalist,” she said, “but I am not always proud of the way journalists behave.”

One panel member pointed out that her everyday work with teen parents -- both moms and dads -- is often overlooked by the media.

“I have never walked into the building tripping over a reporter…or gotten a million phone calls or offered any money,” said panelist Elizabeth Wood, Putnam High School school adjustment counselor, “…for doing the work that I do every day for the 70 to 80 teen moms in my building and a growing number of dads.”

Driscoll offered advice to not assume that journalists have a baseline knowledge of an issue, and to find people who are willing to listen.

The documentary is billed as a "groundbreaking documentary film that follows the Gloucester pregnancy pact from inside the lives of the pregnant teenagers and their families.'' It will be shown on a limited basis in area.

The film stands in contrast to a recent Lifetime movie loosely based on the facts of the 2008 sensation in Gloucester.

Panelist Consuela Greene, Mass Alliance prevention program coordinator, said the Gloucester story became national news because it was not the stereotype of teen pregnancies—poor, Black or Latina girls, or inner city kids. “It became a story because it was white families and white faces,” she said. “It was debunking the myth.”

The documentary features clips from the national media frenzy. Sound bites from The Today Show, CBS Evening News, Fox News, Good Morning America, and CNN are included. Even Jay Leno in an opening monologue, after calling Massachusetts his home state, joked that the Gloucester 18 are “Juno,” the home game.

“We certainly are fascinated by it,” producer Kristen Grieco said from her seat on the panel. “So walk out, keep talking…be open to a difficult topic to talk about,” she said.

“I hope that this film goes far and wide,” said Dr. Brian Orr during the panel discussion, with his daughter sitting next to him in the audience. “Now Kim and I see that we can have the conversation that we were trying to have [about teen contraception] two years ago,” he said. Dr. Orr and Kim Daly, a nurse practitioner, worked at the Gloucester High School Health Clinic, and both later resigned from their positions.

“I just have one comment to make,” said Sarah Williams, one of the Gloucester teens featured in the film, to the panel and audience at the close of the night. “You made a judgment [that] the mothers looked young and lost,” she said, with boyfriend Pedro Gonzalez seated next to her. “I am not lost. I have goals. I go to college. I work,” she said holding back tears as the audience applauded her.

Patricia Quinn, Mass Alliance executive director, thanked Sarah for her words and said the film shows the full spectrum of teen pregnancies. “There are young people…like Sarah and Pedro, who we feel are going to do okay,” Quinn said. “And then there are other young people who I am afraid about what will happen for them.” According to the fact sheet that Mass Alliance handed out at the end of the discussion, there are over 10,000 teen pregnancies every year in Massachusetts.

Quinn said adults often don’t really support young people in planning to have sex. “Do we support them in making that decision [to buy condoms], or do we judge them?” Quinn asked the audience.

“The next time you see a young person parenting…think differently about what you see,” Quinn said to the audience. “None of us do it by ourselves.”

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