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Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson
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Scientist turned author and filmmaker Dean Hamer formed Qwaves with his partner Joe Wilson to make films that emanate from the voices of those on the outside, that inspire creativity, that incite us to abandon our comfortable role as spectators and compel us to question and to act. He co-directed and produced the Independent Lens Audience Award-winning film KUMU HINA, about transgender teacher and cultural icon Hina Wong, and accompanying educational video A PLACE IN THE MIDDLE, which is being used as a teaching tool around the world. Hamer's book The Science of Desire: The Search for the Gay Gene, was a New York Times Book of the Year, and he has been featured in TIME magazine, ABC, CBS and NBC News, Frontline and Oprah.

Human rights activist and documentary filmmaker Joe Wilson is the Co-Director and Producer, with Dean Hamer, of the PBS films KUMU HINA and A PLACE IN THE MIDDLE about the uniquely inclusive Hawaiian approach to gender diversity. Their previous Sundance-supported film OUT IN THE SILENCE won an Emmy Award and evolved into a nationwide community engagement campaign and Youth Activism Award to counter bullying and support justice and equality in rural and small town America.

Entries by Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson

Will Hawaii DOE Follow Obama's Lead to Protect Transgender Youth?

(0) Comments | Posted May 17, 2016 | 5:33 PM

This article is authored by The Kumu Hina Project: Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson & Hina Wong-Kalu

As graduation season approaches, most seniors are focused on how to say good-bye to friends, who will sign their yearbook and plans for the future. But transgender students have a more basic question: will...

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It Gets Better for Kumu Hina at Kamehameha Schools

(6) Comments | Posted March 29, 2016 | 7:23 PM

Twenty-six years ago, Collin Wong was a timid young Kamehameha Schools student who was teased and tormented for being "too girlish." Back then, long before we had reached the "transgender tipping point," there wasn't a place for students like Collin, and no teacher to offer guidance on what was considered a controversial topic better ignored than embraced.

But Collin was fortunate to find safety, and inspiration, in studying Hawaiian language, culture and music, a realm at Kamehameha where students were judged not for their gender expression but for their dedication and accomplishments. With the encouragement and tutelage of acclaimed kumu such as Randie Fong and Holoua Stender, Collin excelled, leading his junior class chorus and, as a senior, chanting his own composition at the legendary annual school Song Contest.

Three years later, Collin transitioned to Hinaleimoana, and began her pursuit of a life of teaching, community service, and passing on the true meaning of aloha: love, honor and respect for all. One of her innovations as a K-12 teacher, or kumu, at a Hawaiian-focused public charter school in Honolulu, was to create a place and nomenclature, based on cultural tradition, that explicitly recognizes students who are "in the middle" - somewhere between male and female on the gender spectrum.

Instead of being ignored or ridiculed, these "kane-wahine" and "wahine-kane" - terms coined by Hina to acknowledge and honor the presence of both feminine and masculine spirits in her students - are expected to excel - not despite who they are, but precisely because of it.

Two weeks ago, Hina's journey came full circle when she was invited to the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest to watch the students perform her original composition Ku'u Ha'aheo e Ku'u Hawai'i - Stand Tall My Hawai'i. This stirring anthem has become a symbol of today's Hawaiian movement for sovereignty and self-determination - a movement that, thanks largely to Hina's work, increasingly recognizes Hawaii's tradition of gender diversity and inclusiveness as an important component of the quest for a better world.

Hina will return to Kamehameha Schools on April 6 for a screening, at the Ka'iwakiloumoku Hawaiian Cultural Center, of A Place in the Middle - a short film that we produced, based on our PBS feature documentary Kumu Hina, to make Hina's uniquely Hawaiian style of teaching available to students, educators, families and communities everywhere - including in Hawaii's public schools, which are having difficulty grappling with these issues. In addition to a lively talk story, attendees will be able to get free copies of the educational toolkit, and be treated to a live performance of Hina's mele.

Continuing the journey that began on Kamehameha Schools' beautiful Kapalama campus, Hina will travel to Washington D.C. in July to receive this year's Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award from the National Education Association, honoring her contributions to improving educational opportunities and advancing the achievement of equal opportunity for Asians and Pacific Islanders.

Hina's experiences as a young person could have made her bitter, but instead Kamehameha Schoolsʻs foundation in Hawaiian culture helped make her stronger. It's fitting that she is returning there with a body of work and teaching method rooted in the very culture and philosophy that saved her so long ago. It does get better - particularly when one is treated with, and lives by, the spirit of...

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Why Is Bob McDermott So Obsessed With Sex?

(7) Comments | Posted February 8, 2016 | 7:27 PM


Another legislative session in Hawaii, another season of Bob McDermott exposing himself and his sexual obsessions in the public square.

McDermott is supposed to represent O'ahu's House District 40, but the Pennsylvania transplant seems more focused on bringing the mainland religious...

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The Science of Denial

(0) Comments | Posted October 22, 2015 | 12:04 PM

I came out as gay during my first year in graduate school in molecular biology at Harvard Medical School. In the four decades of the movement for LGBT visibility and rights since then, I have become accustomed to the illogic, deceptions and half-truths used by religious fundamentalists and right-wing politicians...

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Countering Bullying with Aloha

(2) Comments | Posted August 18, 2015 | 1:25 PM

It's back-to-school time in Hawaiʻi. Over 200,000 students will enter grades K-12 this year, full of curiosity and ideas. Unfortunately, many of them will have their studies disrupted and hopes crushed by bullying.

Despite our reputation as the "Aloha State," surveys show that one-fifth to over one-half of students in both public and private schools have been bullied or harassed. And even though more than 90 percent of voters say that "bullying is important for the state of Hawai'i to address," attempts to pass a statewide Safe Schools Act have failed repeatedly in the legislature. Some parents, such as a father whose two young children were bullied for years without intervention in East Hawaiʻi schools, have even resorted to suing the Department of Education.

We're fortunate that several local groups have stepped in to develop their own anti-bullying programs; the E Ola Pono, Adult Friends for Youth Anti-Bullying and Violence Convention, and Mental Health America of Hawaii Pono Youth Program are outstanding examples. Even local comedian Augie T is helping out through B.R.A.V.E. Hawaiʻi, a program started by his daughter after she herself fell victim to bullying.

But bullying doesn't occur in a vacuum; it's the product of underlying stigma and prejudice. That's why it's time to move beyond telling children that it's bad to be mean, and start showing them why it's good to be inclusive and accepting - not just for the targets of bullying, but for everyone in the school and community.

We had the opportunity to witness first-hand the effectiveness of this approach during our two years of filming Kumu Hina, a nationally broadcast PBS feature documentary about a Native Hawaiian teacher who empowers her students at a small public charter school in downtown Honolulu by showing them the true meaning of aloha: love, honor and respect for all. It's a powerful lesson for children and adults alike.

In order to make Kumu Hina's teaching available to students and teachers in K-12 schools across the islands, we've produced a youth-friendly, short version of the film called A Place in the Middle that focuses on the story of one of her students, a sixth grade girl who dreams of joining the boys-only hula troupe. This might make her a target for ridicule and bullying in many schools, but the outcome of this story is very different. It's a powerful example of why students who are perceived to be different, in one way or another, deserve to be celebrated precisely because of those differences, not simply tolerated despite them.

Overcoming bullying in Hawai'i requires a systemic, long-term, multifaceted approach. The true story of a local girl who just wants to be herself - and in so doing helps her fellow students and entire school - is a good place to start.

A Place in the Middle is available at no cost for streaming and download from PBS Learning Media and on Vimeo, and the accompanying Hawai'i Teacher's Guide can be downloaded from the Hawai'i Educators Website. The program will be touring Public Libraries across the islands beginning this...

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Is the GOP Ready for 'Her'?

(0) Comments | Posted April 27, 2015 | 6:52 PM

The biggest surprise in the Bruce Jenner interview wasn't when he announced that "I'm a woman," confirming months of rumors and speculation, or that he (Jennerʻs currently preferred pronoun) hopes going public with his story will help others. It was his declaration of being a conservative...

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It's Not Just About a Telescope

(5) Comments | Posted April 16, 2015 | 2:26 PM

The movement to protect and preserve the summit of Mauna Kea, one of the most sacred sites in the Hawaiian Islands, has grown from a small group of local activists to a much larger and diverse coalition around the globe, complete with celebrities and pop stars who have brought wide media attention.

Their immediate goal is to stop construction of the giant Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, the world's largest optical telescope, atop the mountain. But as captured in the above news report from KITV, it's about much more.

It's not just about a telescope. This is really about the larger issues, about us, our people, our political status, our rights as the native people of this land. And this is just the beginning. -- Kumu Hina Wong Kalu, native Hawaiian teacher and community leader

It wouldn't be the first time that a protest sparked something larger in the struggle of native Hawaiians to retain their land and culture. In 1895, an armed revolt protesting the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom led to the Aloha ʻĀina movement, which gathered more than 21,000 signatures on a Petition Against Annexation that persuaded the U.S Senate not to make the Islands a U.S. Territory. (Unfortunately, the Senate changed its mind the following year, when the outbreak of the Spanish-American war made Hawai'i an invaluable fueling spot on the way to the Philippines.)

Then in 1976, a handful of scrappy activists landed on the shores of Kahoʻolawe, which Hawaiians believe is the physical incarnation of the sea god Kanaloa, to protest its use as a bombing range by the U.S. Military. This bold action is widely credited with playing a key role in triggering the Hawaiian Renaissance -- a resurgence of interest and attention to Hawaiian language, music, hula, ocean voyaging and identity, and a political movement that led to a new State Constitution that officially recognizes the rights of native descendants to exercise their cultural practices and benefit from public lands.

Might the Mauna Kea movement lead to a similar, even broader, awakening? There are hopeful signs from atop Mauna Kea. Most notable is the young age of the "protectors," as they prefer to be called. The majority are in their 20s and 30s, and students (many from the University of Hawaii, the manager of the telescope project) have been among the most active both in the social media-sphere and on the ground. These young people have grown up following the voyages of the Hokulea on TV, hearing and speaking Hawaiian at school, and taking it as a given that their indigenous values, including the protection of sacred sites, deserve respect.

Another hopeful omen is the movement's diversity, including its embrace of one aspect of native culture that was largely overlooked during the Renaissance of the 1970s: the traditional Hawaiian embrace of those who embody both kāne (male) and wahine (female) spirit. This includes Kumu Hina, who grew up as her family's son, but is now their daughter, respected and admired as a māhū wahine, or transgender woman, who brings her own unique wisdom and strength to the cause.

This little known aspect of Polynesian culture will receive its first wide exposure in the continental U.S. with the Independent Lens broadcast of our PBS documentary Kumu Hina on May 4 at 10-11 PM EST (check local listings). We hope it will help open hearts and minds to why it is so important to preserve indigenous beliefs and to respect the sacred lands that Hawaiians, and other First Nations Peoples, call home.

For anyone who might doubt the power of these traditions, we offer this exclusive recording of Kumu Hina performing her composition Halehale Nā Moku O Ka Pae ʻĀina (The Lofty Islands of Hawaiʻi) at Lake Waiau atop Mauna Kea. Itʻs what Hawaiians call a chicken-skin moment.

Take the Pledge of Aloha, and help Protect Mauna...

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What Indiana Could Learn From Hawaiʻi

(10) Comments | Posted April 6, 2015 | 1:42 PM

As Americans grapple with the firestorm of controversy ignited by the passage of the divisive "religious freedom" bill in Indiana, they would do well to turn to the nation's 50th state for inspiration. In Hawai'i, the right of LGBT people to live free of discrimination is viewed not...

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Richard Fale: The Wrong Choice in Hawaii Senate District 23

(4) Comments | Posted September 30, 2014 | 4:10 PM

For more than sixty years, the time-tested advice in Dale Carnegie's book "How To Win Friends and Influence People" has carried thousands of adherents up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives, with simple lessons in developing effective relationships, primarily by being a good listener, and respectful....

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To Educate a Nation (VIDEO)

(3) Comments | Posted June 13, 2014 | 9:42 AM

We first visited Hālau Lōkahi Public Charter School three years ago as part of a PBS documentary film project with ITVS and Pacific Islanders in Communications.

The school is not much to look at from the outside. Located in an industrial area of Honolulu, just off the busy Nimitz highway in the workaday Kalihi neighborhood, there is no fancy gym or chapel, cultural classes are held in a warehouse, and the young students must be escorted by teachers to avoid the many trucks and forklifts traversing the area.

But inside was a different matter. The students were intent, animated, and genuinely excited about learning in a way we've never seen in the many different schools that we've filmed in across the continental United States. And not only were they pursuing the usual reading, writing and arithmetic in English, they were simultaneously learning about their own culture through the time-consuming, painstaking acquisition of lengthy oli and moʻolelo in the Hawaiian language.

Over the course of making our documentary, which focuses on the work of the schoolʻs cultural director, Kumu Hina, we gradually realized what makes Hālau Lōkahi unique: its insistence that the students understand who they are not just as individuals, but as part of a people and a community with deep roots in the traditions, culture, principles and values of Hawaiʻi.

How do you do that, especially when students are in an environment in which they are continually exposed to all the outside distractions of modern life? Watch the above excerpt from the completed documentary KUMU HINA, in which Principal Laara Allbrett addresses the students after some of them have upset their teacher through inattention, and youʻll get the idea.

Despite its many successes, Hālau Lōkahi has recently run into serious economic difficulties. This is no surprise: the school receives only $6000 per pupil from the state as compared to $12,000 per pupil for DOE schools, and furthermore they are responsible for the considerable expense of renting space since DOE provides no physical facilities. Itʻs almost as if the State Charter School Commission wants Hawaiian charter schools to fail -- which perhaps should be no surprise given the sort of independent thinking espoused by visionary educators such as Principal Allbrett.

Fortunately, there is a potential solution to the commissionʻs demand that the school work with stakeholders to develop a viable financial plan. When Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a direct descendant of Kamehameha the Great, passed away in 1884, her will established a trust specifically dedicated to the education of Hawaiian children. That trust, now known as Kamehameha Schools, currently has a value of over $10 billion, the income from which could easily make-up for the discrepancy between charter and DOE funding for every Hawaiian student in the state. Furthermore the trust owns the land on which Hālau Lōkahi sits, so it could solve the problem of lease payments immediately.

Nobody doubts the important and empowering role that Kamehameha Schools have played in Hawaiian education; in fact both Principal Allbrett and Kumu Hina are graduates. But because they are selective private schools with limited enrollment, access is limited. Perhaps this is an opportune moment for Kamehameha Schools to expand its role and fully accomplish Bernice Bishopʻs vision by more extensive support of Hawaiian public charter schools.

With the national PBS broadcast of KUMU HINA, people across the country will learn, many for the first time, about what makes Hawaiʻi unique, and how culture-based education empowers students to be all they can be by understanding where they come from. Itʻs important that Hālau Lōkahi still be there to receive the attention it...

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A Transgender Teacher in Hawai'i Inspires a Global Campaign

(3) Comments | Posted April 9, 2014 | 3:04 PM

At a time when transgender and gender-nonconforming people the world over face harassment, violence, discrimination and even murder, we are excited to be launching a new film-based campaign from Hawai'i that takes a fresh approach to making the world more just and inclusive.

The film, Kumu Hina (meaning...

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Not Pono: Hawai'i Republicans Bash Transgender Teacher

(10) Comments | Posted January 7, 2014 | 10:23 PM

Pono is an important concept in Hawaiʻi. The most common English translation of the word is "righteousness," but there are deeper cultural and spiritual connotations of living in a spirit of balance, harmony and unity.

So it was only logical that when the Hawai'i Department of Education and the University...

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The 2013 Out in the Silence Award for Youth Activism Goes To...

(1) Comments | Posted December 10, 2013 | 8:00 AM

Four years ago, as stories about the alarming rates of anti-gay bullying and youth suicide were beginning to receive national attention, we were crisscrossing America with Out in the Silence, our PBS documentary about the brutal bullying of a gay teen, to raise awareness about the issues and...

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What Does 'Traditional Marriage' Mean in Hawai'i? (VIDEO)

(1) Comments | Posted November 18, 2013 | 4:30 PM

Over the past few weeks the opponents of marriage equality in Hawai'i have repeatedly and vociferously claimed that they support "traditional marriage," meaning a union of one man and one woman, and that the "gay lifestyle" is a Western import.


As State Sen. Gilbert Kahele, a...

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Hawai'i Wins Marriage Equality (VIDEO)

(1) Comments | Posted November 13, 2013 | 11:11 AM

There were many stirring words spoken, and many brave and beautiful people who put their careers and even their lives on the line, to finally bring marriage equality to Hawaiʻi. This short video portrays the most critical public battle: the demonstrations during the final reading by the House of Representatives...

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Science vs. Prejudice in Hawai'i Marriage Equality Debate (VIDEO)

(9) Comments | Posted November 12, 2013 | 12:05 PM

Though we most often write together, this post is authored by Dean alone.

During the acrimonious debate over marriage equality in Hawai'i over the past week, the question of whether being gay is a choice or immutable has played a key role. I did not originally plan to testify about...

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A Transgender Teacher in Hawai'i Makes a Place for Every Student (VIDEO)

(11) Comments | Posted October 21, 2013 | 7:24 PM

It seems that not a day goes by without some reminder of the world's cruelty to those who don't conform to the usual stereotypes of male and female gender roles, from family rejection to bullying and harassment in schools, from denial of medical treatment to workplace and housing discrimination, from...

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Petition President Obama to Enact LGBT Equality Now!

(0) Comments | Posted January 10, 2013 | 3:35 PM

The right to petition our government is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Not long ago the Obama administration created an online way for us, we the people, to do just that: press our public officials to take action on the issues of utmost importance to...

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Out in the Silence Award for Youth Activism 2012: And the Winners Are...

(1) Comments | Posted October 12, 2012 | 7:53 PM

Three years ago, as stories about the alarming rates of anti-gay bullying and youth suicide were beginning to receive national attention, we started traveling to communities across the country with Out in the Silence, our PBS documentary about the brutal bullying of a gay teen and his family's...

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How Science Fiction Hurts Gays

(2) Comments | Posted June 6, 2012 | 8:40 AM

In a recent HuffPost blog entitled "Science Fiction or Science Fact? What Happened to the Gay Gene?," Marten Weber raises the interesting and important question of the origins of sexual orientation. Unfortunately, his post contains a series of inaccurate statements and misleading arguments that seem to be aimed...

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