‘It Gets Better’ project targets bullied gay youth

The GLBT community is working together to prevent youth suicides.

The GLBT community is working together to prevent youth suicides.

It’s happening at an alarming rate, and it’s nothing new to people in the GLBT community.

The five gay youths who committed suicide last month – most recently, 19-year-old Johnson and Wales sophomore Raymond Chase and 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi – shocked us all, but the media act as if the bullying that lended to their deaths is something new. It is not.
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The 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey estimated for every suicide completed by a young person, 100 to 200 attempts are made, and the bullying, harassment and rejection GLBT youth face contribute to attempted and completed suicides.

This is why openly gay, syndicated relationship-and-sex advice columnist Dan Savage started the “It Gets Better” project on YouTube.

The project consists of short, personal video posts that tell GLBT youth life gets better, and it’s growing. Hundreds of people are posting their personal stories to encourage GLBT youth that suicide is not the solution to their difficult teen years.

Savage’s own video, that features him and his partner, Terry Miller, focuses on being out at a young age and the trials and tribulations that can come before experiencing a happy life with many memories.

After the two share their experiences with intolerant Catholic schooling, Savage says in the video, “If there are 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds, 13- and 12-year-olds watching this video, what I’d love you to take away from it, really is that it gets better.”

“However bad it is now, it gets better,” he adds. “You have to live your life so that you’re around for it to get amazing.”

“Project Runway” host Tim Gunn posted his story to encourage GLBT youth, as did comedian and radio talk-show host Stephanie Miller and gender theorist, activist and writer Kate Bornstein.

Well-known contributors aside, the project has been an outlet for diverse voices in the GLBT and ally community. There are posts from gay parents, an openly gay Jehovah’s Witness and ex-bullies who eventually came out.

Savage told the San Francisco Chronicle he is frequently invited to speak at colleges and universities, but would never receive an invitation to speak at a high school.

“I would never get permission to talk to a gay 13-year-old boy about how great it can be to live as an openly gay adult,” Savage said in the Oct. 8 Chronicle article. “And then I thought, ‘Why am I waiting for permission, or an invitation, when there’s YouTube?’”

No one can deny the project’s uplifting message: “Hold on. Despite all of the unnecessary pain you’re dealing with as a teenager, it does get better. Live to see that day.”

The message is important, and every tormented teenager, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, ought to hear it from one of nearly 1,000 videos in the project. However, “It Gets Better” cannot account for an unfortunate fact that a few critics of the project have – it can take a while for things to get better, especially if the GLBT individual is really young, and things can often take a turn for the worse.

When I came out, I lost so many friends and fought back and forth with my family until I fell into a depression. I was ripe for the bullying because I appeared vulnerable. It took me years to find and create a support system.

It took five years to eventually see that it does get better. And for many youth in different geographic and social situations, it can take even longer.

Bornstein acknowledged this possibility in her own “It Gets Better” video.

“I waited this long to post here because I don’t always think it is going to get better,” Bornstein says in her video for the project. “Sometimes it gets worse, a whole lot worse than I thought it would get worse.”

But those who hang in there and eventually see the light at the end of life’s dark tunnel see that it does get better. I saw it, and so did Bornstein.

“I had to wait until I thought it would [get better]. This is a day I think it’s going to get better. It only took me a week to get to this day, so what do you know?” she says. “It got better!”

The author of “Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws,” Bornstein adds that there were six times she could remember planning out her suicide because of the pain she endured.

“Each time, I managed to find something else to do instead … I found lots of reasons to go on living, lots of ways to make life more worth living, and that’s all I’m asking you do to,” Bornstein adds.

Depressed and suicidal teens – straight, queer, trans, et cetera – are able to see and hear Bornstein and her message, along with the hundreds of other “It Gets Better” contributors who stress one thing: hope.

Even if it takes several years for things to get better, anyone who cannot recognize the hope this project brings is clueless to the fact that we as a society need it more now than ever.

Josh Fernandez can be reached at josh@temple.edu.

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