I recently wrote a blog about Billy Lucas, the 15-year old Greensburg High School student who took his life after months of relentless bullying from students who assumed he was gay. There was a reason for my writing about an incident that occurred last September.
I want to tell you about a wonderful message of hope that sprang from this tragedy; I want you to listen to Dan Savage, if you haven’t already done so. This is a truly inspirational plea to teens like Billy who face bullying due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
Dan Savage is the creator of a syndicated sex-advice column called “Savage Love”. After reading about Billy Lucas, Savage said he wished he could have had five minutes to talk to him before he made his fateful decision to end his life. He wished he could have told him “however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.”
That’s when he decided, although it was too late to help Billy Lucas, it was not too late to talk to the millions of kids who were growing up just like him; those kids who were dealing with harassment and bullying because of their real or perceived sexual orientation. He and his husband, Terry Miller, posted a video in which they talked about the issues they faced as teenagers because they were gay. They addressed the bullying and harassment they faced especially in high school and admitted that it was a horrible time in their lives.
But the real message of their video was that they not only got through it but have a wonderful life, surrounded by family and friends who support them. They talked about their favorite memories and the joy they have shared through the adoption of their son. They spoke of hope and living life fully. But most of all, the message that resonated throughout their video was: “Hang in there. You will get through high school, and things will get better.”
“When a gay teenager commits suicide, it’s because he can’t picture a life for himself that’s filled with joy and family and pleasure and is worth sticking around for,” Savage said. “So I felt it was really important that, as gay adults, we show them that our lives are good and happy and healthy and that there’s a life worth sticking around for after high school.”
This simple video was the birth of a wonderful project which has been embraced by other gay, bisexual, and transgender adults. The goal of the It Gets Better Project is to show youth who face bullying of any kind, but specifically bullying due to their sexual orientation, that life does get better. The goal is to encourage and fortify them so that they get through the rough years in order to enjoy the better years to come.
Their project received national coverage after the apparent suicide of 18-year old Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his roommate and a friend posted a video of him in a sexual encounter with another man.
This time, Savage lamented that the videos were too late for Tyler. “Anybody whose privacy was invaded the way Tyler Clementi’s privacy was invaded would’ve been outraged, humiliated and embarrassed and angry, but we have to ask ourselves: What pushed him to suicide?” Savage said. “I believe that this video invasion of his privacy, this streaming of this intimate, private moment, this outing was the last straw. And I suspect that Tyler Clementi, as we find out more about him, we’ll find that he was a victim of bullying in high school, bullying in middle school … It’s really hard to look at this suicide and not see, perhaps, the culmination of years and years of abuse, and a moment — for Tyler Clementi — of despair.”
After the Clementi case, the It Gets Better Project was literally flooded with videos from all over the world submitted by LGBT individuals who wanted to share their stories as well. And while their messages of hope have been truly inspirational, Savage worried that once media focus shifted to something else, people would forget that there were so many other young people facing the same abusive behavior all over the world. Therefore, he has promised to continue sending positive messages to young people through It Gets Better as long as possible.
“It’s been so overwhelming, [and] we want to create an archive that lives online forever, for each generation of gay kids coming up, so they can go there and they can see these stories,” Savage said. “I’m hearing from mothers of bullied gay teenagers who are sitting down to watch these videos together and taking such hope for their futures, and that’s what I want to see. I want to see the people who need to see these videos finding their way to them. Not just today or tomorrow, but whenever.”
I know that these videos have been around for awhile, and some of you have probably already viewed a few of them. But, if you haven’t seen them yet, I encourage you, whether you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, straight, bullied, not bullied, or a bully yourself, to watch them. They are beautiful messages of hope at a time when so many young people need to hear words that will give them the courage to continue on.
Click on these links to hear President Obama, Adam Lambert, and Glee’s Max Adler’s videos on It Gets Better. Explore some more on your own, and if you know a young person who needs to hear words like these to encourage and strengthen them to hang in, please pass the message on as well as the website.
We must teach children that suicide is not the answer; it does get better!