April 22, 2012

getting better

This past week I went to see Dan Savage speak about the It Gets Better Project.  For those of you who haven't yet heard of it, it's a project he and his husband Terry Miller started in response to the trend of suicides of young, gay teenagers.  The project is a website (click the link above to check it out) of videos of adults telling teens and teens telling each other that it (meaning a life of bullying, hostile teachers, parents who don't understand, feeling like you're the only one) gets better. 

I went to a LGBT youth health training conference a few weeks ago and we learned about how to support and treat LGBT youth as doctors, and while that felt powerful (and incredibly important to my life) - 
this is so much more.

Here's the first video that Dan and Terry created as an example of how It Gets Better.  
check out the website, sign a petition, watch a video, make a video

In his talk, Dan talked a lot about the sobering statistics of bullying of LGBT youth, including that they are 4x more likely to commit suicide, and 8x more likely to commit suicide if they live in any sort of hostile or not accepting household, as well as that over 40% of all homeless teens are LGBT youth who can't go home.  He said that he felt that the reason these teens commit suicide, really why anyone commits suicide, is that
they can't imagine any joy in their future that could make up for their current misery.

In talking about why he started the project, he described the "white hot anger" he felt when one young gay man who committed suicide after years of bullying had a facebook memorial page that continued to get bullied by more homophobie and hateful comments from his bulliers.  Dan wrote a comment on the wall of this facebook memorial page angrily scolding the bulliers - and noted that most of the other comments were similarly angry and appalled until he got to this one from a girl who said 
"Billy, I wish I could have known you before, 
because then  I could have told you that it gets better".  

And it sort of hit Dan that that was the message he wanted to get out was not one of retorted hate and repulsion, but one of hope.  He (and the woman who introduced him) both quoted Harvey Milk, an activist for gay and lesbian rights in the 1960s, who in response to a question about what we as a nation should do for gay and lesbian youth said, 
"Give them hope"

so he and Terry realized that they were waiting for permission to speak to youth from a society that doesn't support adult gay people talking to children at all, much less gay and lesbian children.  But they were waiting for permission in the time of youtube and facebook and the internet; they didn't need to go door-to-door or school-to-school muscling past homophobic adults who would never let their children speak to them anyways, they just needed to post a video on the internet and let youth find it.

Now the website has over 60,000 videos (including this guy direct from the oval office) with even more comments exchanging information like where to go for help, how to get there.

One of the most profound parts of his talk was when he read a letter he received from a 15 year old girl who is a lesbian but whose parents forced her into "rehab" to convince her that her "choice" was wrong.  In her letter, she told Dan that every night she watched It Gets Better videos before she went to bed and they were helping her get through the next 3 years of her life.  Dan's response was "ha! take that homophobic parents, we are basically just breaking down your door and getting information to your daughter!" but then she wrote that the best videos for her were the ones where she saw people talk about how their parents came around and were now supportive, or even the videos where parents were in the video apologizing to their children for not accepting them, not supporting them.  She said, 
it gives me the strength to walk downstairs every morning, look at my parents, and love them for who they will be in 10 years.

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