Regardless of where you stand on anything related to gender issues, I don’t think anyone can help but be appalled by the news coming out of Texas last week – that a 13 year old 8th grader killed himself after YEARS of bullying including accusations of being gay and being pushed down the stairs in the days before he took his own life.
It is stories like that, and also the recent suicide in Indiana by Billy Lucas, a 15 year old who was bullied and tormented about perceived sexuality and even told to kill himself by others, that led Seattle advice columnist Dan Savage to create the ‘It Gets Better’ project on YouTube.
And while this project is directed most specifically at LGBT kids, the core message is clear:
kids who are being bullied and harassed, kids who don’t think they have a future—and we can help them.
They need to know that it gets better.
Here is his description:
Another gay teenager in another small town has killed himself—hope you’re pleased with yourselves, Tony Perkins and all the other “Christians” out there who oppose anti-bullying programs (and give actual Christians a bad name).
Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother’s property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates—classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body.
Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide. Many LGBT kids who do kill themselves live in rural areas, exurbs, and suburban areas, places with no gay organizations or services for queer kids.
“My heart breaks for the pain and torment you went through, Billy Lucas,” a reader wrote after I posted about Billy Lucas to my blog. “I wish I could have told you that things get better.”
I had the same reaction: I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.
But gay adults aren’t allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don’t bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.
Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.
So here’s what you can do, GBVWS: Make a video. Tell them it gets better.
I’ve launched a channel on YouTube—www .youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject—to host these videos. My normally camera-shy husband and I already posted one. We both went to Christian schools and we were both bullied—he had it a lot worse than I did—and we are living proof that it gets better. We don’t dwell too much on the past. Instead, we talk mostly about all the meaningful things in our lives now—our families, our friends (gay and straight), the places we’ve gone and things we’ve experienced—that we would’ve missed out on if we’d killed ourselves then.
“You gotta give ‘em hope,” Harvey Milk said.
Today we have the power to give these kids hope. We have the tools to reach out to them and tell our stories and let them know that it does get better. Online support groups are great, GLSEN does amazing work, the Trevor Project is invaluable. But many LGBT youth can’t picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can’t imagine a future for themselves. So let’s show them what our lives are like, let’s show them what the future may hold in store for them.
The video my husband and I made is up now—all by itself. I’d like to add submissions from other gay and lesbian adults—singles and couples, with kids or without, established in careers or just starting out, urban and rural, of all races and religious backgrounds. (Go to www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject to find instructions for submitting your video.) If you’re gay or lesbian or bi or trans and you’ve ever read about a kid like Billy Lucas and thought, “Fuck, I wish I could’ve told him that it gets better,” this is your chance. We can’t help Billy, but there are lots of other Billys out there—other despairing LGBT kids who are being bullied and harassed, kids who don’t think they have a future—and we can help them.
They need to know that it gets better. Submit a video. Give them hope.
As I said, I consider this much more than an issue for LGBT kids – bullying is a huge problem at schools everywhere, much worse for our kids than when we were in school. And not only is the face-to-face bullying worse – and less supervised in budget-strapped school districts – but the addition of email, cell phones, the internet and social networking sites makes escape harder than ever. There was even a report last night on CNN about a Michigan Assistant AG who has taken up a personal vendetta against the president of the University Michigan Student Assembly!
I certainly don’t have the answer for how to stop bullying, but certainly it can only help letting kids know that allowing these small-minded individuals to control their reality is not the answer, and that by finding like-minded individuals things really can get better. For that I applaud Savage and all the others who have contributed to the project.
[Update] Tragically, even since I wrote this I have read that 13 year old Seth Walsh of California has died after being on life support for nine days. It is a reminder that while there is loads of angst and ups-and-downs with teenage life, as parents we need to do our best to stay connected and remain a positive impact in out kids lives.