Monday, October 25, 2010

The "It Gets Better" Snowball

Back in February or March I started listening to the Savage Love podcast by Dan Savage. For those who don't know, Dan Savage is an advice columnist who has gained considerable fame and a quite devout base of readers and listeners. Anyway, I find him entertaining and insightful, so I've listened to the weekly podcast since a friend introduced me to it.

Recently there has been a wave of reporting on teen suicides, especially gay teens, that seem to have been caused by bullying. There were a large number of stories about teens who were teased and harassed because they were gay, or simply perceived as gay. Listening to the podcast about a month ago, Dan Savage opened the show by talking about gay teen suicides and announcing the start of the It Gets Better Project. He said that his heart just broke thinking about these kids feeling so hopeless and alone, and simply wished that he could spend five minutes talking to them. The Project encouraged Dan Savage's readers and listeners to make YouTube videos sharing their own experiences -- their difficulties with bullying or persecution or family hardship when they were young, and how their lives have turned out since then.

Since then, thousands upon thousands of videos have been uploaded by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and even straight individuals to share their stories and encourage youths to stick it out, because life gets better. People grow up and they leave their hometowns and they find others who accept them and love them, and they have the freedom to be who they are and find work that the love to do and so on and so on. Many of the videos are truly inspiring.

It has been fascinating to watch the Project snowball over the last four or five weeks. Pretty soon some celebrities took notice and contributed their own videos. News networks interviewed Dan Savage. Social networks posted links to videos. Gay politicians have come out with their own stories, including this one, which is incredibly moving. Recently, very prominent national figures have made their own "It Gets Better" videos, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the man himself.

The attention the Project is receiving is really wonderful. Awareness must be raised, for this is an issue that has been chronically ignored. The one disappointing trend in the snowballing of It Gets Better is how impersonal the videos are becoming, especially the ones made by bigwigs. If you watch the videos by Obama and Hillary Clinton, you see they are terribly dry. They share no personal experiences. I mean, I would love to hear about Barack's days being bullied because he was mixed-race or the time Hillary was shoved in a locker because she was a total nerd. Something more than a perfunctory, "Like all of you, I was shocked and saddened to learn about the recent deaths of..." followed by an uninspired speech calling for change. I would expect more out of a master of hope delivery. The soul of It Gets Better is the personal touch, and if all these insincere videos come out, it's going to become like the American flag pin on the lapel -- something you have to put on, even if you don't really care or mean it.

That's a pretty minor gripe. Overall, it's a fantastic thing that the Project has gained such attention. Hopefully it will actually inspire some change in schools to protect kids from bullies and give enough encouragement to kids who are going through hard times to stick it out and give existence a real shot.


  1. Hello there,

    Hello there, I'm a Peace Corps nominee as well. While I haven't watched the 'It Gets Better' videos by Clinton or Obama the idea confuses me. Both have been known to cautiously support gay rights but lets be real here, isn't hearing 'it gets better' from someone who carries around heterosexist privilege day in and day out akin to a man assuring a woman going in labor that 'it won't be that bad'?

    Perhaps if they HAD touched on their own experiences it would've been more meaningful but sometimes I wish allys would think a little more about how they choose to support a cause.

    Also, being from the greater Seattle area myself, some folks I know have remarked/commented on the inherent privilege of the whole it gets better movement.


  2. Hi Heidi :)

    I think you've got a point. Straight adults telling gay teens that it's going to get better don't exactly have a leg to stand on, but they still may have had experiences, sometimes brutal, with bullying, for whatever reason. And it is still important that they send a message of acceptance and encouragement. But the core of this is still LGBTQ adults talking to LGBTQ kids.

    It just kills me if this becomes something perfunctory. I wonder why people say there is some inherent privilege in the movement? Perhaps at the edges, but at the heart it's a lot of people who have gone through similar experiences, maybe attempted suicide themselves. In any case, if it can help save some lives, it's all worth it!

    Best of luck in Africa