“I wish I could’ve told him that it gets better.”
That was our reaction earlier this summer after hearing of the suicide of Justin Aaberg, a victim of anti-gay bullying in Minnesota. And our reaction a few weeks ago when we read about the suicide of Billy Lucas, a victim of anti-gay bullying in Indiana.
Terry and I were both bullied in middle and high school. As adults, we now know what too many young, isolated, bullied LGBT kids do not: it gets better. Life gets better, and one day you find happiness. But homophobic school administrators, parents, and preachers would never invite us, or any LGBT adults, to speak to gay kids who are being bullied.
And then it occurred to us: we didn’t need an invitation. We could record a video and speak directly to LGBT kids about surviving bullying and going on to lead rewarding lives filled with joy, family, and love. We didn’t need anyone’s permission to tell them — it gets better.
We posted our YouTube video on September 21, 2010. By the next day we had received a dozen videos from LGBT adults sharing their stories of survival and success. By the end of the week we had more than 200. Soon we were overwhelmed — and not just with videos from LGBT adults. Emails were pouring in from LGBT teenagers all over the country telling us that the videos were working. Most heartbreakingly of all, the mothers and fathers of bullied LGBT kids were watching the videos with their children and submitting their own.
The It Gets Better Project had struck a chord. LGBT adults have long felt helpless as we watched LGBT youth be bullied in schools. We knew that while bullied straight kids go home to sympathetic parents and a shoulder to cry on, bullied gay kids all too often go home to more bullying from their parents and their churches. We despaired as we read about gay teens taking their own lives, and didn’t know how to reach out to these kids — fearing our motives would questioned if we did.
All of that has changed with the IGBP. This site is a place where LGBT adults can share the stories of their lives with LGBT youth. It’s a place where young people who are gay, lesbian, bi, or trans can see with their own eyes that love and happiness and reconciliation with their families are possibilities for them, too. It’s a place where our straight allies can add their names in solidarity and help spread our message of hope. We can reach out, we can deliver messages of hope, and we can make a difference.
These videos on this site do not solve the problem of anti-gay bullying. We need to work on getting safe schools legislation passed in every state; we need to push for anti-bullying programs; we need to hold negligent school administrators accountable; and we need to confront the bigots and demagogues who inject hate into the national conversation about LGBT people and give straight children license to abuse and bully LGBT kids. All of that will take years of dedicated activism.
In the meantime we can reach out, right now, to LGBT kids who are suffering and deliver messages of hope. We can offer them practical advice about how to survive what are often the toughest years for LGBT people, and we can share our lives as LGBT adults with them. We can be role models and we can be mentors. Our goal is to create an archive of videos that speak to LGBT youth from all walks of life, from all faiths, and in every part of the country.