On Feb. 15, Dan Savage, syndicated columnist, addressed a crowd of 450 at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., to talk about the "It Gets Better" project, a website and a YouTube channel with more than 10,000 videos with one message to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) teens: “Hang in there. It does get better.”
”Here’s the problem,” Savage began, “nine out of 10 GLBT youth report being abused and harassed. Forty percent of homeless teens are GLBT.”
Unfortunately, 2010 saw too many teens, especially those who identified as GLBT, commit suicide instead of facing any more bullying.
“Billy Lucas,” Savage commented on one in particular, “a 15-year-old high school student from Greenburg, Ind., hanged himself to death in his grandmother’s barn on Sept. 9, 2010. Billy was gay. Someone even made a Facebook page to remember Billy Lucas. Those same bullies who harassed him in life then celebrated his death in comments on the Facebook page.”
Although anti-bullying campaigns were proposed in schools where these teenagers who committed suicide attended, the campaigns were blocked because they specifically addressed GLBT teens.
“Christians objected to the anti-bullying programs because it infringed on their religious right to bully,” Savage said. “That pissed me off.”
Angered, Savage tried to think how he could help stop these teenage suicides. "I needed to go to high schools or middle schools to talk to straight kids,” explained Savage, who is part of the college speakers circuit. “But I (knew) I would never get permission to talk to them.” Then Savage realized a way around the problem. “I can use the age of YouTube and podcasts and IPhones to reach them instead,” Savage said.
On Sept. 21, 2010, Savage sat down with husband Terry in front of a video camera and taped a message. “I wanted to tell the kids to hang in there because it gets better. It did for us and it will for you. … At first it was hard to tell how happy (our lives) got (after high school) because of the memories of being bullied. So the videographer asked questions and cut it into a video.”
Within hours the phenomenon began. “The friend requests and emails were coming in so fast that it crashed my computer many times. The emails were popping on the screen in a continuous moving list. It took 20 hours to get other folks’ videos to go online. We watched all of them before "friending" the video so it appeared on the project’s YouTube channel. After five days there were 650 videos, which was the max we could have on the channel at that time. …That gave us time to stop crying (from watching all the emotional videos).”
“Those responding have been GLBT, preachers, Latinos, deaf, Spanish, from all walks of life,” Savage added. “President Barack Obama spoke of being bullied for being biracial. Suddenly everyone had been deputized. The project created a community, where adults can offer youth help. For some kids it is too risky to come out to their parents. This project provides ‘parents’ for these kids, a shoulder to cry on.”
And for teens needing immediate help, The Trevor Project provides counseling services for the website. Knowing that there is life after high school is the hope that "It Gets Better" holds out to our GLBT youth.
And as one who posted a video said, “It doesn’t get better … you get stronger.”