My husband Steve poked me one day and said, “You should do a column about the It Gets Better project.” The moment he said it, I knew I’d be writing this column.
If you’re not already familiar with it, go visit the YouTube page. This project, started by Dan Savage of the infamous “Savage Love” advice column, is an attempt to reach out to gay kids who’re experiencing harassment in school and say, “Look…this is a really hard part of your life, but it gets better.”
My Own Experiences
I was very lucky in an odd sort of way. I’ve never particularly come across as gay to people, for whatever reason. I was very heavy in High School, so I got teased a little for that. But I was also a fairly popular kid amongst many high school cliques, particularly because I was funny and because I’d tackled one of the biggest kids in school during a game of football…something that seemed to make me an honorary jock, somehow.
Most of my High School angst and depression was self-inflicted. No one else was calling me gay, but I knew about these feelings that I was hiding very deep inside, and they were very hard for me to deal with. My experiences with religion were odd…my Mom was deeply irreligious, but my Dad took me to his Northern Baptist church every Sunday. I got baptized, and I still consider myself Christian. The weirdness was trying to reconcile the fact that my religion was telling me that God was loving and kind, but also that somehow I was an abomination.
Sometime in my late teen years, I had a revelation of sorts: the Bible wasn’t perfect. A later professor in my History of the Bible class gave me a phrase I’ve always treasured. “The Bible may be a divine message, but it was written down by humans, and we’re far from perfect.” I began to believe that there was no way a loving God could have made me something he despised. I did some research, and, sure enough, found a lot of controversy about the translations of the six bits of the Bible (and yes, there are only six) that seem to condemn homosexuality. For a really excellent look at this subject, check out a blogger I’ve always loved, Real Live Preacher, and his article on the same.
When I hit college, my whole life changed. I was still closeted, but I was going to Emerson College, where I’ve jokingly said that being at least bisexual was an entry requirement. I had great peers and teachers that were openly gay, and this really helped me realize that I could be gay and not be the stereotype I’d seen on T.V. and in the movies. Years later, I came out to my family, and I’ve never looked back. These days, being gay is rarely something I even think about. I don’t come out to people…I introduce them to my husband. And no one really seems to bat an eyelash.
The world is a different place now than it was when I was in High School.
Sadly, it seems that the world of High School isn’t.
It Gets Better was started in part due to the death of Billy Lucas. Billy was a 15 year old who experienced intense bullying in school for being perceived as gay. I don’t know if Billy was gay or not, and now we never will. Billy killed himself, rather than continue taking the torment. And that’s the saddest possible story, in my mind.
No kid should have to feel so isolated and friendless that they see no alternative but to end their own life. And the list is long. In the last few weeks alone, 13 year olds Asher Brown and Seth Walsh and 18-year old Tyler Clementi both ended their lives for being bullied about being gay. Even as things seem to be getting better, it also feels like they’re getting worse.
I’m very worried for a young relative of mine, whom I’ll just call B. B comes across as a very sensitive and somewhat effeminate boy; he cries easily, and he has a slight lisp to his voice. I don’t know if B is gay; if he is, he hasn’t come out to anyone in the family yet. B recently got to stay with us for a couple of weeks, and I truly hope that B got to see us and our gay friends as happy, successful people leading good lives. If he is gay, I want him to know that things might be hard, but that he has people he can talk to. I know his Mom and Dad love him a lot, and I know they’ll be fine with him if he comes out. I know he knows he can turn to his Uncle Andy and Uncle Steve, too, to ask any questions he might have.
Mostly, I want him to know how loved he is and that, if he is gay, that wouldn’t change one bit.
A Message of Hope
There’s a lot of good news around, too. The It Gets Better project, since its inception on September 23 of this year, has grown from a simple video of Dan Savage and his husband Terry, to include dozens, if not hundreds, of videos. These are simple messages to young gay people with a similar theme: hang in there; don’t give up.
I’m proud to say that students from my alma mater, Emerson College, recently held a counter-protest here in Boston. The Westboro Baptist Church, an organization infamous for its anti-gay protests and messages, came to town to protest a production of The Laramie Project, a play based on the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. In response, the students organized Love is Louder, an initiative to give hope to young people.
Some celebrities have really stepped up and shown support, too. This includes Ellen DeGeneres, who posted a heartfelt PSA and links to various helpful websites on her own site, and Sarah Silverman, who posted a short but extremely powerful video on YouTube.
I’m sure this is a call to action I don’t need to make, but I’ll make it anyway. If you know a kid who needs a message like this, talk to them. If you’re a parent, or work in a school, see what anti-bullying programs are available, and get involved. And it’s not just being gay. Kids get bullied for all kinds of things, and it has to stop.
If you’re someone who needs this message, then let me be the one to tell you. It gets better. My life is amazing. I have two loving families, a great job where I’m well-respected, fantastic and supportive friends, and a husband who means everything to me. Being gay isn’t the end of the world; don’t let the jerks get to you. As has been said before, living well is the best revenge.