The story starts in September, with a YouTube video “It Gets Better” by Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller (married in Canada, as described in Savage’s wonderful book The Commitment), aimed at giving hope and support to lgbt teens and other persecuted young people.
This then became a huge It Gets Better project (described here), with over 5,000 YouTube videos submitted so far; the project page has links to the Trevor Project (providing a suicide prevention phoneline for lgbt young people) and the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network — of school organizations for lgbt kids and their straight allies).
The next landmark was the September 22 suicide of Tyler Clementi (Wikipedia page here, posting on this blog here), which affected me deeply. Thanks to Facebook links, I came across the It Gets Better videos, starting with the Dan and Terry one, and compulsively watched them for days, raging and weeping.
They are endlessly varied. Many from well-known gay and lesbian people, many from well-known straight allies (for instance, NCIS actor Pauley Perrette), many from same-sex couples, a huge number from young people, not long out of their teens themselves, talking earnestly about their school experiences and the turns their lives have taken since then. Eventually, group videos from the cast of Wicked, from Google employees, from Facebook employees, from a woman’s roller derby team, and many others. Videos angrily directed at bullies. Amateurish videos, slickly produced ones. Painful ones, funny ones. And supportive videos from Hillary Clinton, from Barack Obama, and from Joe Biden (and probably from other politicians and public figures).
A few words about the Obama piece, in which the President says:
… it can seem that somehow you brought it on yourself
… you didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t do anything to deserve being bullied
… [eventually,] you’re going to see that your differences are a source of pride and a source of strength
(In interviews, Dan Savage praises the President’s message, but adds that the man is in a position to make some things get better, and it’s time to get on with that.)
Telling kids that it’s not their fault, that there’s nothing wrong with them, is an important step — and at politically courageous one, since a huge number of people do in fact believe that there’s something wrong with lgbt kids: they are sinful, sick (“objectively disordered”, in the phrasing of the Roman Catholic Church), immoral, and have chosen the wrong lifestyle (presumably that’s part of the sickness, or perhaps the influence of Satan). The widespread “love the sinner, hate the sin” position plays out as an encouragement to persecute the sinner, as a way of driving out the sin and bringing the sinner into line with normal, healthy, good, moral people. So, in these people’s eyes, Obama is condoning, even encouraging, immorality and sickness.
The videos have, predictably, produced a certain amount of backlash from such people. Meanwhile, Savage claims (as reported by Michelangelo Signorile in the December/January Advocate) that
despite the gains of the gay equality movement and the coming out of celebrities here and there, life is worse for LGBT teens than it was 20 years ago, particularly for those living far from urban areas. While the gay political movement has made dramatic strides, [Savage] says, most of those advances have been for adults in big cities. And, at the same time, the religious right has come full force out of its own closed–condemning homosexuality and pushing “ex-gay” therapy. In surban and rural areas, preachers attack gays, ugly campaigns have been waged to bar gays from marrying, and politicians rail that gays shouldn’t be teaching in schools.
Back to recent events. A little while after my It Gets Better immersion came National Coming Out Day (October 11), which is a big thing in my house because that’s the date Jacques and I chose to be our anniversary. (When you don’t actually get married, you’re free to choose a suitable date. We thought about the date of our most important domestic partnership, in Palo Alto, but that was Valentine’s Day, which is also my daughter’s birthday. We considered the day we first declared our love for one another, and made love, but that date comes in between Christmas and New Year’s, an already crowded time of the year. So we cast about for other possibilities and came up with NCOD, which suited us both.)
Then, on October 20, a new occasion: Spirit Day, on which people are encouraged to wear purple in support of lgbt teens. So of course I wore purple. And watched some more videos.
[Still to come: some notes on sissy.]