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Dan Savage: It Gets Better

Jim Burroway

September 25th, 2010

The news about Billy Lucas, the Indiana teen who committed suicide after his bullying classmates assaulted him with anti-gay epithets and told him to go home and kill himself, has shocked the conscience of people everywhere — except for his fellow classmates who continued to leave epithets on his Facebook memorial page.

It’s tough, it’s really tough to read about these horrible tragedies which occur all-too-frequently, and it’s outrageous when we see anti-gay activists like Focus On the Family deliberately setting out to preserve the intolerable status quo. Dan Savage discussed his reaction to Billy’s suicide in a recent Savage Love column:

“My heart breaks for the pain and torment you went through, Billy Lucas,” a reader wrote after I posted about Billy Lucas to my blog. “I wish I could have told you that things get better.”

I had the same reaction: I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.

But gay adults aren’t allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don’t bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.

Dan and his partner have created a wonderful video describing their difficult experiences in school, but the focus is on the fact that as soon as they made it through high school, it got better. Much, much better. As Terry, Dan’s partner of sixteen years, put it:

Honestly, things got better the day I left high school. I didn’t see the bullies every day. I didn’t see people who harassed me every day. I didn’t have to see the school administrators who did nothing about it every day. Life instantly got better.

YouTube Preview Image

The decision to end one’s life hinges on the hopelessness of believing that things will never get any better, that the hell you’re living today is as it always will be. Dan encourages young people to consider that their lives can be long, and if they can see their way clear to make it through the situation they find themselves in now, things really will get better:

If there are fourteen and fifteen and sixteen-year-olds — thirteen-year-olds, twelve-year-olds — out there watching this video, what I’d love you to take away from it really is that it gets better. However bad it is now, it gets better. And it can get great and it can get awesome. Your life can be amazing. But you have to tough this period of it out and you have to live your life so that you’re around for it to get amazing. And it can and it will.

Dan has started a YouTube channel called “It Gets Better” for people to contribute their own videos. The channel is not for people to dwell on the horrible experiences that they had, but to include those experiences in a broader message of how things got better after high school. Ninety videos have been posted so far. If you want to include your video, you’ll find instructions on the channel’s home page.

Meanwhile, here’s another one:

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All those years in high school where I was sitting there being like, you know, ‘Who understands me? And why can’t I find them? Where are they?’

They had been there the whole time waiting for me to get through high school and to graduate and to get up the courage to leave that awful phase behind. Everyone who has supported me, everyone who loves me for who I am, exactly the way I am, they had always been there. They weren’t born the day I came out. And they weren’t born even a month before I came out. They’ve been there with open arms just waiting for me to come alive and to realize my potential.

And all the people who are going to be there for you on the other side, they’re walking around wondering where you are now. And they’re waiting excitedly with open arms.

Comments

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Everett
September 25th, 2010 | LINK

I think this video idea is great! When I was growing up, my only link to the GLBT world was through the internet. I imagine that may also be true for some GLBT kids growing up today. After all, closeted kids can’t go buy GLBT books and movies without their parents likely finding out, and obviously GLBT teens aren’t going to go to city gay bars/clubs to socialize.

I have to admit, until I read this entry, I didn’t really realize how cut off GLBT adults are from GLBT kids today. Even through GLBT adults are the only ones who can relate to what GLBT kids are going through, it is hard as an adult to reach these kids in both formal and informal ways. I imagine this is partly true because heterosexuals (both parents and school officials) see gay people as too controversial to even allow the subject of existing as gay and lesbian in this world into the public discourse. GLBT adult folks either continue to live in the shadows of American society or live in the very few places where they can find complete acceptance and never leave it.

I mean, how many of us have left our little rural and suburban towns for big, liberal cities, and have also left out pasts behind b/c they are painful to remember? And yet, there are still GLBT kids growing up in those same towns and we (as adults) have disconnected and departed from. I think this video idea is a great way to reach these kids when we still live in a world where heterosexuals consistently reinforce a taboo against GLBT adults and GLBT kids interacting.

Jason D
September 25th, 2010 | LINK

I never make Youtube videos, but I think this is going to have to be an exception. I think if I had the opportunity to talk to myself at 17, I think it might’ve made the journey here a little less rough.

Robert
September 25th, 2010 | LINK

There’s a line in a song from a show produced at Theatre Rhinoceros in San Francisco years ago, that comes to my mind here:
“I’m the dream come true/
of the kid I was!”

I’m sitting here in my comfortable home, my husband (legally married husband) is downstairs in his office, and our two sons are playing video games in the family room, waiting for the older boy’s school friend to come over and hang out with them before dinner.

If I’d been told of all this back in high school, it would have seemed science fiction – utterly cool, but implausible in my lifetime. It really amkes me wonder what changes will happen in the lifetime of my kids.

justsearching
September 25th, 2010 | LINK

It wouldn’t surprise me if some Christian group or news organization (WND for example) took Dan’s video and made a headline “Homosexual adults target 12-year-olds for their agenda.”

Craig
September 26th, 2010 | LINK

justsearching, I hope they do. Every time some hate group doubles down on the “gays targeting kids” trope, especially Christianist groups, it’s another wedge driven between them and reality. The best way to get most people to stop believing stupid things, is to find way to invite derision of the people who believe stupid things.

John
September 26th, 2010 | LINK

While this effort is highly laudable, kids have been told for generations that things will change when they grow up. I find it totally shameful that kids have to go through anything like this, at all. Kids are focused on where they are at, right now, not in five or ten years. They shouldn’t have to go through this kind of hurt with the scares it will leave. “Time heals all wounds.” Yes, but it doesn’t remove the scare tissue. We need to prevent the wounds, we must prevent these wounds, in the first place.

Jason D
September 26th, 2010 | LINK

Posted!
Let’s hope I get added!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cdXjTEYBwc

customartist
September 26th, 2010 | LINK

And sadly we hear today that another 13 y.o. child has attempted suicide apparently due to being bullied.

http://www.kget.com/news/local/story/Contact-17-Teen-attempts-suicide-possible-link-to/6qYd5nVZ-kKrsTZf5XVJyw.cspx?rss=91

There is a conflict of interest in this and in any school where harm occurs to a student, and there is no written physical report on record with the school. If Educators, guardians, etc. , any single one, should ever say that they had any knowledge at all of bullyiung, then this opens them up both personally and the School System as well, to liability. Educators Will Never acknowledge observed but unreported bullying, understandably; not approving, just viewing clearly.

There must be a Nationally Centralized method for students and others to report, and to have incidents recorded, and then forwarded affirmatively to schools, so that even casual observers can report cases of bullying, and so that Schools a.) are clearly aware, and b.) cannot deny knowledge of same, THEN Teachers, Police, and Parents would pay attention, perhaps saving lives proactively, instead of pontificating when it’s too late.

Regan DuCasse
September 26th, 2010 | LINK

What a lovely pair of young women in this video!
It is a laudable effort. True that.

John, I have to agree with you. Children need to have the support and acceptance and comfort NOW.
Waiting for that amorphous, ‘future self’ and phase, is overwhelmingly impossible to imagine for a lot of kids. Some might have the goal of living ‘somewhere else’, but then to do WHAT?

Considering the outright character assassination campaign against Kevin Jennings of GLSEN, and the active attacks against most efforts to form campus GSA’s, even THESE sensible and compassionate responses to bullying, are shouted down and mischaracterize always as ‘the militant homosexual agenda to indoctrinate children.’

So even realizing the dream of integrated kids who accept their gay peers itself is something that has to wait for ‘it gets better.’
Which seems to imply it will all by itself.

The opposition doesn’t have to prove that their wishes and wants improve anything. Even if the results of what they do DIRECTLY causes these hostile environments in the first place.

It’s an intractable problem it seems. Which still leaves a kid responsible for himself and what happens. No matter how isolated he is, he’d have to depend on the internet and these videos for support. Instead of a real live, warm and responsive human being.
This campaign is certainly better than nothing.
But is it enough?
I don’t know.

To Customartist’s point there DOES have to be a centralized method and universal response to this situation in schools. Sometimes though, gay kids have the unique problem of being bullied at HOME as well for being gay.
So the school SHOULD be a refuge to address that possibility.

No religious or anti gay entity should have any say in what schools are required to do with regard to socializing children to prevent these tragedies.
THEY don’t have any better idea or solution, except to continue anti gay rhetoric.
Anything proven to be part of the problem, shouldn’t be allowed ANY voice in the process whatsoever.

It’s not a matter of disqualifying someone’s beliefs, But the moral ethics of how young people deserve to be treated and treat one another. And if a religious group can’t get on board with that, then tough.
People force the government to get involved because they obviously fail at what’s necessary.

And there definitely isn’t anything NECESSARY about anti gay rhetoric.
And everything necessary about the freedom to be educated without fear of harassment and assault.

Jason D
September 26th, 2010 | LINK

Regan, I don’t see why we can’t do both? For those who can be helped, certainly it’s worth it to get them the support they need now — but the sad fact is that some of those kids are out of our reach. Some are so locked-down by the adults in their lives they won’t even see these YouTube videos. I think it’s worth it to find as many ways to support these kids that we can.

customartist
September 26th, 2010 | LINK

These messages aren’t the words of his Classmates – Oh No! They are the hate filled messages of the PARENTS of thiose classmates only being parroted by those classmates. These are the real dregs of society.

Norcalben
September 26th, 2010 | LINK

What has been said so far is almost all true and very moving. What isn’t quite correct is that it never gets easier, we just learn to deal with it, and it never goes away, it just becomes less overt. Let’s face it, in most of American society, when you leave the room you’re just another queer.

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