Ex-Gay Leader Reconsiders Criticism of “It Gets Better” Commercial
October 12th, 2011
Back last May — so long ago that I imagine many of you have forgotten about it — Exodus International president Alan Chambers reacted to a Google Chrome ad featuring Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign. The ad portrayed ordinary people using YouTube, a Google-owned service, to post videos encouraging young people to just hang in there for just a short while longer, a message that had been inspired by a wave of suicides of LGBT youth. Google’s fast-paced ad showed tiny snippets of celebrities who contributed to the project. One of them was the character Woody from “Toy Story,” who says simply “You’ll be fine, partner.” His cameo made up all of two and a half seconds of a ninety second commercial. That was enough to send Chambers to his keyboard:
“Children all over the world, including my two children are fans of ‘Toy Story’ and to see a character like that endorsing something that at this point children have no need to know about, it’s disappointing,” he told The Christian Post.
Chambers, who overcame homosexuality and is now a father of two, suspects that if the commercial airs while he and his children are watching a show and “if they happen to see that and ask questions and if they get the full understanding of what the commercial is actually about, we will have to have the conversation. It’s not something I plan to talk to my kids, 5 and 6, about.”
As I wrote at that time:
The conversation Chambers could be having with his children is how to handle themselves if they find themselves being taunted and bullying in school. That’s what the commercial was about. If Chambers really isn’t prepared to have that conversation, then he is really falling down as a father.
But of course, that’s not what Chambers is worried about. It’s the message that, even for gay teens who feel very much alone, it will, at some point, get better. Chambers protests, ““For organizations like Exodus International, which has thousands of men and women like me who have lived a gay life, it obviously didn’t get better living a gay life for them.” Perhaps he’d be happier with an “It Gets Worse” campaign instead. After all, that is at the core of their message
Five months later, Chambers has reconsidered his earlier opposition to that ad. In a blog post at Exodus International’s web site, Chambers writes:
A few months ago I went on record criticizing the “It Gets Better” campaign that has gone viral with an anti-bullying message for LGBT teens. My criticism was over the use of “Woody,” the fictional star from the box office smash Toy Story trilogy. I reacted because I hate when iconic children’s heroes are used to further what I perceive to be adult causes. With further reflection and thought, though, I have to admit that I was wrong to question their marketing strategy without expressing my full support for what is the heart of their campaign – encouraging LGBT teens to choose life.
…When it comes to kids killing themselves, I can’t justify criticizing a campaign that, at its deepest core, is most about saving the lives of LGBT kids. I care MORE about a kid choosing life than whether or not he or she embraces a gay identity. Life comes first. Living out our biblical convictions means fighting for the lives of young people at all cost. Can any of us actually say we’d rather our teens, neighbors, friends or complete strangers kill themselves than be gay? I certainly can’t. Regardless of where someone falls on the debate over sexuality, I hope we can all agree to move the issue of bullying and suicide, especially where kids are concerned, to a non-polarized, non-politicized and non-divisive issue. [Emphasis in the original]
Chmabers’s commentary is well thought out, at least until the penultimate paragraph, where Chambers tacks on his message to kids being bullied. That paragraph goes on to reinforce the core Exodus message that being gay is a choice that God doesn’t approve of:
By the way, for kids being bullied, it does get better. No matter what you decide to do in life, don’t allow others to cause you to question whether life is worth living. The truth is that God gave us the freedom to choose the life that we want to live and death is the end of that choice. What I discovered as an older teenager was that those few years when I was bullied didn’t accurately reflect who I was. The names that were hurled at me were careless and ones that God would never say. We serve a great God who created us for more than we often settle for, but He never belittles us for the decisions we make, even if those decisions don’t line up with His best for us. [Emphasis in the original.]
Given the hopeless messages that many gay kids already receive from their churches that God isn’t terribly happy with them as they are, I’m not sure how constructive Chambers’s approach will be by delivering the same message. Yet a very astute kid could read that same carefully constructed passage and come to an alternative reading: that if they can hold out just a little bit longer, they may discover that what Chambers would have them settle for isn’t necessarily what God would have them settle for. Here’s hoping that they do.