William K. Wolfrum posted in his blog William K. Wolfrum’s Morning — Don’t Panic at Dagblog, a youtube video of Dan Savage and his husband Terry talking to LGBT youth about how things do get better and not to panic.
The video is part of the It Gets Better Project on youtubube that Dan Savage started to help those LGBT youth are struggling with a life made miserable because of the rejection and oppression these youth experience because they are part of the LGBT community.
Dan Savage explained the project in one of his advice columns “Savage Love” on The Stranger website.
I just read about a gay teenager in Indiana—Billy Lucas—who killed himself after being taunted by his classmates. Now his Facebook memorial page is being defaced by people posting homophobic comments. It’s just heartbreaking and sickening. What the hell can we do?
Gay Bullying Victim Who Survived
Another gay teenager in another small town has killed himself—hope you’re pleased with yourselves, Tony Perkins and all the other “Christians” out there who oppose anti-bullying programs (and give actual Christians a bad name).
Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother’s property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates—classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body.
Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide. Many LGBT kids who do kill themselves live in rural areas, exurbs, and suburban areas, places with no gay organizations or services for queer kids.
“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.
So here’s what you can do, GBVWS: Make a video. Tell them it gets better.
I’ve launched a channel on YouTube—www .youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject—to host these videos. My normally camera-shy husband and I already posted one. We both went to Christian schools and we were both bullied—he had it a lot worse than I did—and we are living proof that it gets better. We don’t dwell too much on the past. Instead, we talk mostly about all the meaningful things in our lives now—our families, our friends (gay and straight), the places we’ve gone and things we’ve experienced—that we would’ve missed out on if we’d killed ourselves then.
“You gotta give ’em hope,” Harvey Milk said.
Today we have the power to give these kids hope. We have the tools to reach out to them and tell our stories and let them know that it does get better. Online support groups are great, GLSEN does amazing work, the Trevor Project is invaluable. But many LGBT youth can’t picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can’t imagine a future for themselves. So let’s show them what our lives are like, let’s show them what the future may hold in store for them.
The video my husband and I made is up now—all by itself. I’d like to add submissions from other gay and lesbian adults—singles and couples, with kids or without, established in careers or just starting out, urban and rural, of all races and religious backgrounds. (Go to www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject to find instructions for submitting your video.) If you’re gay or lesbian or bi or trans and you’ve ever read about a kid like Billy Lucas and thought, “Fuck, I wish I could’ve told him that it gets better,” this is your chance. We can’t help Billy, but there are lots of other Billys out there—other despairing LGBT kids who are being bullied and harassed, kids who don’t think they have a future—and we can help them.
They need to know that it gets better. Submit a video. Give them hope.
I hope you have to chance to watch some of the videos submitted. I myself am not part of the LGBT community. I am, as one might say, an ally. One of the consistent facets of the oppression and violence that LGBT teens face is those who, while not actively participating in the hatred, sit back and do nothing. As one might also say, silence is another form of acceptance. And while we allies might not find ourselves in numerous situations where we can take an active stand, we can as allies at least show that we are listening. To learn more about Billy Lucas and his tragedy, you can try this link or this one. (I would also add that I live just down the highway from Greensboro, Indiana which has made this incident a little more unsettling, if that’s possible.)
Dan’s video also reminded me of the time I met him. Many moons ago, I had booked him to give a presentation at my college Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. At the time, Dan was just starting to make a name for himself through his advice column in Seattle’s free weekly paper The Stranger. At the time, the column was call “Hey Faggot,” as opposed to the more syndication-freely “Savage Love.” I wanted him to come speak about the issues surrounding the dynamics of gender roles and sexuality.
Before the presentation, one incident occurred that demonstrated just how complex dealing with these issues is. Shortly after the posters went up, I came walking onto campus and discovered that someone had ripped them all down. Of course, I thought it must have been some homophobic right winger. But the culprit turned out to be one of the Über-Left professors from the Über-Left alternative college Fairhaven attached to the university. She had not read Dan’s column before and just saw “Hey Faggot” in big letters splashed across the poster and immediately went into removal mode. I was surprised when, after we were able to explain to her who Dan Savage was, what his column was about, and the purpose of the presentation, she expressed her belief that the posters should not be put back up. The notion of the importance and power in the effort to reclaim words and phrases from those who would use them as a means of attack and oppression is not universally accepted by those within those oppressed communities. And so it goes.
The poster did go back up. And we had about 300 people show up for the presentation. It was a full house, with people standing against the back wall because we ran out of chairs. Basically a phenomenon unheard of for an evening lecture on campus. Then Dan came out to the podium. At the time he did his presentations in drag. Before the show he told a few of us that he did this because he was incredibly shy. He could only go out there and speak to a large audience of people if he was in essence going out there with a protective façade. What he said was what he really believed; he wasn’t playing a character.
So there he was in a latex dress, high heel boots and a wig. The crowd was pretty mix. About half from the campus and a half from the community. Gauging books by their cover (i.e. how they were dressed) there was those from the full spectrum of political thought. I was expecting one or two people to jump up at any moment and start shouting biblical verses at him or reasons why he was taking this country to hell.
Then Dan said he was just going to put aside any prepared remarks and just open it up to a Q&A session. As an event coordinator, I immediately sunk into a deep depression. My general experience with Q&A sessions is that they are disaster, generally filled with the speaker trying to find something meaningful to say after the questioner basically puts a question out there with the intent to show how intelligent and informed he or she is or is so off the topic of the evening that the presenter just has to start talking about something completely unrelated to the question. All of which is less than exciting or stimulating for the rest of the audience.
But to my amazement, the questions were basically on target and Dan Savage gave thoughtful and provocative responses. I don’t know how much Dan Savage has changed from those days, but back then he was about telling people exactly how he saw the truth and when it came to religion, he was like Bill Mahr in drag.
The one response I definitely remember was to a woman who asked, after Dan had spent fifteen minutes or so ripping the Judeo-Christian beliefs as nothing but a grand delusion based on fairy tales of a God that was created with the sole purpose of controlling the people, “What about those who believe in the Goddess?” Dan replied with a question. “Why would you want to exchange one delusion for another?”
But no matter how blunt he was in how he saw the world, the audience remained engaged. No one left. And on and on it went for 3 hours (it was only supposed to have lasted for an hour and half.) The only reason it stopped when it did was because the janitor told me he had to shut the facility down for the night.
I relate this story not to demonstrate that I knew how to put on a great presentation. It had nothing to do with me. My only accomplishment in all of it was that I provided a forum that allowed people to show that even when they don’t see eye to eye on everything, they can get together in one room and have a civilized discussion. That people can be open to seeing things differently without it turning to violence, and maybe even sometimes have some kind of epiphany. There was one elderly gentleman who said afterwards to me that when he first saw Dan come onto the stage he felt disgusted. But now he was like a total fan of Dan Savage, even though they totally disagree on the issue of God, because here was someone who out there really fighting for everybody’s freedom to speak and express themselves. I know he’ll never look at drag queens the same.
When I think back on it, I don’t know exactly how Dan pulled it off. Somehow he was able to present his view on things without everybody getting defensive and feeling like that needed to lash out. I think it had something to do with people feeling listened to, that they were equal part of the dialogue that evening. Which in part may have had something to do with him just going straight to the Q&A and not first taking the first 45 minutes to pontificate his side.
However he did it, we should all practice finding ways to engage in conversations where there isn’t total agreement amongst the participants. It is not enough to agree to disagree (although some times in particular instances for the sake of everyone involved, this is the best course of action). The culture wars, as Maddow said the other night, are back. They actually never went away, but they have regained a new momentum, riding on the coat tails of the Tea Party. O’Donnell is just the latest example. Whether it is the teen LGBT community or Muslim attempting to find acceptance from the larger community in which they live, if we are going to make progress, locally regionally nationally, we can’t stand on the sidelines. We can’t limit ourselves to debating each other over how right wing the Democratic Party is or isn’t. We need to literally stand up to those who would take this country backwards into the dark ages.
Of course, one great way to do this is at the voting booth come this November. Of course, one great way to do this is at the voting booth come this November. Together, we might just allow for things to get better.