A number of you have probably already heard of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, a series of youtube.com video clips from gays and lesbians and their straight friends and family from across the country to let young LGBT youth know that bullying in middle and high school does eventually get better. From Savage’s Savage Love column:
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 I love everything about this project (with the exception that it was necessary in the first place). I love the Savage is encouraging people to use our technology to reach others they never would have seen before. I like the idea of providing hope to young people who don’t necessarily have a whole lot of it. I like the call to allies, who are in this case privileged straight people, to jump into the issue and do some damn work. But what I like the MOST about the project is that other activists have taken it and run with it.
The Make It Better Project, started in response to Savage’s call, is a collection of grassroots LGBT activists and organizers who are getting the word out about ways to stop LGBT bullying. Let’s be clear - IGBP is a good start, but we want to stop this type of bullying from ever happening, period. They’ve got a couple of really basic, really good action items on the site:
- Start a Gay/Straight alliance in your school, college
- Find out what local LGBT-friendly laws, or anti-bullying laws are up for a vote in your town. Places like a local NOW chapter or GLAD can probably help with that.
- Start or join an event with the Week of Action, October 5th - October 11th (national Coming Out day).
I urge any and all of our readers to get involved in SOMETHING. I’m still working on getting my own video up for IGBP, and figuring out what my men’s group can do in support of the Week of Action. The more people we can get involved in the Make It Better Project, the better it’ll get for young people who think that there is no support in the world for them.
Since Savage started his campaign two weeks ago or so, there’ve been a spate of new LGBT youth who have committed suicide as a result of anti-gay bullying. There isn’t a much clearer line from social pressures on gender presentation to damage than this. Young men and women who are trying to exist as they are - as the natural personas they ought to be free to be, are being told by their friends, neighbors, family, and everywhere else that society does not allow them to be that way. Sure, they can live, but only if they play by the majority’s rules, and the majority’s rules don’t allow for non-patriarchal, non-traditional gender conforming ways.
There wasn’t (as far as I know) much sexual violence involved in these teens’ suicides, but the background cause of the anti-gay bullying comes from pretty much the same place as rape apologism. If you have the chance, check out Suzanne Phar’s book Homophobia: a Weapon of Sexism (it’s short and you can download it for free now). If we can first of all, get the practical tools in place to prevent anti-gay bullying, like local school ordinances, then we can gradually start to phase it out of our world. As homophobia gets weakened, the pillars on which it rests, like gender essentialism and hetero-normativity, also start to sway.