They need to know: It gets better
Gay people have been dying from unnatural causes for a very long time. Notably the AIDS epidemic killed thousands of gay men before the straight world starting even talking about it. Nobody cared until straight people started dying.
Violent crimes directed at non gender conforming people have been killing trans people, lesbian, bisexual and gay people and others, actually, with the full-on approval of society for generations.
And suicide? It’s the last acceptable way to kill queers. Polite society now — mostly — condemns outright violence against LGBTIQ people. What they don’t condemn, however, is condemnation.
From church pulpits, from political podiums, in schools, from television news and across the kitchen table, children who do not fit the “norm” hear that they are less worthy, less perfect, less desireable than their more normal peers. Straight kids learn that those who are different are, in fact, lesser than they are. We learn our value is something to be debated.
- A politician says that they need to protect marriage and children from gays.
- A preacher says that gay people are possessed and can be cured. The priest says it’s the gay priests that abuse children.
- The national school teacher cannot teach about gay families or gay lives.
- The television channel censors a gay kiss and allows blatantly sexual scenes between opposite sex couples.
- Parents tell their children to stay away from Mr. Michaels because he’s a queer, and might mess with them.
- The kids in school who call everything that is ugly or uncool, “gay”. It’s the worst word they can think of.
When Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and left to die in October 1998, I had been out for about 4 months. We were the same age.
A month after I came out, the final episode of Ellen’s historic sitcom aired. The show had been cancelled due to poor ratings in the season following her ground-breaking coming out episode. Gay was everywhere. It wasn’t a comfortable visibility. You rarely heard Ellen Degeneres‘ entire name without it being mispronounced “degenerate”.
In the twelve years since then, we have only become more visible. More LGBTIQ people have made it into the public eye in positive and in negative ways. There have been significant advances in the recognition of our human rights. Visibility, however, isn’t always good news. Legal recognition of rights doesn’t always translate into real-life opportunities.
And there are kids stuck in the middle of the return of the culture wars. Kids now know younger than ever what it is that makes them different. Where I had a very limited and vague idea of what “gay” was until university, most pre-teens would have a solid understanding of what’s involved. This means that not only are queer kids connecting the dots earlier, but so are the bullies.
This isn’t the same as being bullied because you have freckles — as I was in school. My parents were behind me in that situation. I didn’t hear condemnation of my pigmentation from the pulpit or on the news. I knew that the problem wasn’t my freckles. The problem was the bully. Queer kids don’t have that assurance. Whether they are transgendered, bisexual, lesbian or gay, they are far from assured the support of their parents. They are not assured the support of the school administration or the support of teachers. In religious based schools, administrators will claim “ethos” and refuse to implement anti-homophobic or anti-transphobic bullying measures.
Complaints from parents may well be completely ignored.
Kids are literally being ignored and dismissed to death because they are perceived as homosexual, transgendered, bisexual or different in some hopelessly threatening way.
We’ve come a very long way in the last decade or so. But we have a situation now where — younger than ever — queer kids are especially vunerable, and the overt hate that they are living with every day can push them too far.
In the last month, North America has seen increasing reports about queer — or presumed queer — kids killing themselves. The escalation has been so intense it has prompted a lot of people to wonder – what can we do about this? This isn’t an American problem either. Spunout.ie in 2009 reported that one fifth of gay people have tried to kill themselves. That, of course, fails to account for those who succeeded.
Dan Savage — he can be controversial, yes, but stay with me — decided to use YouTube to reach kids. It’s genius really because that’s exactly where kids spend their time. So he and his partner recorded a video and they spoke about the bullying they experienced in school and how they are happy now. And that was the beginning of the It Gets Better Project.
The call went out: record your own video. Tell your own story and show queer youth that there is hope. Most of the more than 600 videos are made by regular people, not celebrities. Some celebrities have contributed to the project, and others have recorded their own messages independently.
It doesn’t matter if you’re famous or not. At last glance, my crappy, homemade, bad webcam, obvious bedhead video had over 700 views.
It may not be easy. My story hurt like hell to tell and I’ve spent a good few days reliving December 1997 in my mind. My suicide attempt. My realisation that I was gay. The hopelessness. The people I had around me who helped, and the people I had around me who hurt me. The people I hurt.
But if I can do it, you can too. It might be your story that makes a kid think twice. It might be your story that makes a kid go to his guidance counsellor or teacher or next door neighbour and say, “help.”
It has been brought to my attention that trans, genderqueer and bisexual people are not well represented among the submissions, so for all you trans, genderqueer and bi people out there, your stories are really needed.
And if it can help, I think we have to do it. They’re kinda our kids too.
To add your video to the It Gets Better Project, email the link to your uploaded YouTube video to mail (at) savagelove.net. They’ll review it and add it to their favourites.
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