Last Thursday, in his syndicated sex-advice column “Savage Love,” Dan Savage wrote about the case of Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old high school student in Indiana who committed suicide after being taunted by his classmates for being gay.
In the column — titled “Give ‘Em Hope,” from a quote by openly gay politician Harvey Milk — Savage, himself an openly gay man, lamented that he couldn’t have sat down with Lucas, even for five minutes, and told him “however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.”
But then he realized that, while it was too late to talk to Billy Lucas, it wasn’t too late to talk to the millions of kids just like him. So, right then and there, he and his husband decided to do just that. They sat down in front of a camera and told their stories about their horrific high school experiences and, more importantly, how they both survived, thrived and have gone on to live happy, healthy, joyful lives. They posted the video on YouTube and asked other gay, bisexual and transgender adults to do the same. And that’s when the It Gets Better project began.
“I posted something to my blog about Billy Lucas — who might not have even been gay, he wasn’t out if he was gay, and not all kids who experience anti-gay bullying are gay — but he was bullied for being gay. … And I was reading about him and about Justin Aaberg [another teenager who committed suicide after being bullied at school] in Minnesota, and the reaction as an openly gay adult, always, when you read these stories is, ‘I wish I could’ve talked to this kid for five minutes, so I could’ve told him it gets better,’ ” Savage told MTV News on Thursday (September 30). “And it occurred to me, when I was really turning over the Billy Lucas case in my mind, that I could talk to these kids. … I could use social media, I could go on YouTube, I could make a digital video and I could post it, and I could directly address them and tell them, ‘It gets better.’
“When a gay teenager commits suicide, it’s because he can’t picture a life for himself that’s filled with joy and family and pleasure and is worth sticking around for,” he continued. “So I felt it was really important that, as gay adults, we show them that our lives are good and happy and healthy and that there’s a life worth sticking around for after high school.”
Of course, the issue of the bullying — and digital abuse — of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers isn’t a new one, but for the most part, coverage has been limited to local news. Sadly, that’s changed in recent days, with the apparent suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi , who reportedly leapt from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly taped (and subsequently posted) video of him having a sexual encounter with another man.
Suddenly, unwittingly, the It Gets Better project became national news too. And while getting his message out to the masses — or, as he puts it, “those who need to see these videos” — is important, the sad thing, according to Savage, is that it’s too late for Clementi.
“Anybody whose privacy was invaded the way Tyler Clementi’s privacy was invaded would’ve been outraged, humiliated and embarrassed and angry, but we have to ask ourselves: What pushed him to suicide?” Savage said. “I believe that this video invasion of his privacy, this streaming of this intimate, private moment, this outing was the last straw. And I suspect that Tyler Clementi, as we find out more about him, we’ll find that he was a victim of bullying in high school, bullying in middle school … It’s really hard to look at this suicide and not see, perhaps, the culmination of years and years of abuse, and a moment — for Tyler Clementi — of despair.”
And with the Clementi case making headlines nationwide, It Gets Better has been flooded with videos from all around the world of LGBT men and women looking to share their stories, to spread hope. The outpouring of support has been tremendous, but Savage knows that, sadly, the mainstream media will soon shift its focus away from the issue. That’s why he promises It Gets Better will continue on forever, if possible.
“It’s been so overwhelming, [and] we want to create an archive that lives online forever, for each generation of gay kids coming up, so they can go there and they can see these stories,” he said. “I’m hearing from mothers of bullied gay teenagers who are sitting down to watch these videos together and taking such hope for their futures, and that’s what I want to see. I want to see the people who need to see these videos finding their way to them. Not just today or tomorrow, but whenever.”