“It Gets Better” — A Grassroots Project For Helping LGBT Teens

This is one of hundreds of “It Gets Better” videos that have been put on YouTube in the last month.

The “Its Get Better” project was started by newspaper sex-advice columnist Dan Savage.

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.

The response has been enormous. A couple of videos have come from celebrities, such as this video from Tim Gunn, in which he discusses his own (fortunately failed) suicide attempt when he was a teen. But most are from ordinary LGBT people, some married, some not, who just want to let kids know it gets better.

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50 Responses to “It Gets Better” — A Grassroots Project For Helping LGBT Teens

  1. how is a project launched and initially shaped by an adult white economically-privileged gay male celebrity “grassroots?”

    I do think some grassroots folks have begun to use the platform to express their own, more complex stories, which I’m happy abt, but I’m still real hesitant to call it “grassroots.”

  2. 2
    LJ says:

    I’m very much losing my taste for ‘it gets better’, after reading both numerous critiques of the project and being reminded of the virulant transphobia, biphobia, racism and fat-hate that Dan Savage produces.

  3. 3
    Myca says:

    I’m very much losing my taste for ‘it gets better’, after reading both numerous critiques of the project

    I’d like to read some of those. Links?

    and being reminded of the virulant transphobia, biphobia, racism and fat-hate that Dan Savage produces.

    I think it’s possible to both believe that Dan Savage sucks and to think that this project is beautiful. One is not the other.


  4. 4
    lauren says:

    and the follow-up

    Those were the first ones I read.

    Womanist musing also had a post up about the importance of focussing on GLBT-related bullying while not addressing other forms. The issue definitely not being that anti-glbt bullying shouldn’t get it’s own , tageted focus, but that there is a bitter taste of “topic-du-jour” beause this is the only form of bullying the media and celebrities are talking about.

    Also, regarding the question of whether you can like the project despite Dan being an asshole who loves to bath in his privileges- I think that when someone has again and again been a bully himself, attacking people for their race or gender, then yes, believing in that person as an anti-bullying advocator can be hard, or impossible. This is not to say that many of the other people involved aren’t amazing people who aren’t swimming in privilege and love throwing it around. It doesn’t even mean that it is wrong to take something positive from the project. But I think people have good reasons to question him.

  5. 5
    Silenced is Foo says:

    Okay, I like Dan Savage in spite of some of his nastier messages. On this score, I have to say that the overarching message of “it gets better” is sound.

    No, it doesn’t fix the underlying problems. Yes, many of their stories are rather hateful against rural, religious Americans. But fundamentally, you can’t deny the importance and (for most queer children) truth of the message:

    don’t kill yourself. Soon you will be an adult and free to leave whoever is oppressing you.

    For most depressed gay children who are trapped in the closet, that’s hope. Which doesn’t fix their problem, but is better than nothing.

    To quote “The Princess Bride”:

    “please consider me as an alternative to suicide.”

    edit: On his column, Savage is endorsing the “Make It Better Project”, an organization that was started in reaction to his “It Gets Better” thing.

  6. 6
    Mandolin says:

    I like the project. I have no trouble supporting Dan Savage doing it, despite the fact that his column sometimes makes me want to swear at him (and has been known to trigger anxiety attacks).

    While I was watching Tim Gunn talk, though, I had a really weird sort of double consciousness reaction to it. I mean, it was terribly affecting and I felt really bad for him. As someone who has been suicidal, I identified with what he had to say.

    But when I imagined being someone talking to him about being suicidal–as someone who is bisexual, but whose suicidal tendencies don’t have to do with my sexuality–I realized that the context of what we’d be talking about would have to change significantly. Not because our motivations are different, but because for someone with recurring, nasty depression issues–the mantra can’t be as simple as “it gets better.”

    Sometimes it does get better for me. I’m better right now–thanks, Prozac. But some people don’t react to medications. It’s not “get over the bullying and it’ll go away,” it’s… I don’t know what it is. But it’s rather difficult for me to imagine talking someone out of committing suicide for reasons similar to mine by saying “it’ll get better” because… it might not. And as someone who has had suicidal ideation, it’s important to me to find arguments that *do* work for my situation.

    I don’t mean–at all–that LGBT bullying and suicide don’t deserve their own targeted response. But I was interested in the points where my experience as a bullied teen who has been suicidal intersected with Gunn’s experiences, and where they diverged significantly.

  7. 7
    RonF says:

    I was a bullied kid in school. Not so much in high school – by then I’d shot up in height and build. But in grade school I was the short fat smart kid with glasses and I got bullied fairly regularly. I’m not talking just pushed and shoved around and hit and ostracized. I’m talking dragged into the boys’ room and urinated on. Try going to class after that.

    Somehow I never thought of suicide. But, that’s me. Perhaps it was because I had two older brothers, or perhaps it was just my personality. I’m fine with kids shouldn’t be bullied because of their sexuality. I think it’s great to find some way – any way, multiple ways, any way that works – to drag them away from suicide. But then, I don’t think kids should be bullied for any reason.

  8. 8
    Jake Squid says:

    It seems to me that the criticisms are mostly of the, “I think this is the wrong thing to concentrate on,” or the, “this is the wrong way to give hope,” variety rather than the, “this is harmful,” variety. I have a hard time getting into the Against column based on those.

    I have no idea whether it’s a helpful project or not. I remember being told that things would be better when I got to be an adult. It didn’t really help. It didn’t hurt, either.

  9. 9
    mythago says:

    Somehow I never thought of suicide. But, that’s me.

    Well, it’s a shame all those suicidal kids just weren’t made of sterner stuff like you, RonF.

  10. 10
    Sebastian H says:

    The criticisms seem to be more anti-Dan Savage than against the project. The project seems like a great idea to me.

    In a lot of ways I lucked out. I had repressed my sexuality so much that I wasn’t even really aware that I was gay until I was already in college. So while I was picked on as a kid, it didn’t have that nasty shade of sexuality tinged worry. But I know so many people who were emotionally tortured by the issue that giving them hope can’t help but be a good thing.

  11. 11
    Thene says:

    I have mixed feelings here; it bothers me a lot that people are throwing around acronyms like ‘LGBTQI’ when the only deaths they ever notice are those of young cis gay men. It feels like Savage has started with something inherently limited and flawed – a personal response to a death that (unlike, say, the frequent murders of trans women of colour) came to his attention and touched him personally; but because it’s on the internet it can be the seed of something much less limited.

    I’d point out that the mainstream reliably does its best to stop ‘it gets better’ stories from being told; young queer people are not supposed to ever encounter them, and I know I never did. That there is now a Youtube channel full of them isn’t something that I could write off as ‘dismissive’.

    I’ve only watched a few of these videos but there’s already been a fair few ‘huh so that wasn’t just me’ moments (notably; first encountering queer identity words like ‘lesbian’ as childhood insults, ie. not knowing what they meant except that they were bad; bullying is often how we first learn what homosexuality is.) I do worry that all it is is adults talking and other adults listening, and I hope the project moves on to more tangible work asap.

  12. 12
    RonF says:

    That was NOT my point, mythago.

  13. 13
    Peter Hoh says:

    Today brought a new variation: It Gets Worse.

  14. 14
    individ-ewe-al says:

    I don’t think it’s a valid criticism of the It Gets Better project that lots of teenagers are bullied for reasons other than being gay; that’s classic, classic derailing. Yes, racism and under-resourced schools and war and genocide are problems, but that doesn’t mean people can’t try to do anything at all about gay teenagers being bullied to death until every other problem in the world has been fixed first.

    I do think it’s a valid criticism that the project makes so little attempt at addressing intersectional issues. Trans people aren’t significantly safer as adults than as teenagers. Not everybody can “just” leave their conservative small town and have a glorious life in a big, tolerant city. I still think Savage’s project is worthwhile, because it is worth telling otherwise privileged gay teenagers (the ones who are cissexual, and white, and middle-class, and abled-bodied) that their future is rosy. Getting that message across saves lives, and saving lives is important even if you can’t save everybody at risk.

    As to Savage being an a-hole in general, eh, I don’t think that really affects the value of the project one way or another.

  15. 15
    Ampersand says:

    FWIW, I’ve seen five or six “It Gets Better” videos recorded by trans folks (and I assume there are more I haven’t seen).

    Of course, the trans folks who recorded those videos don’t represent all trans people — but at least some trans folks do apparently see value in participating in the project.

  16. 16
    Robert says:

    Such a project can only help. Although the social landscape for sexual minority youth has changed drastically from my day, mostly for the better, there are still many kids for whom simple words of support will make a huge difference. I think those words of support will be helpful even if they come from people who haven’t reached perfection in their sexual ideology.

  17. 17
    Grace Annam says:

    FWIW, I’ve seen five or six “It Gets Better” videos recorded by trans folks (and I assume there are more I haven’t seen).

    Amp, I’ve viewed a few of the videos, but I haven’t seen those, and I’d like to. Do you have the links handy? E-mail me if it’s not sufficiently on-topic.



  18. 18
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Dan Savage has posted a response to at least some of his critics, here:

  19. 19
    Grace Annam says:

    As the saying goes, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” I think that this project will save lives. It is not perfect. On the other hand, if it were made perfect it would be delayed and diluted, and thus… imperfect.

    I’m not going to reply to every argument against the project, but most of them seem to me to be straw arguments, at best. For instance, the argument that the project mainly addresses people of white, middle-class privilege? Okay, but that’s Savage’s main constituency; if he targeted, oh, say, Latina lower-class lesbians, someone would complain about imperialism, or colonization, or appropriation, or silencing (and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong). For instance, the argument that it doesn’t always get better. Well, no kidding, Captain Obvious. He didn’t name the project, “It gets better, in all circumstances, for everyone, without exception, no, rilly, it does.” The name is what is known in technical writing circles as a generalization.

    As to the question of whether Dan Savage himself sucks, well, nobody’s perfect. He has, for twenty years, given advice, and sometimes verbal, off-the-cuff advice, on topics which are personal, political, controversial, and fraught. He does this with humor and nuance. I defy anyone working in those circumstances not to make mistakes, step on toes, and have opinions contrary to other thoughtful people.

    It’s been said of the broad TLBG community, and of various subsets of it, that we eat our own. Ain’t that the truth.

    The project is not perfect. It will not end world hunger, the hunting of baby seals, or the majority of gay-bashing which happens to children. However, it will save lives, by helping to inspire hope in the hearts of some of the actual people who need it.


  20. This is the most comprehensive critique I’ve read — folks have been reposting it on facebook for several days: http://tempcontretemps.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/why-i-dont-like-dan-savages-it-gets-better-project-as-a-response-to-bullying/

    I apologize if somebody else already posted it here — I didn’t have time to read the entire comment thread.

    The author is maybe a littttttle more strident than I’d be (or maybe it’s just academicism I’m reacting to), but I generally agree that while this is a potentially powerful platform if people claim it, there is a danger that an adult-driven “it gets better” narrative, if handled incorrectly, can negatively impact youth activist-led work to change institutions and structures now. I know when I was going through shit in middle school, I heard a lot of “buck up, ignore them, it gets better” type comments from folks trying to shut down the work my mom and I were doing to hold THE INSTITUTION accountable for creating an inclusive environment and preventing harassment on the basis of gender expression and perceived sexual orientation (this is different than punishing offenders, which brings up a whole ‘nother set of issues around how the mainstream gay agenda sometimes feeds injustice in the criminal-legal system). I am already hearing some pushback on the project from grassroots youth activists — and not just the overtly queer leftie/POC/trans ones that are already really critical of Dan Savage — but also from more mainstreamy, GLSEN and gay straight alliance types — who are worried that the video project isn’t necessarily a good thing for the work they are doing to change policies and promote better lgbt/queer-positive initiatives in schools. I think IF youth have any ability to or capacity to access spaces of COLLECTIVE ACTION w/ other queer youth, this is more powerful and liberating than isolation and waiting it out — moving from victim/survivor position to resister.

    …I thought the piece I linked above also challenged me a little in useful ways around a progressive narrative re: pain and trauma, advocating for a more trauma-informed approach that centers itself in listening to youth’s pain instead of telling them how it will go away (esp when one’s vision of “better” is as privileged and constrained as Savage’s has been critiqued as being), and also acknowledging ups and downs are constant across life, what we acquire is resilience.

  21. OK — I read the rest of the thread and definitely want to second Mandolin’s comments re: the chronic or recurring nature of mental health stuff. There’s maybe an anti-ableist perspective on the “it gets better” narrative that should be voiced. I think this is related to what I was trying to say above re: trauma-informed perspective and acquiring resilience. (the capacity to cope vs. the privilege to escape or transcend?)

  22. 22
    mythago says:

    RonF @12, then why say it? I’m genuinely horrified at the abuse you went through. I agree with (and applaud) your statements about bullying. But I am flabbergasted that you thought it necessary to muse aloud on how your bullying (which was not because of your sexual orientation, as you describe it) didn’t lead you to suicide. The point of this project is that plenty of LGBTQ kids do commit, or try to commit, suicide, because they’re not just short or fat or nerdy but because they’re often in isolated communities where even their parents think they’re subhuman simply because they’re not cisgendered heterosexuals. And those kids probably don’t know any LGBTQ adults who got through it and are fine.

    The fact that you or I didn’t kill ourselves as a result of bullying is completely irrelevant and smacks of “enough about you, let’s talk about me.”

    re the project, I too think Savage is a first-order jackass, but the project is bigger and better than him.

  23. 23
    Ampersand says:

    (RE: Trans people contributing videos to “It Gets Better.”)

    Amp, I’ve viewed a few of the videos, but I haven’t seen those, and I’d like to. Do you have the links handy?

    Not the specific ones I’ve seen, no, but I did a quick search and found these links (a few of which I’ve seen, a few of which are new to me). I have to get going, though, so I didn’t have time to watch all of these!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0C_J5iAOb4 (terrible sound quality in that one, alas)

    This one isn’t trans, but it’s addressed to “young lesbian girls, tomboys, bois and butches,” which I thought was a neat thing to do.

  24. 24
    Grace Annam says:

    I know when I was going through shit in middle school, I heard a lot of “buck up, ignore them, it gets better” type comments from folks trying to shut down the work my mom and I were doing to hold THE INSTITUTION accountable

    When I was teased and ostracized in grade school for being different, I got the “just ignore it” advice from just about everyone, and that advice was as useful and relevant as tank treads on a hang glider. “Just ignore it” is gentle way of saying, “this problem which is affecting you is not worth my time and effort”, which is a hell of a thing to say to a child.

    But that’s not what Dan is saying. Some people seem to have the misconception that he is proposing this as ultimate survival strategy, as though his response to survivors swimming from a sinking ship would be, in its entirety, “Keep swimming! Well, glad that’s done. Now we can relax and pour martinis.”

    He’s not.

    I’m fond of analogies, so let’s try this one:
    We are like people on a ship, at night, in foggy arctic seas. We know that terrorists have bombed a ship, and it went down. We have seen some bodies float by. We have rescued some people alive. We have limited resources, and they’re already stretched, and there are probably other people out there in the water, but we don’t know who they are or where they are. So, we grab a megaphone and start yelling, “Anyone out there, keep swimming! Your situation is not impossible! You can survive and be warm and dry and fed again!”

    And then the critics walk up to us and say, “Don’t say that! Some of those people might actually get frostbite and suffer greatly!”

    Um… yeah. I suppose that’s true.

    I’ll just take the first five points from the link you referenced, and apply this analogy.

    1. The video promotes metro-centric and anti-religious sentiment.

    “But you’re implying that people can’t be happy when they’re swimming in the water. Lots of people experience tremendous personal satisfaction from swimming, and have learned to be better people through doing so, and encourage others to do so.”

    Fine, lots of people benefit from their nightly swims through eel-infested waters. But, it’s broadly fair to say that, in general, broadly speaking, you are safer on dry land than swimming in water. For the people who regard it as insulting to the water that that’s true, well, the water can take it.

    The message is wrong. Sometimes it gets better– but a lot of times it doesn’t get any better.

    See frostbite, above.

    Telling people that they have to wait for their life to get amazing–to tough it out so that they can be around when life gets amazing– is a violent reassignment of guilt.

    “But telling people that they have to wait for rescue – to tough it out so they’ll be around when they get rescued and warm and dry and fed – is doing violence by asserting that it’s their fault that they’re in the water.”

    It’s the terrorists’ fault. But that doesn’t change the fact that if the survivors in the water stop swimming, then they’re going down, and if they keep swimming then they might survive, and be warm and dry and fed.

    Stories of how your mom finally came around, over-write the present realities of youth.

    “By shouting the encouragement ‘something like this happened to me and I got rescued’, you’re ‘over-writing the present realities’ of the people in the water.”

    No. Nowhere did the person with the megaphone say, “Our experiences are identical.” She just said, “This is my experience, and it worked out well for me.” And there’s the implication of similarity (not identity) with the swimmer’s experience, and therefore a distinct probability that it will work out well for the swimmer; unless they give up and sink.

    The rhetoric about being accepted by family, encourages folks to come out– even when coming out isn’t a safe idea.

    “But the terrorists who sank the ship might still be around, and it might not be safe for the people in the water to yell and attract attention.”

    That’s true. It’s an imperfect world. But note, and this is key, the person with the megaphone didn’t say, “HEY! ALL YOU SURVIVORS! COME OUT, COME OUT, WHEREVER YOU ARE!” No, she said, “Keep swimming!” She leaves it up to the survivors to assess their own damn situations and decide what is best, and we just have to hope that the ones who are treading water near the terrorists decide to do it quietly.

    In other words, rather than trying to decide what’s best for them, she’s providing them with encouragement and letting them make their own decisions.

    I could go on and on. Maybe people will think I proposed the wrong analogy and then tortured it beyond sense. But I hope it helps.


  25. 25
    Mandolin says:

    I think that most activism benefits from multi-pronged approaches, where some people are working to make change within the system, some working to overhaul it, some being loud and angry, some being conciliatory, and so on and so forth. I think it’s true that Savage’s project–or at least Savage’s portion of it–is necessarily limited. I think it’s probably also true that a comprehensive, loving network of LGBTQIAA teens able to give support to *each other* would be less limited (though still limited in some ways). However, I think it’s a positive for both things to exist, and hopefully to compliment each other. Activism that comes in a less radical form (like Savage’s) can often happen a bit faster, and if these videos help teens who aren’t yet in a position to benefit from the very cool networking activities of other teens, then that’s good.

    I think Tim’s critique is that Savage’s limited activism doesn’t just fill a niche that we hope someday won’t exist in the same form it does now, but that it actively prevents the work of teen LGBTQIAA activists from getting done. Working with grassroots organizers is Tim’s day job, so I’m inclined to take his opinion seriously. The main way I can imagine Savage’s activism getting in the way of grassroots teen activism is that perhaps adults will imagine the problem to be dealt with and solved through the easier, more limited Savage project, and be less likely to hear or help LGBTQIAA teens. I hope that’s not true. I’m not necessarily persuaded that such a reaction would make Savage’s project actively damaging rather than just limiting its effectiveness. I also hope that there are concrete steps that can be taken to minimize any unintentional damage–can LGBTQIAA teen activists coopt the videos for their own purposes? Can they look to Savage for support in other ways? And if not Savage, can they perhaps use the network of adults who *aren’t* Savage who have also made videos as a network to help strengthen their activism?

  26. 26
    RonF says:

    mythago, where I was (imperfectly) coming from was that different people have different reactions to bullying and abuse, and so they need different kinds of help. I was giving my own reaction as an example of that. But it was not my intent to invalidate that other people do have such a reaction. I’ve been taught in my Youth Protection training that there are various reactions, and to look for changes. If an outgoing kid all of a sudden becomes withdrawn it’s a danger sign. Other kids attack or assault someone – and not always the person who abused them. So while this project may not be perfect (and there seems to be a lot of controversy over Dan Savage), if it fits anyone’s needs then it seems to me that it’s something to be encouraged, despite people’s reservations.

  27. @mandolin — I’m pretty much with you on the both/and, insider/outsider strategy stuff.

    I’m not necessarily sure whether this NECESSARILY gets in the way of grassroots activism — just that it’s a potential danger I think, in part because of the level of power and influence some of these folks wield, ie, when we watch Access Hollywood, we’re not hearing from youth themselves, or, say, any of the trans folks Barry linked above, we’re hearing from Neil Patrick Harris and Sarah Silverman and Tim Gunn and Kathy Griffin, etc. Okay, I realize it is Access HOLLYWOOD, which is maybe a silly example, since they are in the business of covering famous people, but what if Tim Gunn was like, “Here is my story, now you should totally go listen to some youth.” Maybe they wouldn’t air it, but… maybe???

    I’m glad Dan Savage was at least like, Of course I support activism to change things now, even if he said so w/ that sort of belligerent defensiveness he often cops when criticized.

    I think since this critique is something I hear youth activists themselves floating, I felt compelled as an adult ally to amplify that critique, same with the antiracist, antiableist, antiregionalist, anticlassist, etc. critiques.

    I think critical discussion of the project is great. I don’t think I’d ever advocate actively AGAINST it. I think folks should use it, should flood it with as many divergent narratives as possible to prevent our narratives from becoming singular.

    I think if I was ED of a Queer antiviolence org right now, my press release would probably be something like, “It’s wonderful that this project has called attention to this critical issue, also wonderful is this work these youth are doing to xyz, which you can read more abt at blah blah blah…”

  28. 28
    Mandolin says:

    I think since this critique is something I hear youth activists themselves floating, I felt compelled as an adult ally to amplify that critique, same with the antiracist, antiableist, antiregionalist, anticlassist, etc. critiques.

    I think critical discussion of the project is great. I don’t think I’d ever advocate actively AGAINST it. I think folks should use it, should flood it with as many divergent narratives as possible to prevent our narratives from becoming singular.

    I think if I was ED of a Queer antiviolence org right now, my press release would probably be something like, “It’s wonderful that this project has called attention to this critical issue, also wonderful is this work these youth are doing to xyz, which you can read more abt at blah blah blah…”

    Yes, completely. I’ll cosign that. :D

  29. 29
    lauren says:

    The reason the shipwreck-analogy doesn’t work is that in your example, the attackers have launched one attack and are now no longer present, while the victims are dealing with the aftermath. That is not what the reality of these teens is like. They are currently and constantly under attack. Which means that your analogy should be something along those lines: We encounter a ship that is being shot at from another ship. What is the best thing to do? Will telling the people who are being shot at be helped if we tell them that, eventually, the attack will end?

    Look, I am still not completely sure how I feel about this whole thing. The bullying that drove me to the brink of suicide was not related to my sexuality (there were some “you’re such a lesbian” shouts involved, but that was because they thought it made for a good attack, not because it was my actual sexuality, which made it a lot less painfull than it would have been otherwise, I think). But I remember lot’s of “it get’s better” from the teachers. And you know what? That made it worse. Because I wasn’t stupid, and I knew that it had been going on for years and it hadn’t stopped yet. And the prospect of eventually leaving school isn’t nearly as helpfull when you don’t know how you will make it till then.

    Teenagers aren’t stupid. They know what is going on around them. GLBT teens only have to turn on the news to be reminded of how much hatred there is against them. THey know that there are millions of people who consider them less than, who believe that descriminating against them is totally ok. Look at the vile arguements comming from many anti-marriage equality people. Look at politicians who promise to defend GLBT rights and then don’t do a thing to repeal DADT or DOMA. Knowing that all this is out there, I believe it would make sense for many teens to not feel encouraged by “it get’s better”, because they have a lot of reasons for not believing it.

    Or what will happen to those who kling to that hope- only for it to turn out false? Won’t that make it that much harder?

    And there is a real danger to the idea that, because it eventually get’s better, it’s not actually that bad. That’s the whole idea behind “bullying as a right of passage”, as something that everybody has to go through and then come out stronger in the end. Because it ignores the scars left behind on the victims, and it ignores the way that dominance of the already more powerful is reinforced. That is not the intent of the campaign, but it can be one effect, however unwanted.

    Yes, there are other’s who do get strength from this. Maybe especially from a celbrity they look up to. And that is great. But it doesn’t mean we should ignore the ways in which it can be harmfull. And I am wary of the “if it helps anybody, it is automatically worth it” arguement. Because if it helps some but hurts more, than it isn’t. And even if there are more on the helped side of things, it would be a good idea to look at who is on which side. Because I am afraid it might be another case of the privileged (not hetero privilge, obviously, but other forms) being the ones helped, and those who already are more disadvantaged being pushed in the back. Because if I am to poor to afford college and can’t leave, than being told that leaving makes things better isn’t helpfull. And if I am being bullied for more than one reason, then having everybody concentrate on only one area of bullying, without contemplating intersectionality and how it might affect things, might make me feel that, while bullying for sexual orientation or gender identity may get better, nobody really cares about the fact that people call me r****d or the n-word.

    I am not sure where the scales fall here. I think that, especially if the focus is taken of the (super privileged) celebrities and given to the people who really are grass roots, this might be a step in the right direction. And that conciously trying to put equal focus on those who don’t have every7 most privilege except straight privilege might work, too.

    And yes, not having the whole thing led by someone who is a bully himself. If I were a lesbian, would it really help me to be told that my orientation shouldn’t be used to attack me- from someone who constantly attacks everybody who shares my gender with vile misogony? If he want’s to fight bullying, he should start with himself.

  30. 30
    mythago says:

    RonF @26 – fair enough.

  31. 31
    Grace Annam says:

    The reason the shipwreck-analogy doesn’t work is that in your example, the attackers have launched one attack and are now no longer present, while the victims are dealing with the aftermath. That is not what the reality of these teens is like.

    Is that the reason? I knew there had to be one.

    I had imagined the terrorists roaming in gunboats, shooting the survivors, but I didn’t make that clear. Also, necessary to the analogy is that the boat on which stands the person with the megaphone is unable to see the survivors.

    And that, right there, is the main point with the “It Gets Better” project. There are lots of youth who are isolated, especially in rural areas and areas with near-universal homophobic religious organizations (and there’s a lot of intersection between the two). These kids are in the closet, so there’s no way to reach them as individuals. But we can megaphone messages of hope to them.

    Genuine suicide attempts require desperation as a necessary precondition, and they are often a matter of impulse, an act when the pain peaks. It seems to me that messages of hope are likely to be powerful in matters of desperation.


  32. 32
    Thene says:

    There are lots of youth who are isolated, especially in rural areas and areas with near-universal homophobic religious organizations (and there’s a lot of intersection between the two). kids are in the closet, so there’s no way to reach them as individuals. But we can megaphone messages of hope to them.

    So how, exactly, are we going to get them to hear these ‘megaphone messages of hope’? The intended audience are only going to hear it if they actively come to the website looking for it, which is somewhat unlikely unless they’re already connected to queer communities, which itself indicates that they’re less isolated than similar young queers who don’t have that support; it’s especially unlikely when it comes to young queers who haven’t yet come out to themselves. This isn’t a megaphone; few of the people in the water will notice that the message is there.

    …needless to say, I still worry that the real audience is mostly other adult queers, and straight liberals. I could wish for a more practical way to do this.

  33. 33
    Robert says:

    Thene – we call it the Internet. You can get on it even in the sticks. It’s pretty keen. Try it!

  34. 34
    Elizabeth Anne says:

    It’s also why this is going so viral over facebook. They don’t *have* to go to the site to find it.

  35. 35
    Grace Annam says:

    So how, exactly, are we going to get them to hear these ‘megaphone messages of hope’?

    Search engines. Word of mouth. I told my kids about it so that they can pass the word to anyone they think might need it.

    I just threw this into Google: “they bully me cuz i’m gay will my life ever get better?” The first two links contain references to the It Gets Better campaign, though you have to look for them.

    The campaign has been in existence for seventeen days. Fear not; it’s position in search rankings Will Get Better.

    I forget the name of it, but there’s now also a text version of It Gets Better, which is good, because it will reach into Dial-up Land better than video does.

    The first time I was trying to figure out that I was trans, I went about it all wrong: I went to the medical section in the local library, and what I found there scared me into denial for over a decade. The second time, we had the Internet. I put “transsexual” into the search engine, and off I went.

    Not everyone will find it, but lots of people will.


  36. 36
    piny says:

    Seriously. Of all the objections, “how will queer youth possibly find these youtube videos being passed around on the internet?” is the least serious. They will find them the same way they’ve been finding everything else.

    …I agree that other things need to happen? But if I were being shot at, or held hostage, or hurt, or bullied, or abused, someone who came and held my hand and said, “Please don’t despair. It’s not over for you. You can survive this horrible period in your life. There are people out there who will accept you for who you are, even if you haven’t found them yet. Stay with yourself. Protect yourself. Love yourself. Don’t listen to all the evil people who want you to lie down and die,” would live in my memory forever. I have needed that, and not found it, and I am glad that this collection of hopeful testimonies exists to help some people. It’s not enough, but it is important.

    I’m also kind of taken aback by the assumption that these videos are being posted by martini-sipping urban gay elites–or that “not actively suicidal (anymore)” can be confused with “hunky dory.” You can move to your big fancy city and live with your out and proud lover and queer-ass chosen family without escaping hatred.

  37. 37
    piny says:

    Also, internet notwithstanding? There’s still an enormous problem with straight-up isolation. Queer teenagers in high school generally don’t know any other young queer adults. They go through all of this completely alone–and they often can’t talk to their family or friends about anything that is happening to them. I think it’s powerful just to collect a bunch of queer people online, all standing up to be counted. I was living in a liberal area with accepting parents, thirty miles away from one of the most famous Pride celebrations in the country, but I still would have clicked through to every single one of those links. I would never have met so many queer people in one place before.

  38. 38
    Robert says:

    Getting back to first principles – if this effort has flaws as it no doubt does, well, find or make another effort that’s better and get THAT going viral.

    One thing that does work against bullies is concerted peer action and (though as a good Republican I shudder to use the word) solidarity. I recall an incident in which three of us weedy kids politely asked a much larger bully to stop bothering a younger girl. He could have broken us, using pieces of us as weapons, but his bullying was of a sort that sought social acceptance, and with three of us “asking” him he felt able to back down without loss of face. He wasn’t actually a bad sort, many bullies aren’t.

    There are ways for marginalized kids to organize themselves and create support networks. That can be perceived as an escalation, particularly in places where bullying culture has grown endemic, and can have terrible consequences, so I don’t recommend it as a blanket strategy. But in the places where it can work, which hopefully parents and teachers can detect, it can reduce bullying without putting a lot of additional stresses on the kids in crisis who are doing the bullying. Suddenly it’s just less rewarding to be a bully.

    In my childhood I recall there were parents whose homes were oases for the odder kids, me included, and where a welcome was always assured. Those people collectively across the generations probably passively and not-so-passively save millions of lives from sensitive kids who need a refuge. In most any social milieu, well meaning people can provide refuges for these kids where they can at least know they belong.

  39. 39
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    One common thread is that the attempt by adults to tell kids what to do is itself problematic, ageist, or privileged.

    That’s odd for oh so many reasons, because of course all adults WERE kids at some point, and even if their memories get rosy-ified a bit, they’re not all wrong. It’s the difference between “rich person guessing what it is like to be poor” and “used-to-be-poor person who now has a steady job, talking about what it was like to be poor.”

    but it’s also odd because while folks simultaneously seem to be claiming that kids have all this agency, and their own lives, and adults should butt out… they are ALSO claiming that the mere existence of these videos is somehow going to damage the kids.

    Which is bunk, of course. This isn’t a mandatory education class. It’s more like an anonymous section of the library, accessible by those who are interested. Since when does the existence of information cause so much harm? It’s not as if this is one of those “appears to be helpful and pro gay rights but is actually a gay conversion cult” kind of things.

    but which is also bunk because sheeeit, if kids are so fragile that they can’t deal with the existence of anonymous information which isn’t perfectly suited to their personal situation, then it’s a bit odd to claim that they are also these perfect decision makers who know what’s best and who would do much better if no adults butted in, we’ll run our own projects thx bye.

  40. 40
    Grace Annam says:

    He wasn’t actually a bad sort, many bullies aren’t.

    That sort of thing, right there, is one of the roots of the problem.

    “Oh, they’re good kids, they’re just … “.
    “Boys will be boys.”
    “Yeah, girls are mean. That’s just the way they are.”
    “Roman Polanski’s a visionary artist, and he’s a hoot at parties! I don’t see how it could have been RAPE rape.”

    I don’t know if bullies are “bad sorts”. I can’t look into their hearts and minds and judge them. Even if I could, it’s not for me to do so.

    All I can judge them on is their actions. And their actions suck. Their actions harm people, sometimes lethally. That doesn’t mean that they, themselves, are evil at root; maybe they are, maybe they aren’t maybe the question is meaningless. It just means that the effect they have on the people they bully is negative. And I’m not going to excuse it, and I’m learning to call “bullshit” when someone does try to excuse it.


  41. 41
    Robert says:

    Sure. But there are bullies who are bullies because their dad was mean to them the last few months and they’re acting out, and there are bullies who are bullies because they’re psychopaths en route to a life as a serial killer.

    I’m an extreme individualist when it comes to kids and their situations. Some kids need a kind adult to be their friend. Some kids need to be left to work out a knotty issue on their own. Some kids need structure and support, others need flexibility. Every bully is also a kid.

    The first priority for me is protecting other kids from bad behavior by bullies. You won’t find me being a bleeding heart “oh what about poor Laurence, he skinned his knuckles on all those other kids’ teeth”.

    But there are a lot of different etiologies for Laurence and I don’t want to put them all in the same bucket. Many kids who aren’t “bad sorts” are acting out because of their own shit, and methods predicated on ‘save the good kids from the bad kids’ aren’t going to work very well. I hate to be a hippie liberal, but there are times when (figuratively) you need to beat the shit out of a kid and times when you need to hug the shit out of him. Bullies, like all kids, fall into both camps.

  42. 42
    Lisa says:

    Grace @40: Cosigned.

    I’d add that the discussion around bullying in general would have more effect if people stopped talking so much about the victims and started looking at the perpetrators.

    That is *not* to say that we shouldn’t offer all the support and encouragement we can to the victims of bullying. The IGB project is one piece of that puzzle. I’d just like to see another piece: people standing up against bullying by pointing at the bullies and saying “No, that is not acceptable, and we will not tolerate it, not once, not ever.” I think the sense that IGB reinforces victim-blaming ideas comes from the fact that there is a huge vacuum where this other piece in the discussion ought to be.

    I don’t necessarily think that IGB (or any other effort) is wrong for omitting it; no one project should be held responsible for covering every possible angle on an issue. It’s impossible.

    I think the fault lies with our socialized attitudes about bullying. It’s the fact that every report I’ve seen on the recent suicides shows me the faces of the victims but never once the faces of those who drove these boys to their deaths. It’s the fact that the language in the headline is always in the passive voice: a youth killed himself because he *was* *harassed*. Never is it stated up front that a high school student harassed a peer to death. Yet another instance of implied victim-blaming in the news: Focusing on the victim means our eyes are turned away from the one who did the bullying, with a subtext that we really aren’t interested in the bully– or what he/she has done or will do.

    Why are we so reluctant to look at the bullies?

  43. 43
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Why are we so reluctant to look at the bullies?

    Probably because we do not (as a culture) generally identify minor perpetrators by name or attack them in the press, unless they are convicted of a crime and not usually even then.

    Thus the distinction between the people who posted that online video of someone who then killed himself (not minors; charged with a crime; identified in the press;) the people at some Boston-area school who are supposed to have driven a girl to kill herself, i think (charged with a crime; identified eventually by the press) and generic bullies (not identified; not charged.)

  44. 44
    Robert says:

    We are also reluctant to look at them because it is more comfortable to believe that wrong actions are being done by Others. You know, those bad kids who become bullies, not good kids…certainly not MY kid…

  45. 45
    piny says:

    Agreed–and I can sympathize with that. I know that nobody wants to see their child as a danger to other children.

    I think a lot of the unwillingness in this specific instance is a refusal to admit that little pitchers have big ears.

  46. 46
    chingona says:

    The other piece, I suspect, is that far too many people are complicit for a community to face this issue honestly. I was bullied quite a bit as a kid and even through high school, and my parents talked to me early and often about not going along with the crowd, about standing up for others, etc. But there still were times where I participated in the bullying of others even lower on the social totem pole than I was. I was never an instigator or a ringleader, but there were times where I went along. This was mostly in elementary school – even by middle school my moral compass had developed enough that I didn’t do this any more – but it happened.

    We’re not going to see pictures of the bullies and names of the bullies because you’d be looking at dozens or even hundreds of pictures, and that’s not how scapegoating works.

  47. 47
    piny says:


    I remember reading a letter to the editor about specific anti-homophobic bullying measures. The writer was against them, and suggested that administrators simply handle each gay student’s problem individually. (This was a long time ago, but I don’t think he had a problem with anti-bullying policies that did not address homophobic bullying.) And I remember thinking that it wouldn’t work because it’s often a problem each gay student has with many other students.

    Policy is helpful because it insists that all incidents deserve attention–even when they don’t escalate to physical violence. A zero-tolerance policy for, say, homophobic remarks is also helpful because the teacher can just point to the sign. It makes it much easier to deal with the sort of hostile environment chingona is talking about. “That’s so gay,” and similar comments can’t contribute to an atmosphere where violence is permissible.

  48. 48
    lauren says:

    I think it is also important to distinguish between explanations and excuses.

    There may be many different explanations depending on the individual for why the take part in bullying. But those don’t matter to the kid being bullied. If you are harrassing me, it doesn’t make a difference if you just enjoy causing pain, if you are deeply homophobic or if you are taking out your stress over your own bad home life on me. I am still being harrassed.

    In my experience (though this is not related to homophobic bullying, just the “garden variety”, people far to often confuse explanations and excuses. And suddenly the victim is being told that they “have to understand” (often paired with admonishments not to take it personal and reminders that “this what kids do”).

    The different reasons for engaging in bullying are important when it comes to dealing with the bullyies and trying to get them to actually change- instead of just not doing what they still want to but won’t because they are afraid of consequences. But that is the second step. Getting them to stop, period, should always be the first step. And zero tolerance, stricly observed, might actually get us somewhere. Protect the victims first, try to change people’s minds after. But it won’t happen if we keep making excuses for everything.

  49. 49
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    A zero-tolerance policy for, say, homophobic remarks is also helpful because the teacher can just point to the sign.
    Yes, but generally speaking zero tolerance policies have their own, very significant, sets of problems. They are not necessarily helpful overall.

  50. 50
    mythago says:

    lauren – your post is wise, but gin-and-whiskey is also correct that “zero tolerance” is educationspeak for “we don’t think, we just apply a one-size-fits-all solution that may fit very badly.”