Wednesday, 20 October 2010

It Gets Better: Spirit Day

In September teenage suicide hit the international news. Six boys and young men in different places across the US killed themselves that month after enduring bullying from their peers, who saw them as targets because they were - or were perceived to be - gay. The most notorious case was that of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, who found that his sexual activity had been secretly webcammed by dorm-mates and streamed live online: he jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

Asher Brown shot himself in the head. He was 13 years old. 

This is just sickening. Bullying is human nature at its worst. It is the powerful picking on the powerless. It is the many picking on the few. It is the Average Joe picking on those who do not conform to the majorative norm. And we have all seen where that leads.

There have been a number of responses to all this coming to light. One is the It Gets Better project, created by Dan Savage, who posted the initial video above on YouTube. It took off like a rocket. If you go there right now you'll find a video message from Hillary Clinton at the top of the queue.

Dan said he started it because:

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.
(There has been a lot of reaction to It Gets Better, some of it negative, but there is a fair and generous overview here.)

The It Gets Better pledge
Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I'll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I'll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and other bullied teens by letting them know that "It Gets Better."

Another response to the suicides: Canadian teenager Brittany McMillan  started a campaign on Tumblr and Facebook. Today people (particularly students) are wearing purple in honour of the teenagers who died, and to promise support for those who are still abused, harrassed and outcast by mainstream society:

Please wear purple on October 20th. Tell your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and schools.

Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Raymond Chase, Asher Brown, Cody J. Barker and Billy Lucas


Beth said...

So the bottom line appears to be that school utterly sucks. Could we do an equivalent for sci-fi nerds too?

Craig Sorensen said...

I didn't know about this, or I would have worn something purple today.

I have read some of the recent bullying stories and am so saddened by them. It is so hard to grow up anyway, why do some want to make it harder on others?

Thanks for posting this.

Janine Ashbless said...

Yes, school utterly sucks. It's a stage of your life when you have least power, least agency, least freedom - but you are massively overworked and your social network is more like a jungle. I think the "It Gets Better" message applies to everyone on school age, LGBT or not.

Danielle said...

"I think the "It Gets Better" message applies to everyone on school age, LGBT or not."

i think thats totally right...i said about the same on my purple post..