Does It Get Better? Has the It Gets Better Project Delivered?

3 Nov

The Trevor project is over a year old now, and while the anniversary came and went in October with little to no fanfare aside from what Dan Savage gave it, we have to take a step back and ask ourselves “Does it get better?” It’s hardly an easy question to ask and the answer may not really be what we want but that hardly detracts from the fact that we have to ask it anyway. While the opinions and observations expressed in this column will likely not be popular, they do merit consideration and are intended to force each of us as individuals to provide an answer to a difficult and unsettling question with brutal honesty.

When the “It Gets Better Project’ (IGBP) launched it was groundbreaking. An outpouring of supportive testimonials flooded the web. At first it was most regular LGB youth or twenty-somethings telling everyone to hang n there – it gets better. Before long, there were some more visible figures that took a stand and shared their story. Piles of video testimonials, solicited and unsolicited, began piling up. Some were viewed tens or even hundreds of thousands of times. Others languished in near anonymity. Then the celebrity factor came into play. It was vogue to tell LGB youth to hang in there.

While we love Wanda Sykes and it is great to see her get behind the community, there was a certain element of the community that sat back and rolled their eyes. We Love Jane Lynch, Ricky Martin, NPH and so many others, but we spent a moment wondering – how does your story relate to me? We know you were a gay youth, but none actually came out until they made it and had secure careers and finances. They played their role in the world presenting straight and came out when it worked for them. That is a choice EVERY queer person has – come out when you are ready. We all have to respect that.

The problem is that when they started telling people it gets better, something seemed off. If they were so secure in their sexuality and had been for some time, why did they wait so long? Was it because for them, it would get better when they were wildly successful and could tell people that disagreed with their sexual orientation to go piss off? It’s like the standard line of “I lived a lie so long and finally I reached a point when I had to come out and it got better.” For them the “point” was having enough go to hell money saved up to be out.

But what about the kids that watch their videos and have trouble relating. They relate to being closeted, they relate to fear. They relate to worry and loss of family and friends. What they don’t relate to is being told to be who you are and come out without worry because it gets better by people who may have had the same worries, but did not come out and be who they are until they had major bank. How does a 13 year old kid in some farming town with little hope of ever being wildly rich relate to that?

Has it gotten better for him? Can he come out and not worry about getting the crap kicked out of him? Have fewer schools gotten away with banning GSAs? Are fewer LGB kids killing them self than before the IGBP, or are we just not publicizing them as much because it’s not fashionable news anymore? Are hate crimes perpetrated against LGB persons down? Are fewer LGB kids on the streets, homeless and under-educated because they cannot bear being in school where they may be teased and taunted? Who has it really gotten better for?

Listen, the project is good and noble for what it was intended to be. It goes without saying that star power helps deliver the message to a greater audience. What got lost in so much of this is the actual LGB youth and young adults that are just regular people getting by in the real world each and every day who can testify that it gets better. Why is it we only see a “regular kid” that made an It Gets Better video after that kid kills himself – or is killed, bullied, taunted etc…? The message it sends almost seems like the regular folk are only “worthy” of promotion when something horrific happens and it’s too late for anything to get better for them.

If you have Facebook and subscribe to the IGBP page, you notice that every day or two a new video is out there on your wall waiting to be viewed. Usually it’s a celebrity. Sometimes it’s a person like a Dean of Admissions, a group of professionals, teachers – some organization with a vested interest in at least parroting the phrase “It gets better.” Hang in there…it gets better.

It seems like such a hollow phrase. it;s like saying, hey we went through hell – a worse hell than this and look at us – It got better! Now, you can go through hell too and maybe, one day, it will get better for you too. Why not be more proactive like the students that began projects like “Make It Better!” Why do we have to celebrate a message that really seems to say little more than if you live another day – it got better. Live a bunch of days in a row and it must have gotten better! No… Simply no. It needs to get better now!

What we need is not more hang in there crap, we need people to do what they can to focus their energy on making safer spaces for our youth – not just online, but in the real physical world. We need to get over all of this petty divisive bullshit between the portions of the acronyms and leverage our clout as a while united community in order to bring that power to bear on whomever we must in order to make it better. If that means supporting politicians that support us then we have to do that. If it means boycotting corporations , or any business, that does not respect our rights as humans then we must do that. If it means getting out and pounding the pavement to go door to door to garner support then that is what we have to do. When we act as a group is when it gets better.

You may have noticed that this column was written using the term LGB rather than LGBT and that was for a good reason. Aside from a notable IGB video from one high profile individual, the IGBP seems to operate a lot like Dan Savage in the regard that it seemingly does not give a shit about the T community, and like far too many individuals that comprise the LGB, feel the T community is like an anchor around their neck. To them, I respectfully say – FUCK YOU! I encourage them to learn about their real history.

The LGB celebrates the beginning of the modern gay rights movement around the anniversary of Stonewall – an even sparked predominantly by the girls of Stonewall – Drag Queens, Transvestites and Transsexuals were the vast majority of the people at the Stonewall Inn. When the rioting began, it was again mostly those same DQ’s TV’s and TS’s leading the way with the bulk of the crowd being straight college students that were thrilled to death with the chance to rise up and protest something – ANYTHING! Of course by the time the first Pride was held, those genderqueers were not welcome and by the time they were nearly 25 years later, the story of Stonewall had been transformed so much it was more like a myth. Ask an old-timer that was there on the ground – they will tell you the real story.

For those unfortunate T people, in many ways, it can’t get better by watching a video of someone telling them it will be alright. Being coddled with cute slogans isn’t going to help the trans women in DC getting beat down and murdered. It doesn’t help the trans teenagers being kicked out of their home because their parents never took the time to watch an IGB video. It doesn’t get better when they play by all the rules but can’t get a job because there are no protections in place for them which mean they can be fired without cause.

What does the IGB project really do – at least for many LGBT persons? It makes them feel good and not so alone for a little bit while they are watching the videos. That is a good thing – whatever can bring a person a little peace and security for awhile is pretty damn good. Let’s not make it all into something it is not however – it is not the answer. It is not really making it better for most people. I’d actually be curious to know how many LGBT people have seen their life get better as a direct result of this project. I imagine Glee has probably done just as much if not more in many ways. The truth is, IGB was a good idea with noble intentions that grew too fast and turned into a monster because Dan Savage whored it out to anyone that wanted to scream “It gets better – (Now buy our shit and think nice thoughts about us!) rather than sticking to it being something that was really aimed at curbing LGBT youth suicide and violence. Actually, it gets better for the people using the project to advertise…at least that’s how it seems…

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