“It gets better” for bullied LGBTQ youth

By Dustin Petty
Staff writer

Billy Lucas, a freshman at Greenburg High School in Indiana, hanged himself in his grandmother’s barn after allegedly being taunted by classmates. Friends and family of the 15 year old said he was bullied because he was perceived to be gay.

Lucas was one of at least 34 American students to take their own lives in 2010 after dealing with an instance of bullying.

When Dan Savage, a syndicated advice columnist and blogger, read about Lucas’ suicide and the suicides of other young people who were bullied for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) or because others believed they were, he and his husband decided to take action. On September 21, 2010, they posted a video on YouTube. They told their experiences from high school, coming out and finding happiness in their adult lives. The message, he said, is simple: it gets better.

He explained his motives in sharing the message in a 2011 interview with National Public Radio.

“I believe when a 13- or 14- or 15-year old gay kid kills himself what he’s saying is that he can’t picture a future with enough joy to compensate for pain he’s in now,” he said. “And watching the suicide crisis unfold last fall, my husband and I decided we weren’t going to be shamed out of speaking to LGBT youth anymore. And the idea behind the project was for gay adults to talk to queer kids about our lives to give them hope for their futures.”

Statistics point to an increased concern about the population Savage hoped to reach.

LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers. According to the Trevor Project, a non-profit organization that works to prevent LGBT youth suicide, 90 percent of LGBTQ students were assaulted or harassed during the 2010-2011 school year.

Since Savage’s video, more than 30,000 others have joined in providing messages of hope to young people. Videos have been shared by politicians President Barrack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, celebrities Tom Hanks and Janet Jackson, players of the Boston Red Sox and employees of Google and Facebook.

But the vast majority of the videos are from average individuals, sharing their stories of bullying and telling today’s youth that “it gets better.”

Pierre Phipps of Chicago contributed one of those messages. A self-described former bully, Phipps worked with a friend to create his own video.

“The message I was trying to send was that words are really nothing,” Phipps said. “Although it may seem like the end of the world, soon you will get over it and be a great person. It gets better.”

LeighAnna Dwyer of Boston approached her video differently. Instead of a straightforward message relating her own experiences, the 24-year-old shared a piece of performance poetry she created, “Better,” and dedicated it to Jamey Rodemeyer.

Rodemeyer, a bisexual New York high school student who created his own “It Gets Better” video, committed suicide in September 2011 after several years of bullying.

I want to promise it gets better
but maybe it stays the same, you just
learn to Act Up instead of settling down
raise your head like your pride is a crown and you just won
a beauty pageant
It doesn’t get better, but you do—you get
a little stronger every day
and a little less afraid; after you live to realize
fear isn’t the only thing
that makes your heart race:
Love does the same thing…

Fight to keep your
queer heart beating day after day, because if it stops
you’ll never know whether I’m speaking truth
and the one thing I know for certain is there’s no one else in the world
with the same beautiful rhythm
to their pulse
as you.

To learn more about the It Gets Better Project and view the messages, visit www.itgetsbetter.org. Videos may also be viewed on YouTube by searching “It Gets Better.”

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