UPDATE: ‘It Gets Better’ for LGBTQ Youth

By Isabelle Davis

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Isabelle Davis on the "It Gets Better" Project

This past weekend Fox News and other big media sources have picked up on this particular Dan Savage speech and the students who walked out.  They have made claims that “over a hundred students walked out” and have accused Savage of attacking and bullying Christian students.  They clearly were not there because the amount of students who walked out was closer to a couple dozen, and most of students stayed to hear him out because they a) weren’t offended by the comment (which did not call the Bible itself bulls–t, but the comment on gay people in the Bible); b) were open minded enough to hear him out; or c) agreed with him.  

We were there as journalism students, and I think our job was to stay and listen to him, no matter our own opinions.  Savage’s points were strong and well made, and although he has apologized for another comment he made, he refuses to back down from the Bible one, which I think is completely legitimate.

Unlike some students at the conference who were required to attend Savage’s speech because it was a keynote, members of the Niles West News were given the option to attend the speech.  I chose to go the speech because I already knew what Savage’s message was, and I think that the overall point has been drowned out by the negative attention focused on a couple of words that offended the minority.  I still feel the same way as I did on the original day this story published (Friday April 20): bullying of LGBTQ youth needs to stop.

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The loud, emphatic cheering drowned out any concern I had about the small droves of people walking out of the large room.  This past Friday, at the JEA/NSPA National Journalism Conference in Seattle, Dan Savage spoke in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 journalism students and advisers about the bullying gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens suffer at school and at home.  More important to Savage, he talked about the ways in which it gets better for LGBTQ youth.

Savage is the popular author of “Savage Love,” a frank and open sex advice column.  He is also the author of a couple memoirs and coined the term “santorum” as a way to get back at then-senator Rick Santorum when he equated gay sex to bestiality and pedophilia.  Savage’s open gayness has caused controversy since he became a public figure, but he has always held his ground.  He is a strong advocate of being who you are and doing what (and who) you want to do.

It was after a number of consecutive gay teens commuting suicide in 2010, particularly Savage was affected by the abusive comments on the memorial page of Billy Lucas, that he and his partner started the It Gets Better Project two years ago with the hope that 100 more videos would be made by other people.  They did not expect for the video to go viral, but it did.

Now, upwards of 50,000 videos have been made by gays, straights, and everyone in between telling teens about how their lives or their friends lives have improved since they were in high school and dealing with coming out.  Celebrities like President Obama, Cris Colfer, Ke$ha, and Tim Gunn have also made videos.  In that original video, Savage spoke about how both he and his partner had been through bullying in their lives, but they spoke more about how happy they are now.  This is the trend that many of the videos have taken, proving that life really will improve if LGBTQ teens just stick around through the worst parts.

With such an inspirational speaker, it took me a while to figure out why some people started walking out of the speech about half way through.  Then I realized that when he said people needed to learn to “ignore the bulls**t in the Bible” it probably did not go over as well with the religious folk as it did with me.

Before you exit out of this column as fast as those journalism students ran out of the speech, hear me out.  Savage was speaking up for the LGBTQ community, which is constantly under attack because of this passage from Leviticus: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”  If you ask me, that is one of many bits of the Old Testament that deserves to be ignored, much like we have completely forgotten the claim that mixing fibers in clothing is a sin and women who lose their virginity before their wedding day deserve to be stoned, which was the main message of Savage’s point on the Bible.

If we followed through on half of the things the Bible says we should do, half the world would be stoned to death right now and everybody would be going to Hell.  So why do so many people chose to care about this one part?  When people defend bullying children to the brink of suicide and defend it with “religion,” it is the biggest lie they have ever told.  Because Jesus was all about forgiveness, and while I do not believe being gay is something that needs forgiving, apparently some people do; so hop to it.

The main goal of the videos was to save lives, but a secondary goal has always been to help give LGBTQ kids the support that they might not have at home.  According to Savage’s speech, young members of the LGBTQ community are already at a four times higher risk for committing suicide than the average straight teenager, but when they have parents who are unsupportive that number skyrockets to eight times.  That number is disturbingly high.  Forty percent of homeless teenagers are LGBTQ because their parents cannot accept them for who they are and have kicked them out of the house until they do the impossible and change that intrinsic part of themselves.  What these parents need to figure out is this: that will never happen, in the same way you could not snap your fingers and decide to be gay.

If he could get one message out to these parents, Savage would say this, “They [the parents] can’t prevent that kid from being gay, but they can prevent them from being at all.”

I wish that the It Gets Better Project wasn’t something that had to exist.  I wish it was unnecessary because people had the common human decency to accept people for who they are, but I wasn’t born yesterday.  I know that what Dan Savage started has saved thousands of lives and reached millions of people who have been constantly tortured at school and at home.  Also, as the he pointed out himself, the project cannot save everyone, “Sometimes the damage is too great, sometimes hope is not enough,” Savage said.

Because of this, we all need to do our part to help support those bullied.  Some people will do that through making videos that can help thousands of teens.  Some people will show their care for the community by participating in the Day of Silence today, which is what I am doing.  Hopefully together we can help change the way society thinks and behaves towards the LGBTQ community so that when we are adults, equal rights won’t even be a question and everybody is accepted.  I can dream, can’t I?

The Day of Silence is something I encourage anyone who wants to show their support for the LGBTQ community to participate in. Take part to break the noise, to see what it’s like to be silent and afraid, insecure, and unheard by the society. Support the day to change the lives of LGBTQ teens who have their lives in jeopardy and turn them into positive role models like Dan Savage and his partner.

GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) is an exclusive club that meets after school every Monday. The group is very confidential and is a perfect place for teens to confide their their problems and socialize with peers and proffessionals just like them.  You do not have to be LGBTQ to participate. Contact English teachers Michael Conroy and Mary Rapp if you are interested in joining.