It Gets Better
“For too long, our society has shrugged off bullying by labeling it a ‘rite of passage’ and by asking students to simply ‘get over it.’ Those attitudes need to change. Every day, students are bullied into silence and are afraid to speak up. Let’s break this silence and end school bullying.” — Linda Sanchez
Tragedy in the Headlines
Several years ago, a young boy’s story became national news. Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old freshman at Greensburg High School, took his own life. But it wasn’t his suicide alone that brought so much attention. The reason behind his actions struck a chord with many across the nation: Billy was the victim of extreme bullying based on his sexual orientation, and he could find no other way out except death.
On September 9th, 2010, Billy Lucas was found dead in his grandparent’s barn. He had hung himself.
Before this terrible end, Billy suffered throughout the majority of his life at the brutal hands of his schoolmates. He was threatened almost on a daily basis, and many would go out of their way to push, hit, kick, or taunt him. However, when the administration of the school was questioned, they reported that they were unaware of the bullying activity, and they claimed Billy was happy with his school life.
However, this is untrue. His classmates bullied him every single day, and two teachers were even reported to have verbally abused and humiliated Billy in front of his peers.
In following years, several other teens and young adults would be featured in the news for the same reasons. Tyler Clementi, Jamey Rodemeyer, Jadin Bell, Carlos Vigil, Ayden Keenan-Olsen, and many others would find the struggle to be too much. They provide even more evidence that the bullying problem is out of hand in our country’s schools, and something needs to be done.
So, in spite of the terrible circumstances that surrounded Billy’s suicide, his actions would spark a movement that would inspire others around the nation.
After seeing Billy Lucas’ story, author and columnist, Dan Savage, felt strongly affected. He explained, “I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. 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.” After thinking about it, he realized that he did have the ability to speak to the LGBT youth that were still struggling today.
Along with his partner, Terry Miller, Savage posted a video on YouTube where he described his own experiences. He, too, struggled through his school years and barely survived. He was bullied by peers and rejected by family for something he had no control over. But, once he got out of high school and time went by, things changed. He was no longer the subject of aggression every single day, and his family began to accept him as he was. He even met the love of his life, and he became very successful in his professional career. He is living proof that the torment won’t last a lifetime, and he wanted to show that to struggling individuals everywhere.
He also asked others to share their stories. He said, “I felt it was really important that, as gay adults, we show them that our lives are good and happy and healthy and that there’s a life worth sticking around for.” Within a week, over 200 videos were added to the channel.
From there, the It Gets Better Project only grew.
Everyone wanted to get involved. Several government officials, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi posted their own messages. Celebrities, especially those who shared the same experiences, created their own videos, as well. Ellen DeGeneres, Anne Hathaway, Kathy Griffin, Chris Colfer, Tim Gunn, and countless others helped spread hope to the LGBT youth. Even high-profile companies like Google, Pixar, and Facebook took part. Their employees worked together to create videos that inspired optimism. Everyone united to send a message in hopes of saving just one potential suicide victim.
Today there are over 50,000 videos that have more than 50 million views. All videos are saved to an archive on the It Gets Better site so that people will always have access to them. Savage understood that sometimes a project gets media attention for awhile, then dies down. His goal was to ensure that, no matter what, people would always have access to the hopeful messages in each video.
More Than Just Videos
In addition to the video archive, the It Gets Better Project has two other programs designed to promote the rights of the LGBT community. The BETTERMedia program uses different forms of social media and promotional material to spread hope to our nation’s LGBT youth. Not only do they have over half a million followers on their social media sites, but they have also created many videos that have been featured on MTV. Their content is so powerful that it has been nominated for Emmy Awards.
The BETTERLegal program offers full use of the vast video library to be used in support of the LGBT community and their rights as American citizens. These personal accounts of what it’s like to be bullied due to sexual orientation are very compelling, and they provide excellent evidence in a courtroom and in the community.
There are also several books that have been released that help support the cause. In 2011, three books were released:
- It Gets Better: Coming Out
- Overcoming Bullying
- Creating a Life Worth Living
The books are compilations of stories written by hundreds of different contributors. All profits from books sales go directing to the IGB campaign.
Making A Change
Since the start of the It Gets Better Campaign, there have been numerous advances in LGBT civil rights. Here are just a few ways that things have gotten better:
- The White House holds a convention to discuss the bullying epidemic (2011)
- California’s Senate makes teaching about the gay civil rights movement a requirement for history classes (2011)
- Texas passes several anti-bullying laws (2011)
- The Secretary of Education refuses to allow schools to disban any LGBT or GSA (Gay Student Association) clubs (2011)
- Gay Marriage becomes legal in New York (2011)
- The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in our military is repealed (2011)
- Proposition 8 is repealed, saying it is unconstitiutional (2012)
- California bans all “conversion therapy” designed to change the sexual orientation of young LGBT individuals
- California requires health insurance to cover change related health costs for transgender patients (2013)
- Vermont requires health insurance companies to cover gender reassignment surgeries (2013)
- Delaware, Minnesota, and Rhode Island make gay marriage legal (2013)
- Boy Scouts lift the ban on gay membership (2014)
- The Obama Administration mandates same-sex spouse insurance coverage (2014)
- The Governor of Virginia passed a law against discriminating in the workplace based on sexual orientation (2014)
It’s become obvious that the harrassment and abuse of children in our school systems has become a problem. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t talking about how to fix it. The Obama administration has passed many laws and acts requiring school systems to take action. The president made the following statement on the issue:
“We’ve got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage; that it’s just some inevitable part of growing up. It’s not. We have an obligation to ensure that our schools are safe for all of our kids. And for every young person out there, you need to know that if you’re in trouble, there are caring adults who can help.”
Sparking Interest Across the Globe
It’s obvious that the campaign created a massive wave of support across the country. However, the influence didn’t stop at our borders. Many countries began passing laws, enforcing policies, spreading awareness, and creating support groups of their own. The following countries have created their own It Gets Better campaigns in order to spread awareness and provide support for their own LGBT youth:
- Canada – It Gets Better Canada
- Australia – It Gets Better Australia
- Peru – Proyecto Todo Mejora (Everything Gets Better Project)
- Chile – Todo Mejora (Everything Gets Better)
- Finland – Kaikki Muuttuu Paremmaksi (Everything Will Get Better)
- European Union – It Gets Better Europe
- Italy – Le Cose Cambiano (Things Change)
- Sweden – Save the Children Campaign
- United Kingdom – “We Can Make It Happen”
- Switzerland – It Gets Better Project
Sweden was the only country, however, to not focus solely on the LGBT community. Instead, they targeted all children so that they could cut down on bullying as a whole, and not just focus on a single problem. Later, after some criticism about ignoring the gay minorities and “watering down the problem,” they launched the Grass Roots campaign that directly addressed LGBT individuals.
Take the Pledge
For those interested in supporting the campaign, there are a variety of ways you can help.
- Make your own video. Do you have a story? Were you bullied in school, and you want to share how you made it through? Or maybe you just want to show your support. Create your own video, and submit it to the cause.
- Sign up. You can visit the main site at ItGetsBetter.org and take the pledge to help spread the message in your community. You will also receive newsletters from the campaign, updating you on their progress.
- Donate. If you can’t spare your time, maybe you can spare some change. Even the smallest donations can help make a difference.
- Get some merchandise. The site has several shirts, books, and other items for sale that benefit the program. Not only are you helping the cause, but you also get something to show off your support.
- Spread the message. With a donation of $25, the the IGB Project will give a copy of It Gets Better: Coming Out to your local library or school.
- Interact. Connect with the cause on social media. They have Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube accounts dedicated to keeping the public informed. Stay up-to-date on the progress of IGB with a just a few clicks.
If you are being bullied or are having suicidal thoughts, there is help out there. Please call The Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
There is also a hotline sponsored by The Trevor Project. The program is specifically for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals who are struggling or thinking of ending their life. The number to call is 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).
You are not alone, and someone really does care about you. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
It Really Does Get Better
The It Gets Better Project is one of the most important groups to be created during our lifetime. The gay community has been struggling against discrimination for countless years, and it’s time that our country accepts them for who they are. The project is also creating an amazing resource that’s saving lives. The victims of bullying are finding a way to reach out to those who understand what they are going through, and they are gaining hope that the future will be a much happier time for them. This campaign is saving lives every day. Dan Savage has created something truly wonderful, and his goal has been met many times over.
And the memory of Billy Lucas, along with many other bullying victims who lost their lives, will continue to be honored for their struggle.