Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It Gets Better

10/11/10 was National Coming Out Day this year. As the Human Rights Campaign explains:

It’s a day for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be open and honest about our lives. It’s a day for all fair-minded people to stand by your LGBT friends and family and speak out about your support for equality.

With the recent tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" project is especially timely:

I'd say "It gets better" hold true for most kids, certainly those who don't conform to the expectations of their school, home or community. However, The Trevor Project, a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline and resource for LGBTQ youth, relays the findings of a Massachusetts Youth Risk Survey from 2007, that "lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers." While things have gotten much better over the past 30 years, there's no good reason for them to still be that bad. I won't bother to link the despicable taunting of Clementi by some right-wingers; they were deliberately trying to be assholes, and they succeeded. I'd rather focus on the people who believe in shared humanity and compassion. Ellen Generes sums it all up well:

Update: Dan Savage had a good interview on NPR. His explanation of how the project started relates to aimai's comment about Olbermann and pitchforks in the thread below:

I had heard about the suicide of Justin Aaberg in Minnesota, and then this fall, early September, Billy Lucas in Greensburg, Indiana. And it was really in reaction to Billy Lucas's suicide. And he was not openly gay, but he was perceived to be gay as, you know, many victims of anti-gay bullying are not gay.

And I was really heartbroken and had the reaction that so many gay adults have when we hear these stories, is I wish I could have talked to that kid for five minutes and been able to tell him that it gets better.

But I would never get permission to talk to these kids or an invitation to talk to high school or middle schools. And it occurred to me that I was waiting for permission that I didn't need anymore because of YouTube and Twitter and Facebook, and I could record a video with my husband. We could talk about having survived bullying and our lives now and offer these kids hope.

And really, you know, and what's subversive about it is we're making an end run around a lot of these kids' parents, who don't want them to talk to openly gay adults or know that they can lead a successful, rewarding, content and happy life as an openly gay adult, their teachers, their school administrators and their religious, quote-unquote, "leaders" who don't want us to reach out to their kids and never have.

And we're done waiting for permission or an invitation, and we're going to address these kids and talk to these kids and give them hope whether their families, churches and schools like it or not.

NPR has a few angry comments on their site about the "like it or not" bit, which is utterly unsurprising. Let's break this down. One, sexuality is an important subject, especially for teenagers, but some parents are uncomfortable discussing it. Okay. But it's time to get over that, or sign that permission slip for the school to have those discussions (in a reality-based curriculum). Teenagers are becoming adults, capable of making their own choices, and it's their maturity, not their immaturity, that unnerves some adults. Let's be honest – it's not as if most social conservatives unnerved by homosexuality are really comfortable talking with their kids about heterosexuality either. That unfortunate, delusional "abstinence-only" sex ed approach in Texas has accomplished little other than increasing the teen pregnancy rate. And even if some social conservatives don't like the idea of homosexuality, it does exist.

Two, Dan Savage and Jewel and other people making these videos aren't going to make anyone gay. Mild homophobia is one thing and may be manageable, but organized homophobia is largely based on a deep-seated, irrational, fearful belief in the "Gay Cooties Theory." This entire project is based on compassion.

Three, and most importantly – we're talking about some adult's disapproval weighed against a teenager killing him or herself. That's not remotely a hard call. And in a situation where a gay kid has killed him or herself - even if their parents were/are homophobic - even if they've gone so far as to disown their kid - after the kid's committed suicide, most parents would still rather have their kid back alive. (Unfortunately, I know of a situation precisely like that, and I'm sure there are many more. It makes me sad, and it makes me angry, because it's all so pointless.) Given those realities, I feel it shows tremendous restraint to put things the way Dan Savage did. It's one thing to say, "These are our ways," but when kids are dying unnecessarily as a result of those ways, it's time for some reflection. Obedience is the wrong metric here. This is about suicide prevention and compassion.



aimai said...

I have never been more moved in my life than while watching the Dan Savage "it gets better" video. It seems to me to be at once so overdue and so utterly timely--perfectly matching the moment, the medium and the message. I guess what I mean is that the idea of putting together this series, and asking people to step forward and testify, reminds me of that moment when I heard Olbermann talking about how angry he was with the Bush administration and how he thought "man, there will be pitchforks in the streets tomorrow" and he looked out--no pitchforks--and he said to himself "I'd better bring the pitchforks myself."

Dan's bringing the god damned pitchfork himself--its the next logical step after Harvey Milk, in a way. Not only to be out, and proud, and comfortable but to reach out and help shape lives and the entire culture to make it safe for all our kids. To claim all our kids publicly.

I'm not gay, but I really don't think the video can be understood as gay or straight its all about stepping forward and taking care of the children. We need this rebuttal to the conservatives and the bullies and the care-for-nobodies.


Batocchio said...

aimai, Dan Savage had a great interview on NPR about the project - and he said something that speaks very much to that "pitchforks" idea. I added a link to this post in an update.

Porlock Junior said...

"And in a situation where a gay kid has killed him or herself - even if their parents were/are homophobic - even if they've gone so far as to disown their kid - after the kid's committed suicide, most parents would still rather have their kid back alive. "

There is a horrifying piece of music about this, by Eric Whitacre.


"When David heard that Absalom was slain he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, my son, O Absalom my son, would God I had died for thee!"

Batocchio said...

Thanks for passing that on, Porlock.

libhom said...

I think queer youth are getting it even worse from parents and peers due to stress from the execrable economy. All sorts of minorities are being scapegoated viciously these days.