Daniel Villarreal

Have Things Worsened Since 'It Gets Better' Started?

Filed By Daniel Villarreal | February 07, 2012 6:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Dan Savage, gay suicide, IGB, It Gets Better, teen suicide

savage_th.jpgJamey Rodemeyer and Eric James Borges. Both teenagers got tormented at school and called "faggot" for being different. Both uploaded It Gets Better (IGB) videos to YouTube weeks before killing themselves.

Both should make us question whether IGB has actually done anything to help the suicidal queer teens it originally sought to help or, as Dan Savage told The Dallas Voice this week, whether anti-gay bullying has actually gotten worse since his campaign began.

During his keynote speech at the University of North Texas Equity and Diversity Conference today, Savage highlighted the IGB project's successes: it effectively put a gay-straight alliance in the pocket of any kid with a cellphone and has offered hope to countless kids - not only that their own lives might improve, but that their parents might eventually accept them, just as parents in some IGB videos have.

Savage said that the old deal for LGBT people used to be 'You're ours to torture until you're 18 and when you're 18 you can move away and if you're not too screwed up by then, you can build a stable life for yourself. But you can't still talk to the kids we're still torturing in the same families, the same schools and the same churches that we tortured you in. And if you try to, we will accuse you of being a pedophile or recruiting or corrupting our youth.'

He says the IGB project destroyed that old order and effectively told its protectors, "We're gonna talk to your kids whether you realize you want us to or not. If you're not ready to parent those kids, we will help them, and one day you will thank us."

But while his campaign has helped push the issue of LGBT-based bullying into the national spotlight, Savage says that increased societal awareness of queer youth has actually made these days "the best of times and the worst of times" to grow up queer. No longer can a gay kid fly under the radar without their peers wondering why they're different or why they're not dating girls.

These days, Savage says, we have more anti-LGBT political initiatives and more so-called Christians talking about how being gay is a threat to humanity itself. And kids who see their parents bashing queers at the ballot box and the pulpit then go on to bash them at school, thinking that they're doing the right thing.

"Do you know what the It Gets Better project can't do?" Savage asked the crowd. "It can't end bullying. And we never said it could."

He's right. Right now the IGB website serves as a storehouse for all the user-uploaded video testimonies but no content telling kids how to handle actual bullying.

And rather than replicate the anti-bullying efforts of other pre-existing organizations, Savage directs LGBT youth advocates to support Al Franken's Student Non-Discrimination Act; the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN); the Trevor Project and the ACLU's anti-discrimination efforts for queer youth in schools.

"[The Trevor Project] is there to talk kids off the ledge, GLSEN is there to make sure there are fewer kids in our schools climbing out onto that ledge and the ACLU is there sue the crap out of schools that push kids onto that ledge," Savage told the university audience.

But ultimately Savage says that he'd like the IGB project to merge with another pro-LGBT youth organization rather than continue on its own. He added that he's in talks with several organizations about that prospect.

Savage ended his speech my mentioning, "People say, 'Are you thrilled with the success of the It Gets Better project?'... I would really be thrilled if we could pull the whole thing down tomorrow. If there had never been a need for it at all."

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