In September and October

The story starts in September, with a YouTube video “It Gets Better” by Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller (married in Canada, as described in Savage’s wonderful book The Commitment), aimed at giving hope and support to lgbt teens and other persecuted young people.

This then became a huge It Gets Better project (described here), with over 5,000 YouTube videos submitted so far; the project page has links to the Trevor Project (providing a suicide prevention phoneline for lgbt young people) and the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network — of school organizations for lgbt kids and their straight allies).

The next landmark was the September 22 suicide of Tyler Clementi (Wikipedia page here, posting on this blog here), which affected me deeply. Thanks to Facebook links, I came across the It Gets Better videos, starting with the Dan and Terry one, and compulsively watched them for days, raging and weeping.

They are endlessly varied. Many from well-known gay and lesbian people, many from well-known straight allies (for instance, NCIS actor Pauley Perrette), many from same-sex couples, a huge number from young people, not long out of their teens themselves, talking earnestly about their school experiences and the turns their lives have taken since then. Eventually, group videos from the cast of Wicked, from Google employees, from Facebook employees, from a woman’s roller derby team, and many others. Videos angrily directed at bullies. Amateurish videos, slickly produced ones. Painful ones, funny ones. And supportive videos from Hillary Clinton, from Barack Obama, and from Joe Biden (and probably from other politicians and public figures).

A few words about the Obama piece, in which the President says:

… it can seem that somehow you brought it on yourself

… you didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t do anything to deserve being bullied

… [eventually,] you’re going to see that your differences are a source of pride and a source of strength

(In interviews, Dan Savage praises the President’s message, but adds that the man is in a position to make some things get better, and it’s time to get on with that.)

Telling kids that it’s not their fault, that there’s nothing wrong with them, is an important step — and at politically courageous one, since a huge number of people do in fact believe that there’s something wrong with lgbt kids: they are sinful, sick (“objectively disordered”, in the phrasing of the Roman Catholic Church), immoral, and have chosen the wrong lifestyle (presumably that’s part of the sickness, or perhaps the influence of Satan). The widespread “love the sinner, hate the sin” position plays out as an encouragement to persecute the sinner, as a way of driving out the sin and bringing the sinner into line with normal, healthy, good, moral people. So, in these people’s eyes, Obama is condoning, even encouraging, immorality and sickness.

The videos have, predictably, produced a certain amount of backlash from such people. Meanwhile, Savage claims (as reported by Michelangelo Signorile in the December/January Advocate) that

despite the gains of the gay equality movement and the coming out of celebrities here and there, life is worse for LGBT teens than it was 20 years ago, particularly for those living far from urban areas. While the gay political movement has made dramatic strides, [Savage] says, most of those advances have been for adults in big cities. And, at the same time, the religious right has come full force out of its own closed–condemning homosexuality and pushing “ex-gay” therapy. In surban and rural areas, preachers attack gays, ugly campaigns have been waged to bar gays from marrying, and politicians rail that gays shouldn’t be teaching in schools.

More backlash.

Back to recent events. A little while after my It Gets Better immersion came National Coming Out Day (October 11), which is a big thing in my house because that’s the date Jacques and I chose to be our anniversary. (When you don’t actually get married, you’re free to choose a suitable date. We thought about the date of our most important domestic partnership, in Palo Alto, but that was Valentine’s Day, which is also my daughter’s birthday. We considered the day we first declared our love for one another, and made love, but that date comes in between Christmas and New Year’s, an already crowded time of the year. So we cast about for other possibilities and came up with NCOD, which suited us both.)

Then, on October 20, a new occasion: Spirit Day, on which people are encouraged to wear purple in support of lgbt teens. So of course I wore purple. And watched some more videos.

[Still to come: some notes on sissy.]

5 Responses to “In September and October”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    And now, excellent, courageous push-back from queer kids who want things to get better now: “{This} is Reteaching Gender and Sexuality” video available here.

  2. irrationalpoint Says:

    There’s been a certain amount of pushback from queer rights advocates/activists to the “It Gets Better” project too. Some of the videos affected me deeply, and I was touched by the great many loving things that people said from the bottoms of their hearts (Joel Burns, Kate Bornstein, Ellen DeGeneres, and others). But my problem with the “It Gets Better” project is that …I’m not sure it’s *enough* to tell teenagers that if they can just keep their heads down until graduation, it will all sort itself out on its own. I’m glad not to be in high school anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and butterflies once you hit 18, and I think it’s a bit dishonest to promise kids that it will be.

    On the other hand, sometimes any message of hope, anything that can help with the here-and-now pain, is good.

    I’ve been writing about this over at my blog here and here, and tried to link to others who are covering the issue of pushback from queer rights activists. It’s a difficult balance to get right.

    –IP

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Thanks for the links. And of course people need to push for positive and permanent change. The It Gets Better project tries to address what the contributors see as an acute here-and-now problem, but there’s also a chronic systemic problem.

  3. It Gets Better / Wonderful dad « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] I was filmed for a Stanford “It Gets Better” video, talking for quite a while in the colonnade in front of the Bing Wing of the Stanford Library (on […]

  4. NCOD 2013 | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] postings here on the occasion. From 2010, with an explanation of the personal significance of the […]

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