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2010: 'It Gets Better' Founder Dan Savage Reflects on The Groundbreaking Youth Project

For 25 yearsOUT has celebrated queer culture. To mark our silver jubilee, we look back at some of the biggest, brightest moments of the past 9,131 days.

In August 2010, I wrote about the suicide of gay Indiana teen Billy Lucas. There was a Facebook memorial page that was created by his family, and the same kids who bullied Billy in school went to that memorial page to say they were glad he was dead. There was a long comment thread on my piece and one comment leapt out at me: “I wish I had known you, Billy, and had been able to tell you that things get better. Rest in peace.” That was the catalyst. That phrase—“things get better”—stuck in my head. I was traveling in September of that year to speak at a bunch of colleges, and I felt useless. I felt like I needed to instead be going from high school to high school and middle school to middle school.

But I’d never get an invitation to speak at a high school or middle school, and I’d never get permission to speak to a queer kid who needed to hear from a queer adult—the queer kid whose parents are also bullying them. It occurred to me that in the era of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, we didn’t need an invitation. We could use those tools to offer some perspective, and share coping mechanisms that improved our circumstances—wisdom that generally can’t be accessed by queer kids. It came to me in a flash: We’ll call it the “It Gets Better” Project. We’ll make videos and speak directly to these kids. And we’ll tell their parents and teachers and preachers that we’re not going to let bullshit accusations of recruiting or pedophilia stop us from talking to kids in need.

But I didn’t want to do this by myself. There were already a million videos of me online running my mouth. I wanted to do it with my husband, Terry. I called him, and he immediately said yes, because he was that kid. He was brutally bullied growing up in Sultan, Washington—beaten up, attacked, thrown through windows. People shit on his car. His parents went to his high school to argue with the principal, who told them, in front of Terry, that it was his fault, and it would stop if he, basically, stopped acting like a fag. He ached for, and empathized with, these kids.

“It Gets Better” exploded immediately. Our goal when we launched was to get 100 videos, so we’d have something for everybody, because not all queer kids are white, gay, future adult men. We had 1,000 videos in two days. I think Barack Obama made his video six weeks after the launch.

I’ve had so many people come up to me to tell me the “It Gets Better” Project saved their lives. And it saved lives not because Terry and I made 60,000 videos, but because other people did. There are now “It Gets Better” affiliates in more than a dozen countries, and it’s a resource being tapped. I’ve gotten letters from 16-year-olds telling me they’re watching “It Gets Better” videos under the covers at night. Those moments are heartbreaking and gratifying. I think one of the things we forget as queer adults is that all the bad shit happens instantly. You say the words “I’m gay” or “I’m trans,” and 10,000 tons of shit fall on you in a day. The good stuff—meeting new friends and lovers, parents coming around—takes time. “It Gets Better” has shown those kids whose lives are exploding that it’s worth it in the end.

Tags: Pride, 25 Years

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