This past week, the news has been full of stories of young boys killing themselves because of antigay bullying. This isn't a new problem, but one that has gotten a lot of attention as the new school year has begun. My heart goes out to those boys and their families, because part of me can understand what happened. As I've written before, I didn't come out until I was 20 and well into my sophomore year of college. I was lucky in some ways. In high school, I managed to mostly fly under the radar of bullies, though I had my fair share of name calling and comments about my voice, which is probably why the phone ringing stills sends me into a panic. In college, I had "fag" written on my dorm room door, but nothing completely horrific ever happened, yet I was still in a very dark place when I came out in the winter of my sophomore year. Luckily, I went to get help and met with a therapist. If I hadn't, I don't know what would have happened or where I would be right now, so I understand these boys on some level and I know it isn't easy.
In response to these recent suicides, the writer Dan Savage started a video campaign called "It Gets Better." He is encouraging gay people to make videos of themselves telling the GLBT youth that it does get better. I have nothing against Dan Savage and I think the idea here is coming from the right place, but as I watched his video, I couldn't help but think is this really the best we can do? I've been a teacher for over five years and I can tell you from my experience, teaching 18-year-olds, simply telling them about the future and that things will be important later or things get better have little to no effect. Young people are in the moment and while that moment may not be so important in the long run, it feels vital at the time. A gay boy, sitting in a high school getting beat-up everyday and getting called fag, doesn't want to hear that it gets better and that he just needs to pull through, and I don't believe that should be our response as the GLBT community.
I'm not saying it isn't important to let kids know that gay people can be happy and can have amazing lives, or that there are places out there that have strong gay communities. Those are wonderful messages, but not necessarily a solution.
I began this post with the story of the homecoming dance for a reason. Here in Orlando, we have an organization called Orlando Youth Alliance (OYA) that is made to help these youth who don't fit in and need support while they are going through the difficulties that life has to offer young GLBT kids. OYA put on the dance and for that one night those kids could come together and have fun and be themselves. OYA meets weekly and provides a place to just talk. Does that fix everything? No, but it's better than just saying we can't help you and remember it gets better. More cities need these organizations and schools across this country need to take a stance to stop bullying of any kind. Schools need to discuss these issue with kids, parents, and teachers or it will never get better.
I also want to throw one more kink into this response, what if it doesn't get better? Yes, Dan Savage is doing quite well, but not everyone else is. We still live in a country that hates gay people. You still have to listen to constant discussion over if you should have the right to do, basically, anything. You can be fired for being gay. You still can't serve openly in the armed forces. You can't get married. You can't donate blood. Yes, you can move to a more accepting city. You can find friends and lovers, but it is still hard. I live in a fairly gay-friendly city for the first time in my life, yet not that long ago I was called a fag by some 14-year-old boy as I exited the mall. I couldn't find a job here for six months and went on a few interviews where I was told I couldn't be out if I wanted to work there. High school isn't completely the end of the fight or the bullying. Yes, you get stronger, but you are still always treated as a second class citizen in this country.
I'm not meaning to be so negative, or to even fully attack this campaign, but I don't think it's the best solution we have to offer as a community. Maybe it is part of an answer, but mostly it's a nice way for people to feel like they've done something in the face of such tragedy.