Bully victims speak out from past experience: it does get better
A year ago, Dan Savage, author of the “Savage Love” syndicated advice column and his husband, Terry Miller, decided to do something about the alarming number of suicides by bullied lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) youth.
They wanted to send a simple message directly to bullied youth: “It gets better.” The couple made a YouTube video empathizing with the victims of bullying. As a teen, Savage struggled with his gay identity while growing up in an evangelical Catholic community. Miller describes the harassment he received growing up in Spokane.
“People were really cruel to me. I was bullied a lot, beat up, thrown against walls and lockers and windows, stuffed into bathroom stalls, people (expletive) on my car, people scratched my car, broke my windows,” Miller says in the video. “And my parents went in once to talk to the school administrators about the harassment I was getting at school, and they basically said ‘If you look that way, talk that way, walk that way, act that way, then there's nothing we can do to help your son.’ Honestly, things got better the day I left high school… Life instantly got better.”
A study by Dr. Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, published in “Pediatrics,” revealed that LGB youth were significantly more likely to attempt suicide (21.5% vs. 4.2%.) Hatzenbuehler's studies show that youth who live in areas with with a negative sociopolitical climate toward LGBT or questioning attitudes and no community support were especially at risk. The 24/7 Trevor Lifeline, a suicide prevention service of the Trevor Project, reports that 35% the thousands of calls they receive originate in the South, where social support systems for LGBT youth tend to be scarce.
Inspired by Savage and Miller's gesture, more than 250,000 people have made their own “It gets better” videos, which have been viewed more than 40 million times. Celebrities, activists, and politicians have posted videos – including President Barack Obama, Tim Gunn of “Project Runway,” Ke$ha, Suze Orman, Neil Patrick Harris, and the cast of “True Blood.”
Both public figures and private citizens have bared their soul in the videos, describing humiliating moments, feelings of hopelessness, and suicide attempts. Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns addressed his local community, describing the suicide deaths of seven LGBT teens across the country, before describing his own experience with bullying.
“There must be something very wrong with me, I thought. Something I can never let my family, or anyone else know,” Burns said, choking back tears. Despite more than 2,660,000 views, his revelation is hard to watch.
While the majority of videos are directed to the struggles of LGBT youth, many recount being picked on for a plethora of reasons – race, material possessions, physical attributes or disabilities, and more.
“I’m not normal… You probably can't tell that right now, but my bullies could, and they never let me forget,” pleads YouTube user MorboKat. “I was too smart, read too much, looked too different, laughed at the wrong things, listened to the wrong music, worshipped the wrong Gods. I may be heterosexual, but please believe me when I say I know exactly where you are right now and I feel your pain.”
To watch videos, or post your own "It Gets Better" video, go to www.itgetsbetter.org.
– By Katie Walker
Printed in the September 29 edition.