One of the truly awful things about the ‘save our children!‘ mantra widely heralded by Anita Bryant and echoed all the way down to the Catholic Church’s priest-molesting scandal and into the anti-gay efforts of the Proposition 8 campaign is the conflation of homosexuality with pedophilia. By morphing LGBT people into creepy predators who must ‘recruit’ new members (because we don’t reproduce) into The Gay Lifestyle, our younger selves are cut off from the chance to see, know, admire, ogle, understand and learn about LGBT role models within their own community: whether right down the street, or — nowadays — far across the country.
The transgender young man growing up in middle school right now in West Virginia doesn’t have the chance to see the mid-thirties transman CFO of a successful San Francisco non-profit who started off right where he did and now sends money back home every month to support his birth family. The freshperson-in-highschool babydyke in Kansas doesn’t have an opportunity to get hear from Hilary Rosen, successful public relations executive and Democratic politico. The fabulous sixth grade boy who loves watching America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway with his two eight-grade pals (but wonders how he’ll ever tell his FBI dad about being gay) can’t hear from Tim Gunn about Tim’s very own suicide attempt at 17.
Because parents unclear about how to help their LGBT kids deal with a hostile world full of people who just might take advantage of them have been taught one thing by the talibangelical culture warriors: older gays are out to recruit your kids. Keep your kids away from gay grown-ups if you know what’s good for them, to keep them from harm, to keep the gay out of their lives.
Well, Miss Anita Bryant Thing and Mister Tony Perkins Thing — that’s bullshit. Gays don’t molest kids — pedophiles do. You’ve sown your lies long enough in America. And we — the happily coupled, the delightedly single, the career-successful, the known, the unknown, the out-and-fabulous-in-Hollywood, the-hosting-yet-another-Project-Runway-season-with-Heidi-Klum, the married-and-raising-a-kid-in-Seattle, the non-pedophiliac — we’ve found a way to reach our younger selves. Your kids who have questions about what it’s like to be a gay grown-up?
We can tell them, right on YouTube (and, having exceeded YouTube’s 650-per-channel video limit, now on its own website) that IT GETS BETTER. I remember being a pre-teen and a teen, even in cosmopolitan New Jersey, and wondering “will this ever get better? will this awful secret ever go away? can I change? can I learn to be something else?” There was no one to answer these questions for me in the 1960s and 1970s. The only guidance I got about gay-ness was to stay away from the hobby shop in the village, because the man there ‘liked boys.’ That sounded creepy — he was a really, seriously creepy person — and I knew I didn’t want to grow up to be him! So I guess I’d have to find a way out of these feelings.
Dan Savage realized that while he was offered speaking gigs at colleges all the time, that was because college students are ‘of age’ and away from their parents’ watchful eye for the very first time. But college isn’t where the questions, and the doubt, and many of the horrible suicides are happening any more. Partly because our culture is more open about sexuality in general, partly because sex is used to sell everything nowadays, and partly because kids physically mature faster than they used to — for all these reasons, high school (and even middle school) are the battlegrounds for gay awareness, bullying of gay kids, harassment of gay kids, casual hatred and violence toward gays, and — horribly — gay suicides.
So Dan Savage wondered how he would reach these most at-risk kids. He wouldn’t get invited to their schools, he wouldn’t get invited to their church groups, he wouldn’t get invited to their Christian overnight weekends.
“Every time I heard about a gay teenager dying, I thought, ‘I wish I could have talked to that kid for five minutes, to tell him it gets better,’ ” Savage said. “I get invitations to talk at colleges all the time. But I would never get an invitation to speak at a high school. I would never get permission to talk to a gay 13-year-old boy about how great it can be to live as an openly gay adult. And then I thought, ‘Why am I waiting for permission, or an invitation, when there’s YouTube?’ ”
There it was right in front of him: the internet, the YouTube. Inspired, of course, by Harvey Milk:
“You gotta give ‘em hope,” Harvey Milk said.
And that’s how IT GETS BETTER was born.
Now, actual grown-up LGBT people can talk directly to baffled, puzzled, confused, bullied, harassed, beat-up teens. We can tell them we know something they don’t: it gets better. We can tell them about our struggles, our down moments, our difficulties with family, ‘friends’, and school. We can tell them, firsthand, that we know what they struggle with every day — and that some of us considered ending our lives too. Struggling with just what they are, we thought about what they are thinking about. But we didn’t suicide (or we got rescued).
And: it gets better. Life gets LOTS better, and here’s what it looks like when you grow up: here’s what happy, successful, adult LBGT people look like, all over the world. Look at us! It gets better!
One more cool thing about the internets!
And huge props to Dan Savage, who founded the project in response to the suicide of Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, Indiana, who hanged himself September 9 ( four or five suicides ago in North America, if you’re keeping track) and all the famous, not-so-famous, infamous, and wannabe-famous people who’ve added videos to his site: California state Senator Mark Leno and lots of other LBGTs in San Francisco, Perez Hilton [ad first], Tim Gunn, Chaz Bono, this ASL gal, Stephen and Devon, the Broadway company of Chicago, this guy who came out at 13 in middle school in TEXAS, “internationally famous pundit and radio star Stephanie Miller“, members of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, fabulous drag queen Missy Valley Paramount, and many, many others who contributed to the project. Literally hundreds of LBGT adults have made their own messages and loaded them to the site.
Because, nowadays, when our political leaders find it entirely acceptable to invoke homophobia and old stereotypes about predation to protect our children and our military from LGBT people, and when our religious leaders invoke predation when they talk about homosexuality — and those are the messages American children hear every single day — you’ve got to give them hope.
Kids are dying. It’s got to stop. We’ve got to give them hope.