The 'It Gets Better' Campaign: Promising a Falsehood
The true power of social media never ceases to amaze me, like a crushing force a new campaign hash-tags its way around the internet in the matter of hours - a feat which would have previously taken months to reach the same level of interest the 'It Gets Better' campaign met within a week of Dan Savage and Terry Miller's debut video. Within the first week of the campaigns inception two hundred videos had been uploaded to the YouTube channel and exploding with the intense media coverage from there - all promising the LGBT youth of the world that life will undeniably get better for them.
This affirmative and bold statement was born in response to the number of suicides by teenagers who, either, were or suspected of being gay and bullied mercilessly daily because of it. The movement caught on like wildfire and, for a while, there did not seem to be one famous person, gay or straight, who had not made a video to share with the youth of the world - everywhere you turned someone was assuring you it would get better. The promise of a life's betterment after surviving high school, almost like a prize; you are allowed a good life now you have survived four years of self-esteem crippling bullying. We all watched as the worldly and wise gays/lesbians of the world promised 'it would get better' punctuating their own plighted adolescent story.
But does it - does it actually get better? Not one person stated the ignorance you faced in high school would actually be righted or receive an apology for the years of torture endured, instead an assumption of a change in geography and new circle of friends before this new better life begun. And here in lies the crux of the problem with this seemingly affirmative message to the teen LGBT community, life will not get better where you are but instead, you will need to seek one out. Nothing will really be righted or change but you will have graduated from high school and no longer need to deal with it or the people anymore, while they go off unscathed unaware of their ignorance and the true depth of the damage they inflicted.
So, assuming one can afford to move away from their small town or away from their homophobic parents, we can say the rest of the world is more accepting liberal minded place and ignorance is simply for the religious zelots and republican pundits, right? Well, let's examine the evidence, the government in Uganda attempted to pass a 'kill the gays' bill which would make homosexuality an offense punishable by death - a movement begun in some part by touring American Evangelical ministers - but, as it stands currently, homosexuality is illegal. But that is Uganda and we live in North America, we are safe from blatant human rights violations. This is true, instead we are expected to deal with a governmental system which protects the rights of people who run websites, such as, godhatesfags.com whom hold signs reading 'fags doom nations' at the funerals of soldiers killed in battle, suspected homosexuals, known homosexuals and any other public forum they see appropriate to spread their message of hate and intolerance.
Instead of having your head shoved into a locker door on the way to your next class, you have the religious rights hypocritical affirmations of love shoved down your throat as they condemn you in the same breath. Although, you have now surrounded yourself with a circle of friends who are accepting and supportive, this in now way means life gets better for homosexuals on a whole - the only person you have managed to help is yourself. It is the equivalent of sitting in a loud room while wearing earplugs, the noise is still there but you have made sure you are unable to hear it. Shouldn't we be trying to rid the world of homophobia on a global scale, instead of simply focusing internally - I am just as selfish as the next homosexual and was incredibly relieved to have graduated high school but I've also taken note of the world around me. It may have come a long way from the Stonewall riots of 1969 and the gay rights movement has excelled in the last twenty or so years but how can we promise 'it gets better' when there are still parents who send their gay teenagers to conversion therapy, throw them out of their homes and force them to live on the street, or close our eyes to the bullying of the LGBT youth in school. Is an empty promise all we can offer these teenagers?
The frightening truth is we have no way of knowing if their life will get better after high school, some cannot afford to move away from their oppressive communities or live in a place where homosexuality is considered an illegal act. How can we promise these teens with a straight face when many of countries influential politicians, pundits and mouth pieces believe, whole-heartedly, homosexuality can be prayed away. When books titled 'You Don't Have to be Gay' are still passed out to questioning teenagers by parents, religious leaders and teachers in some parts of the United States - how can we promise anything will get better when homosexuality is still considered a product of indoctrination, by some.
Perhaps there should be a gay agenda distributed to the public, instead of a governmental take-over as many seem to assume the gays want - we demand the equal treatment for all members of the LGBT community. We demand a world where a queer teenager is not expected to 'hold on' and 'keep living' the four years of high school before they are rewarded with a better life, but instead are seen as just another angsty teenager. We do away with groups who spread discourse to our cause of equality and the riddance of homophobia and ignorance. Suddenly future generations of gays and lesbians will not have to suffer the torture of groups, such as, Focus on the Family, Exodus International or the Westboro Baptist Church.
This would eliminate the need to promise the gay youth of the world anything, there would be no need to bargain with them to keep living. I am hoping to see a world like this but cannot foresee such a drastic change in public opinion - instead my glass has begun looking half-empty and the world slightly darker as the storm clouds of intolerance head closer to shore. It would seem our fight for basic civil rights worldwide is long from being over and believing any different would beg the question: what world do you live in?
I was faced with blatant homophobia a week or so ago on this very site, while participating in the forum section. It's proven to be everywhere - I'm not sure why I was so shocked - laying just below social acceptability, television and politicians have proved this innumerably. Instead of fully-formed LGBT main characters on our favourite television shows we are given mildly insulting caricatures of aspects of gay lifestyles or using gay characters as embodiments of social movements; very much like Kurt Hummel - of televisions intensely popular 'Glee' - in the second season became the embodiment of the 'It Gets Better' project. His character seemed reduced to being built on a foundational understanding he was nothing more than a gay teen and would be amount to nothing more.
And, sadly, this is how it should be, right? Perhaps instead of 'It Gets Better' as the name of the campaign it should be renamed 'It Gets Better, sort of' because it would seem this is all we should be offering. I would not want to make such a weighted promise to broken gay teenager looking for a little hope, would you?