It Gets Better is a grassroots campaign in America launched by sex columnist Dan Savage in response to a horrific spate of teenagers killing themselves after being victimized for being (or being perceived to be) gay. There were 5 suicides in September alone. After another one of these tragedies Savage wrote in his column that he wished "I could have talked to that kid for 5 minutes and been able to tell them it gets better." In that same column, on September 15, he announced he was setting up a YouTube channel for those who were bullied but survived to tell their story, to tell those going through hard times that it gets better. Since then the channel has had more than 1.8 million views and 21,000 subscribers, making it the fastest-growing channel on YouTube right now.
Here's Dan's original video with his husband Terry:
On MSNBC last week I saw Joel Burns, a member of the Fort Worth Council in Texas, share his story, a story he told us he had never told anyone before, in a speech before the council. It's a speech unlike many you will ever hear from a politician. It's raw, personal and courageous and had me in tears.
It Gets Better is another inspiring example of the possibilities of social media to aggregate individual actions, share otherwise-unheard stories and to connect us across borders, classes and generations. This campaign wasn't cooked up in a strategy session and launched with fanfare by a national gay rights organization. It wasn't backed with millions of dollars in funding. It didn't even require its own website. It was one person's idea, a single video uploaded online, and an invitation to participate.
Now, yes, this particular person had a mainstream media platform from which to promote his idea, but without the enabling environment of the internet he would simply have expressed his sadness and, presumably, moved on. Thousands of readers would have nodded in agreement but then what? Now, instead of just an expression of grief there was a call to action, an invitation to participate in something, and a simple, humble, personal video to get things started, and show how it could be done.
As Dan said in his column:
"Gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.
"Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don't have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids."
He's right. Thanks to social media, we can.
Six weeks later the videos continue to roll in and the conversation around the issue continues. Employees at Google and Facebook have contributed videos, as have Project Runway's Tim Gunn, American Idol's Adam Lambert and Star Trek's Zachary Quinto. Videos have come in from Muslims and Mormons, gays and straights, teenagers, parents and grandparents. And hundreds of thousands of teenagers have found out that whatever their situation they are not alone, that others went through difficult times and survived and that they need to stick around and give their lives a chance.