So when we first covered the It Gets Better Project, 69 people had submitted videos to columnist Dan Savage’s collection of video messages for bullied gay teenagers. A month later, that number has climbed to over 2,000 videos with 10 million views on YouTube, with countless more statements of compassion scattered across social networking sites. (Personal favorite? Project Runway‘s Tim Gunn, speaking on Facebook.)
And last night, President Obama joined the famous and less famous speaking out on this issue, saying that “no one deserves to be bullied” and adding his voice to the chorus of “it gets better.”
Reaction to this video has been mixed, especially for Savage himself, who in a Skype interview with CNN said:
It’s going to make a big difference to bullied LGBT teens. That said, the President of the United States has the power to do more than assure LGBT teens that it gets better. The president and his administration have the power to make it better…
I don’t want to discount the symbolic importance of this… The administration does say all the right things, but we don’t see actions that back up these words. Not that we are not grateful for the words at this time.
The problem with Obama’s entry is that while it is heartfelt and well-intentioned, it doesn’t really address the very real institutional prejudice in this country, including multiple states outlawing gay marriage and the most recent failure to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
It also kind of misses the original point of the It Gets Better Project, which was intended to be an opportunity for LGBT adults to tell young people struggling with their sexuality that adolescence ends, that one day things will improve. The premise isn’t meant to exclude sympathizers, but instead to create messages of hope rooted in direct personal experience.
Fort Worth, TX City Councilman Joel Burns, for example, spoke publicly about his own struggles with his homosexuality during a city council meeting two weeks ago — two million people have watched the video of his speech.
It’s here where you see the difference, between being able to say “it gets better,” and knowing it.
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