Neil Patrick Harris is just the latest celebrity to take to the internet to do what’s often difficult in reality: Convince tormented gay teens that there is hope for a better life. Last week, Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi killed himself apparently after his roommate secretly filmed and broadcast Clementi’s intimate encounter with another man online. The details of the case have been big news in the New York-area media since it happened and have coincided with a movement started by sex-advice columnist and commentator Dan Savage. Late last month, Savage launched a YouTube channel called the “It Gets Better Project,” which allows gay adults to upload videos of themselves describing the bullying they endured in high school, but also talking about how much better their lives are now. His main motivation, he tells EW, is that happy, successful gay adults are often not allowed to talk to at-risk kids. “Schools would never bring me in or any gay adults in,” he says. “And their parents are often homophobic, which adds to their distress and isolation. It occurred to me that I was waiting for an invitation and waiting for permission, and I didn’t need anyone’s permission anymore because of YouTube and digital video and Twitter and Facebook. I could post a video and look into a camera and directly address these kids before they commit suicide, instead of feeling bad after they commit suicide.” (See Savage and his partner Terry Miller’s video after the jump)
Savage actually launched the project before Clementi’s story broke, in response to another teen’s suicide—it’s a heartbreaking fact that even in 2010, there is not a lack of these tragedies to write about, cry over, and rail against. The idea of heading online though, seems to have hit a critical mass since then. Ellen DeGeneres posted a video on her site last week, as did La La Vasquez and Ciara who took to YouTube. Blogger Perez Hilton has also hosted a few videos, including his own, one from Sarah Silverman, and one from Eve. “One of the things that has shaken a lot of gays and lesbian who are adults, who grew up and moved away and live in big cities [is] it feels like it’s getting better,” says Savage. “And it absolutely has gotten better to be gay and lesbian over the last forty years. What we really haven’t been aware of until these suicides woke us up is that it’s getting worse in these small towns or exurbs. And the only people who are gay or lesbian in those places typically are young adults. The one truth when you watch these videos is: ‘I grew up in small town wherever, and then when I graduated, I got the hell out of there.’ Who are we leaving behind and what’s the cultural climate they were left behind in?”
Right now, Savage and Miller are reviewing every video that’s posted and flagging favorites—an overwhelming task he says, since a new one is now submitted every couple of minutes. They’re planning an enhanced website at ItGetsBetterProject.com and directing anyone who wishes to donate to organizations like The Trevor Project and GLSEN. “The most gratifying emails I’ve received since starting this are from moms of 13-year-old, 14-year old boys who are being bullied, who are sitting down their kids in from of the computer to watch these videos,” says Savage. “It’s heartbreaking because one of the kids said, ‘That’s a long time to wait.’”
Have you watched any videos yet? Or contributed one yourself?