Happiness Ahead

The Pima County Public Library wants you to show teens that it gets better

Dan Savage wished he could have helped Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old Indiana boy who killed himself in September 2010 after going through brutal anti-gay bullying.

Savage, who is gay, said he would have given Lucas a simple message: "Things do get better after high school."

The "Savage Love" columnist then realized it wasn't too late to help other teens.

"In the YouTube era, I was waiting for permission I didn't need," said Savage, who is also the editorial director of The Stranger, a Seattle alternative newsweekly.

Savage recorded a video of himself and his partner, Terry Miller, describing the bullying they experienced as teenagers—and the safe, happy lives they now lead. After posting the video online, the two encouraged others to upload their own stories to www.itgetsbetter.org.

The It Gets Better project has now collected more than 23,000 videos, including messages from Ellen DeGeneres, President Barack Obama and the San Francisco Giants.

Savage said the contributions of celebrities, politicians and athletes help LGBT teens see that outside of high school, society accepts them as they are.

"Out here in the adult world, folks are on their side," he said. "It's the bullies and haters who are marginalized."

But the most important videos are the ones made by ordinary people, he said. Those videos show LGBT youth that they can grow up to have friends and lovers, and be accepted by their families, Savage said.

Kids who are bullied in school and face problems at home probably know that somewhere, there are proud gay adults living fulfilling lives. But they don't know how to go from being tortured to being accepted, since they often can't talk to anyone who has experienced what they're going through.

"The kids who most need to hear it are the least likely to have parents who would allow them to speak to gay adults," Savage said.

In that spirit, the Murphy-Wilmot Branch Library is encouraging LGBT adults to come in and record videos for the It Gets Better Project. Librarians will provide a video camera and can help record and upload the videos, said Amanda Zagloba, teen-services librarian at the branch.

The event is part of the library's ongoing commitment to gay rights, she said.

"We have an active GLBT Services Committee within the library," said Zagloba, who is a member of the committee.

She said she hopes the Saturday, June 18, event especially brings out older gay adults to tell their stories. Teens need to know that anti-gay bullying has been going on for a long time—and that many people have survived it before them.

"Life goes on, and you will make it," Zagloba said.

The library also offers the It Gets Better book, which Savage and Miller put together to reach students who might not have access to the Internet. The book is also for youth who are afraid their parents will find out they've visited a pro-gay website.

"Their families are usually the worst bullies," Savage said.

The book contains essays from more than 100 contributors, including politicians, religious leaders, parents, teachers and young adults, according to the project's website. Savage and Miller are working to have the book donated to schools and libraries across the country.

Savage says he knows the It Gets Better Project won't end homophobia.

"We're not going to eradicate intolerance and hatred," he said.

But society can prevent anti-gay bullying by making homophobia as unacceptable as racism or sexism. People often don't speak out against anti-gay comments, because they don't believe anyone gay is in the room, Savage said—but if a closeted gay teen sees his teacher punish classmates for being ignorant and hateful, it could do him a world of good.

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