It Gets Better - the youth campaign that makes everything worse

How can life get better for sexually confused young people if they cut themselves off from their families and abandon themselves to sex?
Mary Rice Hasson | Jul 29 2011 | comment  

For LGBT teens who face adversity and intolerance…
There’s no place in society for hatred and bullying…
You have an amazing future in front of you…
And an entire community in your corner…
We promise you. It gets better

(From the It Gets Better video by the San Francisco Giants baseball team.)


What’s not to like about the It Gets Better Project?

After all, bullying is bad. Compassion is good. And who could object to offering hope (to suicidal LGBT youth) and insisting on change (from a hostile, bullying culture)?

Especially when the project Saves Lives.

So what’s not to like? Plenty. For starters, it’s the brainchild of Dan Savage, “America’s leading sex-advice columnist.” (Sample his advice here. Warning: graphic.)

The It Gets Better Project caught the cresting wave of media interest that followed several tragic suicides of gay teens. Savage and his gay partner, Terry Miller, posted a YouTube video with an ostensibly simple message to LGBT youth: hang on, don’t kill yourself, life gets better.

One-and-a-half million hits later, the original YouTube video has become a full-fledged campaign with over 23,000 videos (from LGBT adults, supportive corporations, and celebrities, including President Obama), totaling over 60 million views. To reach students who lack YouTube or Internet access, Savage and Miller chose over 100 testimonies for the book version, It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living. Thousands of people have donated copies of the book to local schools or libraries, expanding the reach of the message.

In spite of the project’s spin, it awakens much-needed compassion for adolescents who endure humiliation, physical brutality and extreme loneliness because of their appearance or sexuality. Their pain is real and, for many, the suffering intense and prolonged. Preventing teen suicides is vital work. And we should affirm the essential goodness, value, and lovability of every person.

But that’s not what the project is about.

It Gets Better (IGB) is an agenda-driven campaign that caricatures traditional morality and religious people, drives a wedge between parents and children, and aggressively promotes deviant sex.

In a May 2011 speech to Google employees, and in a July 2011 New York Times interview, Savage brags that the “subversive,” culture-changing goal of the campaign is to “pull an end run around people who are trying to isolate their queer kids from information, from queer adults, [from] the idea that you can be a happy LGBT adult.”

Savage confesses himself “obsessed” by the thought of reaching middle school and high school students with a “sex-positive” message. Driven to share the “joys” of the LGBT lifestyle, Savage already speaks regularly on college campuses, to “undo abstinence education.” He aims now to reach young adolescents—12,13, 14—and those teens whose “bullying“ parents (i.e., religious parents) are least likely to approve of the LGBT lifestyle.

The genius of his approach, using YouTube, Facebook, and the Internet (plus the public schools) is that, “We’re talking to these kids whether their parents want us to or not…they can’t stop us anymore.” Thanks in part to the Google Chrome ad, which aired during the NBA finals, his message has already reached millions of kids. As a result, Savage declared, “you can see LGBT kids getting the support from the online community that they’re not getting at home.” (Savage admits that there’s been no overall rise in LGBT suicides, but rather increased media focus on the issue.)

The It Gets Better project professes to help LGBT young people picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults.

But what are its real messages?

1. Traditional morality and religious beliefs equal bigotry

Savage sets the tone for the IGB book in his Introduction, which blasts the attempts of “homophobic parents and bigoted ‘Christian’ organizations” (p.4) to “prevent their children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, support, and positive role models.” (p.3). In his New York Times podcast interview, Savage argues that, “the religious right” sees “every gay youth suicide [as] a moral and rhetorical victory.”

He accuses religious leaders of “driving the LGBT suicide rate up” by encouraging families to be “hostile” to LGBT teens (teens who feel rejected have higher suicide rates). Similarly, in the IGB book, writer Randy Roberts Potts (p. 182) draws a bead on Evangelicals, with the accusation that, “While the Evangelical community might not pull the trigger when one of their gay members commits suicide, they provide the ammunition.”

With few exceptions, the essay writers tell of religious parents or grandparents who were bigoted or homophobic. Religious parents come off positively only when they show support by welcoming their LGBT child’s lovers.

Traditional moral beliefs also come under attack—from LGBT clergy. Gay Bishop Gene Robinson, for example, assures LGBT youth that any faith (such as the Catholic, Southern Baptist, or Mormon traditions) that declares LGBT relations “not acceptable to God” are “flat-out wrong.” (p. 30).

2. Families who oppose homosexuality are bullies; the LGBT community is your “family”

Contributor Cameron Tuttle, from San Francisco (p. 131), captures the LGBT perspective on bullying, a perspective woven throughout the book and videos: “Bullying isn’t just what real people…say to you or try to do to you. Bullying is everywhere…in the words of fearful, judgmental parents who try to control you…in the words of well-meaning but misguided parents who are trying to ‘protect you from being hurt.’”

The IGB project not only labels parents as harmful bullies, it also plays on teenage feelings in ways that alienate lonely adolescents from their parents, siblings, and religious communities. You’re different. You feel alone. Your parents don’t accept your true self. At the same time, the LGBT community offers its panacea: We will be there for you. We understand you. We will welcome you with open arms (and make no demands on you). Writer after writer stays on-message: find your own community of people just like you who will accept you as you are. And, as lesbian journalist Jessica Leshnoff wrote, “f your family doesn’t wind up accepting you, families don’t always have to be blood relatives. We can make our own families.” (p. 251).

3. LGBT means sex—lots of it, your way.

The LGBT culture is all about sex. And by design, the project showcases the sexual proclivities of LGBT folks, where nothing is off-limits or immoral. The public outcry in the wake of the LGBT teen suicides emboldened Savage and his fellow activists: they felt no need to “sanitize” the community in order to win followers and supporters.

The video message from Buck Angel, a transsexual (female to male) porn star, invites viewers to visit his kinky website. Teens who read the IGB book will meet transsexuals, bisexuals, LGBTs with “kink” fetishes, and a polyamorist (and, of course, ordinary gays and lesbians). The message: these are all “sex-positive,” acceptable ways to be true to oneself.

The original It Gets Better video shows Savage and his partner snickering over memories of their initial meeting, which included a proposition for oral sex. Savage boasts that he refused the requests of high school guidance counselors to delete the oral sex reference from the video because “people with pretty mouths eating you is one of the ways ‘it gets better.’” (And he wonders why parents don’t want LGBT mentors for their kids.)

LGBT sex is presented with no moral limits, save one. It Gets Better essay writer, a transsexual (male to female), self-styled gender outlaw, Kate Bornstein, offered teens this advice (on video and in the book):

Here’s all you need to remember to know that life gets better…
You can do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living…
There’s only one rule…Don’t be mean.
So, you get to do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living.
Anything, baby. Anything at all.

Bornstein purports to assuage the guilty consciences that result from homosexual activity by offering teens a “Get Out of Hell Free” card (her own creation).

Consequences? What consequences?

Other than Bornstein’s tongue-in-cheek mention of hell, or the writers who mock the ranting bigotry of “hellfire” and brimstone preachers, the project keeps silent about the negative practical consequences of the LGBT lifestyle. No mention of STDs, HIV, AIDS, rates of drug abuse, domestic violence, and infidelity.

It’s “the big-lie-by-omission.”

Take Mark King, for example. In the IGB book, he and his brother reassure “young gay guys out there who are wondering if life gets better” after being bullied in school, that “it gets a lot better.” (p. 300)

But what’s the gay community really like, in Mark’s estimation? He wrote an article for Newsweek lamenting that “[r]ecovery centers are teeming with gay men battling meth addiction, and the drug has a very tight, culturally specific hold on them. [It’s] …the drug of choice among gay users.” Because of the drug’s cachet as “a sexual liberator,” King writes, gay men using meth use engage in reckless “bareback” sex (without a condom), contributing to the spread of HIV. Meth use is the gay community’s “sad scourge…our shameful secret.” King, who was addicted to meth for 8 years, is also HIV positive. (Studies report that gays and lesbians have triple the drug abuse rate of the straight population.)

No mention of all this, of course, when Savage, King, and company invite adolescents to experience the gay life that “gets better.” LGBT teens might consider instead the perspective of another gay man who said, “too many young gay men are still being mentored in gay communities on their knees or backs. This has to stop. There have to be better ways to ‘be gay’ than just drugs and sex.”

And that’s the real travesty of the It Gets Better Project: it fails to offer LGBT teens a better way, an authentic solution to their pain. Instead, the project proposes the false dichotomy of suicide and despair, on the one hand, and an unfettered embrace of the homosexual lifestyle, on the other.

Mary Rice Hasson is a writer and attorney from the Washington, D.C. area.

Copyright © Mary Rice Hasson . Published by You may download and print extracts from this article for your own personal and non-commercial use only. Contact us if you wish to discuss republication.

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