By Ian Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office, and Chris Hampton, ACLU LGBT Project
September was a hard month for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, especially for some of its youngest and most vulnerable members.
Earlier this month, 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana, was found by his mother in the family’s barn after he had taken his own life. Late last week, Asher Brown, also 13, of Houston, Texas, died after shooting himself. On Tuesday, 13-year-old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California, passed away after spending nine days on life support after he hanged himself from a tree in his backyard. On Wednesday, the body of 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi was pulled from the Hudson River in New York, days after he was allegedly humiliated and outed to other students by his roommate. And just this morning we learned that on the same day, 19-year-old college student Raymond Chase hanged himself in his dorm room in Rhode Island.
Each of these preventable tragedies speaks to the need for our schools to do a much better job at protecting students who are (or are thought to be) LGBT from harassment and abuse, and teaching all students to treat each other with respect and dignity. But in addition to that, youth like Seth, Asher, Billy, Tyler, and Raymond need to know that they are not alone. They need to know that they will be okay and that people will love them for who they are.
Last week Seattle writer, sex advice columnist, and activist Dan Savage announced he’d started a YouTube channel called the It Gets Better Project to reach out to young people like Seth, Asher, and Billy. The idea is simple: Videos featuring LGBT adults sharing their personal experiences talk directly to LGBT youth to show them that life usually improves immensely for LGBT people as they get older. The message to these young people is also simple: "It gets better."
A few of us at the ACLU were emailing each other late last week, talking about whether to write a blog post about this project, when someone said, "Hey, why don’t we make a video?" After all, many of us here at the ACLU are members of the LGBT community and were bullied and harassed when we were in school too.
We put the word out at our national headquarters, and people from all over the ACLU stepped up immediately to be filmed, including folks from our fundraising, human resources, and database departments. And our executive director, Anthony Romero, took time to participate too. ACLU staff at our Washington Legislative Office started working on a video as well. Over the past few days, as we’ve been shooting our videos, the It Gets Better Project has exploded, with dozens of videos being created and group filming shoots being set up in cities nationwide.
Harvey Milk famously said, "You’ve gotta give ’em hope." We certainly believe that’s true.