Critiquing 'It Gets Better Project' for Gay Teens

Dan Savage's campaign is well-meant, but may not do enough

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Last month, sex columnist Dan Savage launched the It Gets Better Project, a series of YouTube videos addressing teenagers targeted by homophobic bullying. Savage started the project after the suicide of gay Indiana teenager Billy Lucas, explaining in a column that "I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes ... I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better."

In the weeks since, as more suicides have been reported, the project has attracted media notice and many more video contributions, including several from celebrities. Some advocates, however, have taken issue with Savage's message and his methodology, saying the videos don't go far enough in addressing the diversity of the queer experience, or in offering help for the immediate problems bullied young people face.

  • We Should Be Listening, Not Talking  In a widely circulated blog post reprinted at Queer Watch, Zoe Melisa lists a number of critiques of the It Gets Better Project. Among them, she contends that "telling our own stories from our incredibly privileged positions overwrites youth experience ... We should help folks feel seen--by trying our hardest to see them." In a later post, Melisa also makes the point that Savage's project, which tells "a HUGE mainstream audience that it does get better, sends the message to privileged folks that we don't need to work for major systemic change."
  • Let's Not Pretend the Gay Community Has No Rifts, says Jason Tseng, a queer Asian blogger, writing at Below the Belt. "I think that the It Gets Better Project at its core is a good idea," Tseng writes. But he admits that "the gay promise failed me. I went from being ostracized by my straight classmates in high school to being ostracized by many white gay men in an urban gay enclave." It's important, he says, to "be aware and critical of the very real problems and deficiencies the current gay community has in its inability to make that gay promise accessible to everyone who falls under the rainbow banner."
  • It Won't Get Better by Itself  Sady Doyle, writing at The Atlantic, emphasizes the need to "address the structural problems that make life as an adult harder for GLBT people." Doyle praises the intent behind Savage's project, but adds that "if we don't provide support and medical care for people with depression; if we don't help people who are being abused to find a safe place; if we don't make sure that the systematic, community-wide abuse of GLBT youth is eliminated," then we're failing to help bring about a world that "all of us have the responsibility to create."
  • Savage Responds: You're Right  The columnist himself appears aware of the limitations of the It Gets Better Project, writing at The Stranger that "it doesn't solve the problem of anti-gay bullying, everywhere, all at once, forever" but adding that it can "give despairing kids in impossible situations a little thing called hope." Savage names a number of causes and initiatives people can take up if they want to effect real, tangible change, but adds that "we're not going to get legislation passed this instant or get anti-bullying programs into schools... before classes start tomorrow ... In the meantime, while we work on all of that, we can get these messages of hope in front of kids who are crisis right now."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.