Ten years ago Dan Savage, writer and LGBTQ activist, and now-husband Terry Miller made a video telling queer youth that life will get better. This was after several queer teens died by suicide, highlighting the pain and desperation LGBTQ people experience because they aren’t straight and cisgender.
The video went viral because it was what so many queer people, youth especially, needed: hope. When you don’t fit the heteronormative narrative rejection, the bullying and lack of support becomes too much. It’s hard to believe life will get easier when each day feels worse than the next. We don’t have anyone telling us it will get better, so it’s hard to be convinced that life is worth living.
Savage and Miller knew both sides, and were adamant in their need to convince queer youth to stay alive. It gets better, they promised. Since that first video, over 70,000 people have shared their stories of life getting … better. Rates of acceptance have improved, but suicide rates are still awful for queer folks — and this project is still just as important as it was 10 years ago.
The It Gets Better Project started as a social media campaign and turned into a movement, a very significant nonprofit for queer representation and hope for the LGBTQIA+ youth who struggle to find it in their everyday lives. The nonprofit reaches millions of youth each year through social media channels, international affiliates, and community-based programs. The message over and over again is that a queer life is not one destined for heartbreak and struggle. Yes, some days will be tough, but the good and great ones will outnumber the shitty ones. Living an authentic life is rewarding; a queer life is not one that just survives, but also thrives.
Social media has many downfalls, but providing community for queer folks has been a huge benefit. Social media is vital to LGBTQIA+ folks feeling seen. When you are the only one you know who is queer, it’s really lonely. News outlets fail to cover the feel-good stories about queer folks and sensationalize our trauma instead; movies and television maintain dangerous stereotypes and won’t let go of tired LGBTQ tropes.
Today TikTok, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat are platforms that offer visual representation of queer people living their lives and celebrating everything from the mundane to the extraordinary. These spaces are also used by artists and activists to educate people on the importance of pronoun use, thinking outside the binary, and the fluidity of sexuality and gender. These snapshots in time are valuable and supplement the direct messages to queer people by queer people who have come out of the dark to be the light for someone still struggling to find the switch.
In the most recent survey on mental health for LGBTQ youth done by The Trevor Project, the results could not have been clearer: queer kids are struggling. Of the respondents, over half of LGBTQ youth reported being depressed in the last two weeks; that included 2 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth. The depression and anxiety they felt were followed by self-harm and suicide attempts. Over 60% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported forms of self-harm and nearly 15% of LGBTQ respondents had attempted suicide in the last year. 20% of those respondents identified as transgender and nonbinary.
Yes, our straight and cisgender youth and peers struggle with mental health disorders and the risks that accompany them. However, queer youth suffer at a much higher rate because of bullying, rejection, and heteronormative expectations put on them by straight and cisgender people.
Even if blatant harassment and abuse isn’t occurring, minority stress is a major threat to the LGBTQIA+ community. Biased related prejudice and discrimination eat away at the queer community’s sense of safety and worth. We are constantly on edge, even in places where we can let our guard down. Over time, this increases our risk of physical and mental health problems and opens the door for chronic stress, substance abuse, and suicide ideation and attempts.
People need to get over their heteronormative bullshit so we can live in peace. And queer people need a sparks of empowerment to keep putting one foot in front of the other until change is persistent and consistent.
Every Thursday, the It Gets Better Website posts Moments of Joy. These are queer positive stories to combat an external and internalized world of negativity and fear. While not perfect, there are stories of hope that can be the spark needed to keep fighting, hoping, and living. From drag queens and queer weddings to protests and laws passed to protect LGBTQIA+ people, Moments of Joy provides representation and tangible proof that life can and will get better.
And because school is often one of the hardest places to be queer, the nonprofit organization also launched the Queerbook Class of 2021 to inspire LGBTQIA+ students as they head back to classroom this fall, whether in person or through online learning.
It’s not magic that queer people feel better when we see positive representation of ourselves in movies, the media, and our communities. We feel included and a sense of belonging, instead of feeling like a burden and inconvenience to the status quo. Sadly, finding this representation can be an exhausting search. For the last 10 years, the It Gets Better Project has offered a colorful platter of queer goodness for us to chew on.
Thank you, Dan and Terry. Cheers to many more years.