|Don’t just wait, make it better!|
|Ali Hogg 29 October 2010|
Schoolyards are breeding grounds for bullying at the best of times. But if you are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) – or unsure or presumed to be – bullying at school can be a million times worse.
Taunts, name-calling, assault, derision, discrimination and ostracism are common, as is the constant use of “gay” as a derogatory term applied to anything and everything, reinforcing the idea that you are inferior; and sex education is more often than not solely about heterosexual sex.
It is no wonder that LGBTI youth feel more alienated, different, unaccepted and often take their own lives, feeling that it is the only escape from this oppression.
In the United States, there has recently been a spate of teen suicides resulting from homophobic bullying. But there has also been a positive response. Dan Savage, a popular journalist, started a video project called “It gets better”. Savage’s aim was to start a movement of people recording video messages to young LGBTI people in situations where they feel isolated at school and are at risk of suicide.
Savage was prompted to start the campaign after hearing about one of those teen victims – Billy Lucas – who took their own life:
I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.
But gay adults aren’t allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don’t bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay – or from ever coming out – by depriving them of information, resources and positive role models.
Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.
Savage and his partner recorded an eight-and-a-half minute video in which they talked about the homophobic discrimination and bullying they faced in high school and how life got better after graduating.
Many thousands of people have joined in the campaign, making videos aimed at suicidal and alienated teens encouraging them not to end their lives.
As someone who came out at a young age and felt like I was the only lesbian at my school, I would have loved it if I could have watched reassuring messages like Savage’s and many others on YouTube.
However, the campaign has limitations.
Firstly, it sends a message that you should just sit it out until high school is over. There is no encouragement to do something about it. It is absolutely unacceptable that teens are expected to just wait out the trauma instead of challenging it.
Secondly, it can give false hope. It’s simply not the case that it gets better for everybody once school’s out. For many famous or wealthy people who have contributed to the project, it may well get better. But for many working-class people, while the schoolyard homophobic bullying may end, a new world of bullying awaits in the workforce and the wider world.
We face the horrors of capitalism: a system that supports the discrimination of LGBTI people and says it’s okay for us to be treated as second-class citizens; that says we can’t get married like everyone else; that says we can’t adopt children like everyone else; that gives us only token representation in the media – and even then we are often portrayed as an embarrassing stereotype.
Most heterosexual people just need to have sex to have children. If a lesbian wants the same, she has to go through police checks and a bureaucratic nightmare and have the funds to pay for that nightmare. These are just a few examples.
As long as there are laws that say one section of society doesn’t deserve equal rights with their heterosexual brothers and sisters, then homophobic bullying will continue – in schools, in workplaces, and on the streets. And it will continue to be legitimised by the government.
One of the inspiring things to come out of “It gets better” is a campaign by teen activists the US who were both inspired by but had similar criticisms of the campaign. They decided to make a campaign of their own to respond to the teen suicides.
They are arguing for people not to sit back and wait for it to get better but to play a role to “Make it better”. Many of those involved are high school students themselves, arguing that teenagers need to stand up and be strong, start gay/straight alliances and march for gay rights.
Their campaign is taking off, with many hundreds making videos with a defiant message not to give up. They are sending a clear message: if you want to see a better world, don’t wait for it – make it happen!
Ali is the convenor of Equal Love and a member of Socialist Alternative.