There has been much discussion today, what with it being “Spirit Day,” about the “It Gets Better” campaign. Most of it, of course, has been overwhelmingly positive, aside from a few crazy anti-gay people who aren’t worth listening to (for those of us who have the luxury of being able to shut out those kinds of voices, and sadly those of us with that option tend not to be the targets of it in the first place).
But there have been adults who’ve questioned how helpful the videos really are to kids. I will admit that I kind of wondered that a little at first. I found the videos moving when I watched them ― the one with the Texas city council member in particular ― but I wondered a little bit if the project was more about adults trying to deal with the gut-wrenching series of suicides themselves.
But then I thought about it some more. And I realized that the It Gets Better videos would totally have helped me when I was a kid.
Last weekend I got into an argument with gay male friends about the latest episode of Glee because (spoiler alert) a scene showed Brittany and Santana kissing in their cheerleader outfits. My friends thought it was exploitative because it was fulfilling a stereotypical straight male fantasy about cheerleaders, and because it was sexualizing children. But as for me, all I could think when I was watching it was, “Damn, I wish this show had been on when I was seventeen.”
Because kids need role models. I started watching Buffy purely because I knew it featured a young lesbian couple. I used to comb through AfterEllen.com obsessively looking for other shows with gay women characters that I could watch. When I was in high school I would sneak off to the video store to rent bad movies like Go Fish and, even worse, Chasing Amy (don’t get me started on Chasing Amy) because I needed to see myself represented in whatever way I possibly could.
But the “It Gets Better” videos have real, live, nonfictional role models. Real men and women (yeah, mostly men) looking right at you and telling their life stories. People from all parts of life — celebrities, sort-of celebrities, and lots and lots of regular people. People just like the ones the kids watching the video could grow up to be.
There were nonfictional lesbian role models available to me as when I was a teenager, but they didn’t help me much. Back then, people like Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell and even Melissa Etheridge seemed so different from me. (And I very clearly remember when Ellen first came out, when I was in high school, and how all anyone wanted to talk about that week was how gross it was. Ellen’s coming out made a big impression on me, and it was not a positive one.) If there had been women just a few years older than me telling me ― even through video (although obviously YouTube did not exist back then) ― about their lives, and what I had to look forward to… I can’t even imagine the impact it could’ve had. I didn’t suffer from bullying or depression in high school, but I spent a lot of time struggling with my identity on several levels, and I had very little help in working my way through that.
There are no easy solutions to any of this stuff. There never will be. I don’t think society as a whole will ever eradicate bullying. It’s human nature to pick on each other, and it’s in some individuals’ natures, especially some kids’, to keep going past the point when you know you really should stop. Will we ever get to a point where bullying someone for being LGBT, or for being possibly LGBT, is taboo, the way bullying someone for their race is (theoretically) taboo now? Maybe. It’s tough to imagine, but you never know. Ten years ago it was tough to imagine the U.S. having a black president.
But the reason I think the It Gets Better project is so important ― besides the selfish reasons I mentioned about how it would’ve helped me personally ― is that it’s an inherently positive message. It’s people telling kids that life is good. That they’re having problems now, but they will be loved and accepted. I feel like so much of the dialogue around LGBT issues is argumentative and negative ― “Stop taking away our rights!” etc. When you start an argument, even if you’re on the right side, you automatically give the other side a platform to argue back with you. Which leads to more gay kids having to listen to people on the news, people in their schools, people in their churches, and sometimes people in their homes talking about why gay people are bad. And often, when that’s happening, it doesn’t matter what “your” side is saying, because all you hear is the other side telling you you’re evil.
So positive messages are essential. And that’s why I think regardless of any criticisms, the It Gets Better project is a freaking amazing thing, and I hope it continues to be in the public consciousness for years and years to come.
And now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go reread the opening scene of Boy Meets Boy (speaking of positive messages, and things that I wish had been around when I was seventeen…)
 By the way, yes, I wore purple today, even though I have mixed feelings about that sort of campaign (I’ve been in nonprofit activism for my entire adult life and have been through many, many, many “Wear _____ on ______ day” and “Post ______ to your Facebook status” and “Give a dollar to ______ cause every time you shop at ______” campaigns).
 And also about the fact that the videos also aren’t as diverse as they could be. Which is a problem. But I agree with those who have pointed out that, since the recent suicides have all been carried out by boys, it makes sense that a lot of those immediately inclined to respond were the gay men who saw their past selves in those kids.
 Which, by the way, is also important, because the last thing we need is for the LGBT community as a whole to slide into a mass depression the way we did after the 2004 election. Man, that still gives me PTSD every time I think back on it.