By now I imagine you've heard about the tragic suicide of a gay college student in New Jersey whose intimate life was broadcast on the internet by his roommate. (Private Moment Made Public, Then a Fatal Jump.) This isn't an isolated incident: in Minnesota and in Indiana, a pair of 15-year-old boys have also in recent months taken their own lives as the result of anti-gay bullying and harassment.
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)'s latest National School Climate Survey, released earlier this month, reports that nearly nine out of ten LGBT students experience harassment and nearly two-thirds of them feel unsafe in school. That breaks my heart, and it makes me angry, too.
Because of the recent run of gay teen suicides, advice columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry started the It Gets Better Project. The two men made an 8-minute video aimed at queer teens. In the video, they talk about what life was like for them as teenagers, and about how much better life is for them now. Their video is here:
Dan and Terry: It Gets Better. If you can't see the embedded version, you can go directly to their video here.
Anyone who wants to join the chorus can post a video in the series. I've only watched a few, but they're pretty remarkable. (Don't miss this one, made by my dear friend Laurel: It Gets Amazing.)
I want to add my voice, too. I want to tell every queer teenager that life gets so much better. I want to say it to every geek and nerd, too -- many of my friends were bullied as adolescents, for being queer or simply for being different, and adolescence can be tough even for straight kids whose desires fit dominant cultural norms. (That said, I want to be conscious of the risk of derailing this conversation; I don't want to take focus away from the issue at hand, which is the specific and heartbreaking suffering of GLBT teens. I just wanted to note that I think "it gets better" is a powerful message to send to any teenager who's wrestling with not fitting in.)
Reaching college was a lifechanging experience for me. Suddenly I found a community of geeks, a community in which my various idiosyncracies were not only accepted but celebrated, a community in which my nascent feminism was nurtured, a community in which it was safe to explore my sexuality, a community where I fit in. I wish that every teenager who feels out-of-step, out-of-sync, unloved or unlovable might have the kind of college experience I did. But in order to have that experience of finding your people, of figuring out who you want to be and creating the life of which you dream, you have to keep living. And the rest of us owe it to you to help you do that, in every way we can.
Keshet, a group of "gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews and straight allies from all denominations and Jewish backgrounds," has started a petition on this subject which all are invited to sign: Do Not Stand Idly By: A Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives. My name is there. I hope yours will be, too. But signing a petition is an empty gesture unless we also back that up with action. Make sure your community is a GLBT safe space. Do whatever you can to help the queer teens in your community -- and there are some, no matter where you live -- know that they are cherished and loved not despite who they are but because they are themselves.