Dan Savage and Terry Miller are two gay men who are social activists. Both were bullied when they were in high school. In 2010, they were suffering from hearing the news of two gay teen suicides. Justin Aaberg at the tender age of fifteen, following years of bullying from classmates in his high school, hung himself. Also, Bill Lucas, fifteen, did not identify as gay, yet was perceived as gay by his classmates. They threatened him, called him fag, and urged him to kill himself. He also hung himself in 2010.
In Dan’s words “Reading about Justin and Bill was emotionally crushing. I was particularly outraged to learn that “Christian” parents who were blocking efforts to address the rampant anti-gay bullying at Justin’s school claiming that do so would somehow infringe upon the “religious freedom” of their straight children-and I began to think about the problem of anti-gay bullying.”
Dan read this comment left on a blog post he had written, “My heart breaks for the pain and torment you went through, Billy Lucas. I wish I could have told you that things get better.” When Dan grasped the significance of the eloquent line, he had a life changing moment. He knew that things had gotten so much better in his adult life as it had for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people he knew. They were living rich and rewarding lives with so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to.
Dan made up his mind to spearhead a project that would allow the LBGT community to make both written statements and videos to give hope to the teens who lacked a long-term perspective. Struggling teens have trouble imagining a joy filled future. Fearful of telling their parents, family, and friends about their sexual orientations, they are alone with their fears and shame desperately needing a vision of a happy future ahead.
Dan and Terry set a goal of one hundred videos by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults calling it the “It Gets Better Project”. The project took off like a rocket with a hundred videos in the first three days. Before the end of the first week, they hit a thousand. Using social media (You-Tube, Twitter and Facebook) Dan began reaching those high school kids who were now receiving the messages they needed to combat homophobia. In four weeks, Dan got a call from the White House announcing Barak Obama’s video was live on U-Tube. More than six thousand videos were posted with more than twenty million views in the first three months, launching a world-wide phenomenon.
Other videos followed by Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, David Cameron, Ellen DeGeneres, and others less famous. The It Gets Better Project has saved countless lives. We’ll never know how many teens found hope watching the videos and with that hope, the courage to endure the torment that high school can be, to go onto joyful lives. Dan and Terry are happily married and raising a child. They now have work that they love rising out of the compassion of their own wounds as teens. These kids need role models of LBGT adults who endured and are now thriving. Although there is much more work that needs to be done, because of this project, these teens are getting the confidence, trust, optimism, and promise of a beautiful life after hanging through the hard times.