Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]
The horror of the bullying some gay youth experience busted out of the closet for many folks in the past month with the story of Tyler Clementi's suicide. When fellow students covertly broadcast the young man's make-out session with another boy over the internet, the Rutgers student concluded it was better to be dead than gay and jumped off the George Washington Bridge.
Suicide claims entirely too many gay teenagers, especially young boys. Clementi's death made The New York Times, but these unhappy events happen without much more than local notice much far too often.
In response, Seattle gay advice columnist Dan Savage launched the It Gets Better YouTube project, asking older folks to record messages to young people encouraging them to hold on through the difficult teenage years and to hang on to hope of a safe and free future as open gay people.
Savage challenged his readers:
“... 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. So here's what you can do...Make a video. Tell them it gets better.”
The response has been huge; the site now includes more than 2000 clips.
Most of the videos, naturally, are from folks not so far in age from gay teenagers; many are from college students who are reveling in new freedoms, in meeting more diverse people, in living away from home.
But I thought it would be interesting to see if I could find a few by people we'd consider elders and near-elders to share. Here are some that I think you'll find interesting and moving.
Fashion designer Tim Gunn talks about his teenage attempt to kill himself and promotes a resource for kids who are thinking about suicide:
"Please don't leave...it's worth it. Stick around."
Deb Adler says, "You don't have to put up with someone else's crap." I can relate to that. This is a little longer than most of these, but adds a different dimension about some ways young people can push back.
Grace Rogers spoke out as a parent supporting gay children:
"Things happen to us all...it's not always easy...talk to us...we're all in this together."
The fellow from Lubbock who made the video above speaks about being abused by a priest as a boy and, later, finally finding a church he could be fully himself in.
Looking through these videos with older speakers, I was surprised by how many were made by religious people who had struggled through being raised to believe that God hated them and much later found peace in a church or belief system that reassured them that they were lovable and could be loved. It was a rejecting faith system that made them so desperate as young people - and often, it was an inclusive, affirming religious community that helped them become more whole.
For example, gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson made one such a video.
It was a nice surprise when working my way through hundreds of these to discover two acquaintances had filmed one that I think can best be described as utterly charming. They explain:
"Harry, a composer, and Wayne, an Episcopal priest, live a cholesterol-lowering life-style in mid-Michigan. Even as some of the body stuff does get a little harder to put up with, it still is getting better."
Enjoy - and remember there are still confused gay kids who need to be reminded, "it gets better!"
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: The Squirrel's Nest