The XX Factor

Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project

I’m so glad Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project is getting plenty of attention , because it’s one of the best responses I’ve seen to bullying-or more accurately, anti-gay harassment. In response to the suicide of 15-year-old Indiana student Billy Lucas, one of a small cluster of such awful deaths recently, Savage put out a call in his sex advice column to adults who were bullied for being gay as kids, asking them to make videos about what they went through and how they got through it. The result is a YouTube channel on which dozens of people talk directly to the camera, often simply and movingly. They’re doing what Savage wishes he could have done for Billy: “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 .”

It Gets Better treats the cluster of recent suicides by gay teens as a grim reminder of how hard it still is to come out at a young age in a lot of places, telling kids to hold on, because when they make it through, they’ll find out that being a gay adult can be pretty great. The message is one of hope rather than blame. And when Savage does issue blame, he talks about the homophobic message of the Christian right, not about the individual kids accused of bullying who may have absorbed it. The parents of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi have also held back from seeking revenge: “We understand that our family’s personal tragedy presents important legal issues for the country as well as for us,” the Clementis said in their first public statement since their son’s suicide on Sept. 22. “Regardless of the legal outcomes, our hope is that our family’s personal tragedy will serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity.”

These voices of sanity are especially important right now, with calls for manslaughter charges in connection with Clementi’s death swirling. As I said last week, I see the basis for the invasion of privacy charges that have been brought against Clementi’s roommate Dharun Ravi and another student who allegedly participated in streaming Clementi kissing a guy via webcam. Those charges are about the actual conduct that merits punishment. But manslaughter? How could Ravi and the other student possibily have anticipated Clementi’s death? Ravi hadn’t even seen Clementi in the three days before his death. Dan Savage and Tyler Clementi’s parents are teaching us that we can learn from this death without stringing up the teenagers associated with it.

Photograph by Kalamita from Wikimedia Commons.