24 Oct 2010 4:14 pm   //   Filed under: In the news, Media, Technology

Phrase of the year: It Gets Better

The It Gets Better Project is so good, so spot-on, that it ought to be celebrated as a triumph of Internet video, social media and even the English language. I can’t find one damn reason to be cynical about it.

You’ve probably seen at least a piece of this campaign. It’s an online media project started last month in response to a series of suicides by gay youth who were bullied in school. Writer Dan Savage started a website and YouTube channel seeking videos of adults counseling kids to hang in there, it’s going to get better. Savage recorded the first video with his husband, and promoted it in Savage Love, his nationally published sex column.

The site describes the mission in three succinct sentences:

“Many LGBT youth can’t picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can’t imagine a future for themselves. So let’s show them what our lives are like, let’s show them what the future may hold in store for them.”

Some earnest LGBT supporters have criticized it as just another act of “raising awareness”—a publicity campaign that spreads a message but doesn’t solve anything. I disagree. The problem of kids being bullied into suicide is one of those rare problems that can actually be improved directly and immediately through words.

Middle and high school is a terrible time. I got teased for being a nerd. But I had good parents, teachers, church members, and Boy Scout leaders who consistently told me people who get picked on in school end up doing well as adults. I got the support I needed. Gay kids are systemically denied that support.

The It Gets Better Project has led to an outpouring of videos from adults of all sexual orientations assuring those kids struggling with bad times that they’ll make it through. President Obama recorded one. Governor Patterson recorded one. Tim Gunn recorded one. So have a lot of other celebrities. But the best ones are by people you’ve never heard of. In the last 11 days, the video of Joel Burns delivering his It Gets Better speech at a Fort Worth city council meeting has been played over 2 million times.

The campaign has also, impressively, caught on among clergy. (I chose to embed a video of Bishop Gene Robinson at the top of this post.) Some of the It Gets Better videos are nothing more or less than small-town pastors and rabbis sitting in their studies, speaking into webcams, telling gay kids that God loves them as they are. Who would have guessed it would take Dan Savage to finally give these good people a national platform!

The genius of the It Gets Better Project is that it carries a near-universal message between generations. It’s a precise, three-word incantation that almost every adult understands, and that almost every child still needs to learn. It’s like the time machine we all wish we could use to give advice to the younger version of ourselves. Saying “It gets better” demonstrates compassion and understanding. How many lives has this phrase already saved?