Dan Savage, the Editorial Director for the Stranger and also the syndicated columnist who writes Savage Love recently responded to the suicide of the gay 15-year-old Billy Lucas by starting the YouTube channel titled “It Gets Better”. Billy Lucas killed himself by hanging after years of being harassed and bullied for being gay. Dan wrote “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.”
Dan described how gay adults aren’t allowed to talk to these kids because the kids parents might be homophobic or they go to school in conservative communities that wouldn’t allow a Gay Straight Student Alliance or a gay speaker to come into their schools. Dan had the insight that he can speak to these kids directly via the Internet and started the YouTube channel. It’s been getting a lot of press attention, and justly so.
But since Savage started the site, there have been a plethora of other suicides reported, including Asher Brown, a 13 year old in Texas who hung himself, Seth Walsh, another 13 year old in California who also hung himself, and 18 year old Tyler Clementi in New Jersey, who was secretly videotaped making out with another male student by his college roommate and another student, and then the video was posted on the internet. Clementi jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge that spans the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York.
And finally, Anderson Cooper has reported on the Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell and his bizarre obsession, stalking, and harassment of gay student body president Chris Armstrong at the University of Michigan. The interview is “must see TV”. Armstrong doesn’t appear to be at risk for suicide, but this story highlights the kind of bullying and harassment gay youth experience on a daily basis. The tragedy of this story is that the tormentor is an adult. Shirvell appears to be a seriously troubled individual and in my opinion needs the help of a competent mental health professional.
I don’t believe that all these stories coming to the fore right now are just a coincidence. Rather, I suspect there is some sort of critical mass of attention forming around this issue and it’s finally getting the attention that it is due, in large part because of the efforts of Dan Savage to bring attention to this tragic, previously invisible problem.
It’s true that if you can survive the torment of growing up gay in an openly hostile society (and sometimes a hostile family) that things do indeed get better. But sadly, for Billy and Asher and Seth and Tyler, they didn’t hear that message soon enough, and they ended the torment in the only way they knew how. This has to stop, and my deepest prayer is that all this attention on this problem will lead us to that goal.