Bullying and gay suicide: Columnist Dan Savage speaks out.

Oct 12, 2010

Columnist and author Dan Savage will be online Tuesday, Oct. 12, at 10 a.m. ET to discuss bullying and gay suicide and his YouTube It Gets Better project to reach out to troubled teens.

Hello, everyone. Dan Savage here to take your questions about anti-LGBT bullying and the It Gets Better Project.

Congratulations on a terrific idea for gay teens. But don't you think "It Gets Better" should be a motto for EVERYONE in high school? My high school days weren't terrific -- certainly not nearly as bad as the teens you are trying to help. But what got me through it was that it all ends eventually.

I do think it's a good motto for everyone. But I believe that LGBT teenagers—I know that LGBT teenagers—are particularly isolated and need to hear from LGBT adults.

Bullied straight teenagers go home, almost invariably, to a shoulder to cry one, and support from their families. Bullied LGBT teens all too often go home to more bullying from their parents, and then are dragged to churches on Sunday for still more bullying from the pulpit. And gay teenagers are routinely lied to about what it is to be a gay adult. Witness the GOP nominee for governor telling an audience—which may have contained closeted gay kids (G-d help them)—that gay people can't be successful. Someone needs to break that to Ellen, huh?

It can't hurt to remind all kids, though, gay or straight, that whatever they're facing now, however painful it might seem, however inescapable, it does end. And it does get better.

Dan - As a hetero female, I've read and vastley enjoyed your columns for years. Granted, this initiative has been getting decent coverage, but I'm disappointed that it isn't attached to every story about these suicides. I watch the morning shows while I'm eating breakfast before work every morning and not once have I seen mention even thoough the suicides get plenty of coverage. Thoughts on why this is?

Oh, do a Google news search on It Gets Better Project. It hasn't been mentioned in every report, of course, but it's been getting tons and tons of coverage. Which is crucial—we need kids to hear about it, or overhear about it, and the media coverage is helping.

So are the Tweets and Facebook postings. This is a viral campaign, and it's been very, very successful, and we know from the response from teenagers, their parents, and many school teachers that it is reaching the kids it needs to reach.

I have many friends who have submitted videos to your project and I think it's just wonderful. Not a question, but a quick thank!

Thank you, and thank your friends for contributing.

One thing that distinguishes this campaign from, say, red ribbons for AIDS awareness: where are those red ribbons now? Moldering away in landfills and dresser drawers. People have moved on to other causes, other issues that we need to raise awareness about. And that's inevitable and only right, I think.

But unlike the ribbons, the videos people are making and contributing right now will live on; they will be maintained on the website, and kids who are four now will be able to watch them when they're fourteen, and the messages of hope and strategies for coping with or confronting bullying will be just as useful and relevant then as they are today.


My son was bullied in middle school. For high school, fortunately he was accepted to a magnet school for the arts, where he thrived. As a single mom, there was no way I could have quit my job to home-school him, nor could I afford private school. What can other parents do to find a safe school environment for their children?

Conduct all business with school administrators in writing—that should be clear from all the cases where parents insist they talked to school administrators about bullying, and nothing was done, and then the school administrators claim, after someone has died, that they never knew, weren't told, the parents never came to them, etc.

If your kid is being bullied, put it in writing. Bring a lawyer. And if your kid has been assaulted, GO TO THE POLICE. When a 16-year-old kid beats up an old woman at a shopping mall, he gets arrested. When a 16-year-old kid beats up a 13-year-old kid at a high school, he doesn't even get suspended.

Assault is a assault, and it's a crime, and it doesn't matter if your victim is 13 or 63.

I just have to ask why the special attention to the poor kid, just because he was gay. At that age, I don't think being gay made him get bullied, he was bullied because he was perceived as a target. A straight, shy kid could have done the same thing just as easily. At what point do we stop discriminating based on color/sex/orientation and just say that bullying is WRONG?

No one is saying that bullying straight kids is wrong. It is wrong. The It Gets Better Project is targeted at gay kids to address their unique isolation and combat the lies that LGBT kids are told *about being LGBT.*

But the message applies to all kids: It gets better, hang in there.

And on a personal note: I know that straight kids get bullied. My older brother, who is straight, had it worse in our grade school than I did, he was more brutally bullied than I was. But he understands that he wasn't also hearing from his church that he was sick and sinful and brought the bullying on himself, and he could go to our parents and tell them what was happening, and why, and get their support. I couldn't. If I went to our parents, I feared it would attract attention to what I was trying to desperately to hide from them.

Dan, we've all heard the sad statistic that LGBT youth are at higher risk for suicide than their peers. But I am wondering: has that risk gone down over time, or stayed the same, or gone up? It seems to me that these days gay people are more generally accepted - or, at least, it's impolite in mixed company to talk too loudly about hating us. So it seems things might be improving. But then comes news like these suicides, the recent bashing that just made the news, etc. Are things getting better for youth at all, or not?

I think things are getting worse in some places even as they get better in others. And I blame the religious right.

We've been subjected to a 15-year-long campaign of anti-gay dehumanization by self-described "Christians," people who define Christianity has 1. hating gay people and 2. wanting to see their capital gains taxes slashed. The kind of rhetoric injected into the culture about gay people—we're intrinsically evil, we're trying to destroy the institution of marriage, we're a threat to the family—has real-world consequences for gay kids.

Mom and dad in an area dominated by conservative politics and mega-churches—places with few openly gay adults—can only abuse gay people from a distance, at the ballot box. But their children, steeped in the same bigotry, exposed to the lies promulgated by religious "leaders," they go to school on Monday and there's a gay or perceived-to-be-gay 13-year-old kid. And they can abuse that kid in person,in real time, and with their fists.

And in many of the places where this is going on, the schools—even public schools—are run by homophobic adults who view gay kids as the problem, as having brought the bullying down on themselves.

So while it is getting better and has gotten better for gay people in many parts of the country, it has been getting worse in many places. Look at where the suicides have almost all taken place this fall: very small towns, rural areas, exurbs. In those places, it's getting worse.

but a big thank you for captioning the video of you and Terry on the home page! Too often I find people who create those sites unwilling to consider that deaf and hard of hearing people are unable to access the information. Thanks for considering ways to be inclusive!

We've been encouraging others to do the same. Adding captions is a labor-intesive process (it took my BF three hours to add captions to ours). We're really encouraged and thrilled to see the videos coming in now that are in ASL—of course, recognizing that not all deaf or hard-of-hearing folks know ASL. But they're great, and we want to see more of them. 

Sadly they're not captioned for the signing-impaired!

We need more candidates in office who will fight for gay rights and against bullying. Given Carl Paladino's disgraceful comments yesterday, don't we need to work hard to support GLBTQ candidates, particularly those who are out and advocating for the community? I know you've been outspoken against anti-gay candidates, but are you supporting or helping any of the openly gay candidates this cycle? A friend forwarded me a link to an "it gets better" video from Ed Potosnak, an openly gay candidate running in NJ.

I would hope that people are supporting legit, qualified LGBT candidates. I certainly do.

If a high school student comes out to his/her parents, should the parents discourage the child from coming out to any of his/her peers? It seems like some teenagers don't react well to finding out a friend/peer is gay.

Usually when a kid comes out, it's because he or she can't stand the pressure of being closeted anymore. The kid can't keep up the lies and deceit anymore. I do think kids should be encouraged to take a long, hard look at their particular circumstances before coming all the way out, and if it isn't safe, they should wait, or be strategic. (Usually it's the parents who present the greatest danger—large numbers of homeless teenagers are LGBT kids who were thrown out of their homes when their parents were told or discovered that their kids were gay.)

I watched it at work, and it made me cry. Thank you thank you thank you for starting this project. I live in the Twin Cities, and the kid who killed himself at Anoka-Hennepin High school made big news here. His mom is working to make the anti-bullying measures clearly include homosexuality-based discussions. Thank you for all you do for the HUMAN community. ~Angela P.P.S. I still have your book "The Kid" from the late '90s and have lent it to several friends!

I would encourage everyone to read this story in the Minnesota Independent about the spate of suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, the effort to institute anti-bullying programs, and the appalling efforts by "Christian" parents to block those programs:



Do you think that educational institutions should be liable for charges of criminal negligence should homosexual students under the care commit suicide because they were bullied?

Yes, I do. And I think that's probably the only hope we have for making sure that bullying isn't tolerated: when it starts to cost them, when stopping bullying presents a smaller headache/walletache for school systems than turning a blind eye.

Anti-gay group organizes in Anoka-Hennepin schools as community deals with gay suicides

Hi, I think sports is one of the worst institutions that promotes homophobia. Do you think this can ever be changed? I'd say football is the worst of all. Aside from it's hatred of gays, football seems to be built around the pillars of violence, ignorance, misogyny and morbid obesity (just watch a few of the commercials). Throw in the gay hating stuff and it's just about the most revolting mix of messages for young people I can think of. If you do think it can be changed, what would you do, in practical terms, to get this started?

Well, I think the problem is that, for many young males, being a straight guy means two things: not being a girl, and not being a fag. So anything that's perceived as feminine or gay, on the part of males, is met with violent disapproval.

Most of the kids who are bullied, and most who've committed suicide, were boys who weren't masculine, or couldn't hide their sexualities. We need to address the homophobia at the root of this crisis but also the misogyny that undergirds and informs it.

So long as some children—out of ignorance, or trickle-down homophobia (as Kathy Griffin dubbed it)—react violently to difference, we will have this problem. And the problem is made worse when school administrators are themselves homophobic.

Hi Dan: I saw your "It Gets Better" video, and was very moved by it. Do you have any sense of the impact videos like yours are having?

We're hearing from kids all over the country who are watching these videos and finding comfort—and helpful coping strategies, and good advice on how they can make it better. We're also hearing from the parents of bullied 13- and 14- and 15-year-old LGBT kids who are telling us that they're sitting their kids down in front of the computer to watch the videos, and that they're helping. We are also hearing from the parents of straight kids who say the same.

Ok, I'm out of time, and I have to run. Thank you so much for all of your questions, I wish I could've gotten to more. Thanks to the Washington Post for having me.

Please visit our new site: ItGetsBetterProject.com.

Thanks so much.

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Dan Savage
Dan Savage is a nationally syndicated relationship advice columnist and author.
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