David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom recently recorded a video for the “It Gets Better Project,” the worldwide video collection aimed at helping LGBT teenagers by reassuring them that their lives will improve after they get out of high school. Cameron is the latest big name politician to record a message; previous politicians who have recorded videos include Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and the Finnish Foreign Minister and Minister of Justice. Cameron’s video is unique because he is the first politician from the right side of the political spectrum to record a message. These politico videos have been joined by messages from actors, singers, performers, and ordinary LGBT folk from all walks of life.
This project has been great, and the support has been fantastic. So it is with a heavy heart that I say I believe it has failed. Dan Savage deserves nothing but praise for starting the project. I have been a fan of his since my sophomore year of college, and have read his column every week since then. I believe however, that the project has gotten too big for him, and it lost its way. Cameron’s video shows that the emperor has no clothes.
The It Gets Better Project started in reaction to a rash of gay teen suicides that were first reported in the gay media and then in the mainstream media (it is not that the number of suicides went up, it is just that they were finally being reported.) The reasoning for the project was that we, LGBT adults, are not allowed to go into schools and houses of religious worship and tell gay youth that their lives will get better even they are awful now. The videos were put on YouTube to circumvent the anti-LGBT–or fearful–teachers, administrator, parents, religious leaders, and policy-makers. The LGBT community made so many videos that YouTube could not hold them all. Some of these videos are extremely personal and moving. They were made by gays for gays. Naturally straight allies could not resist getting in the act; usually they came from the entertainment field. Then the politicians followed–first liberals, now conservatives. The project is now officially a sacred cow, and a sacred cow with a book deal.
So if everyone is holding hands and singing Cass Elliot’s “It’s Getting Better” then why is the outreach still limited to the Internet. Why are we not allowed in the schools? Policy makers–national leaders in at least countries–are saying they support us. Why are they not doing more? The problems with sacred cows is that no one questions or challenges them. These videos from entertainers and politicians, no matter how well-meaning, are not outreach; nor are they targeting LGBT youth. The real audience is LGBT adults and what they are really saying is, “Buy what I’m selling.”
I do not wish to sound as cynical as I do, but I find activism through social media problematic. It is far easier than the old-fashioned get-out-and-make-a-difference model. It is also more distant, more hands-off, and ultimately, I think, far less effective. It is much easier to record a YouTube video and say “I’ve done my part.” There is no blood, sweat, or tears involved in a message on Facebook or Twitter.
The person who has made me suspicious of these entertainers and politicians is actually another entertainer: Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga is the most iconic singer in the gay community since Madonna. In my mind she deserves every bit of the adulation she gets because she gives it back in a meaningful way. Lady Gaga spoke at the March for Equality in October 2009. When a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal was up for a Senate vote earlier this year, Lady Gaga went to Maine and actively lobbied (and encouraged others to lobby) Republican Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to vote for repeal. I cannot think of any gay celebrities who have done as much for LGBT rights as Lady Gaga. That, kids, is real activism and a real friend.
I do not want the It Gets Better Project to shut down shop. I believe that there is still a purpose for it. If it gets people to donate to the Trevor Project, that can only be a good thing. Nevertheless, for the project to reach its full potential it needs to do more than just be an online video repository, especially if the policy-makers are listening. Now the policy-makers have to do the hard part–change things for the better. The It Gets Better Project needs to hold their feet to the fire.
Music I listened to while writing this post: Bad English “When I See You Smile”; Carole King “Way Over Yonder”; Frederic Chopin ” Waltz No. 1 in E-Flat Major, Op. 18 ‘Grande Valse Brillante'”; Queen “I Want It All”; Lady Gaga “Bad Romance”; Patty Griffin “Tony”; Jennifer Warnes “Right Time of the Night”.
Edited 12/24/10: Because this post in particular attracts so much spam, I am turning off the comments for this one to see if that will reduce the spam load. Sorry.