Is it Enough to Tell Gay Kids 'It Gets Better'?

A listener suggests that educators should help make things better for gay teens now.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

On Tuesday, we spoke to writer and advice columnist Dan Savage about his message to young gay people: Hold on, it gets better. We got a call from one gay listener who thinks that message just isn't enough. "Stephen," (not his real name) says that in order to address the recent spate of suicides among gay teens, teachers and other adults should work on making life better for teenagers right now.

Stephen also wanted to clarify a question that came up in this interview: Why is using a fake name? Read that over at our blog.

Comments [9]


Whether "Stephen" is 'gay-at-work' is not the issue. Therapy is about the patient/client and never about the therapist.

Oct. 15 2010 11:48 AM
Greg from Pennsylvania

Very much agree with "Stephen." "It Gets Better" is awesome, and is much needed, but there is a whole other side to the equation. To address what needs to be done specifically, and what I think a lot of people don't understand, is this: We (gay society) gave up on the fundamentals and tried to build our equality before we gained acceptance. I think we surrendered to ignorance way too soon. I know our efforts have moved us along, but what's going on out there proves that it has not been enough. We had the right ammo but were fighting the wrong battle IMO. It's like trying to build a house on a foundation that is not complete. The more you pile on, the more dangerous it becomes. The overall core of what I am presenting (and trying to build a campaign upon) is that we need to really get back to the core of our fight for equality, which is the basis of what is assumed "chosen" vs. what is not a choice, and being steadfast in not accepting the unknown as a basis for oppression any longer. THIS needs to be the seed for the beginning of much needed education. All arguments are in our corner now, and regardless of those aspects that are unknown, one thing is proven: being gay is now substantiated as being uncontrollable and unchangeable. As stated, I think we surrendered this part of the fight and tried to build equality without having a firm foundation of acceptance. I know we have the religious side, which we may never convince, and the conservative political leaders as well. But if we can't reshape their beliefs, we still MUST hold them accountable for the damage they are doing in order to bring about reform. Conservative beliefs are being used as a basis for lawmaking, discrimination, and lessened quality of life--and this is WRONG. And kids are seeing this...and hearing this...and feelings this. And this is what is happening. So no, things are not going to get better until the root of the problem is fixed once and for all. People are just now starting to connect the dots, and on a mainstream level. It is now up to us to really shine the spotlight on this. And the "If it's not a choice, then fine, but you are mandated to live a life of solitude" religious mentality needs to be rebutted from a civil liberties standpoint (the way those rights are being used in defense of gay marriage). We have to get back to basics here, or the ignorance will never die. Our youth, however, will continue to. Think about it:

Oct. 15 2010 02:36 AM

The fact that "Stephen" can't even use his real name is proof that no, it doesn't "get better."

Oct. 14 2010 09:58 PM
Jane from Harlem, NYC

As a fellow high school teacher in a Title 1 school in New York City, I cannot emphasize enough how deeply Steven's words reflect my experiences with LGBTQ youth in our society today.
It is our essential responsibility-- as the teachers, parents, families, and other adults in young people's lives--to develop and openly discuss a language and culture of acceptance and love towards all students of all sexualities.
I agree with Steven that Dan Savages "It Gets Better" message is not wrong. Indeed, it's a great starting point. But as Steven points out, waiting out the trauma of not being accepted by the world around you is not something any adolescent should ever have to endure. We need to do more. We need to do better than that.
Likewise, as a fellow teacher, I am appalled that Steven's choice to remain not "out" in his work place was even a topic of conversation. Understanding the environment of an urban school is complicated and understanding why teachers do not reveal many aspects of their personal lives to students should not have been a focus of the interview. A teacher role is to guide and support students, and often the unfortunate homophobia that some students cling to could prevent an amazing teacher from connecting with and helping a student in need if teachers were to reveal their personal lives. Thus, I completely respect Steven's decision to remain not "out" and am confident that he continues to be a role model of peace, kindness and respect in his students' lives.
Steven spoke so eloquently and from such a sincere place of compassion and understanding that it inspires me to act in my own classroom to generate more of an open, loving and accepting conversation about and towards LGBTQ youth.

Oct. 14 2010 03:07 PM
Kim W. from Brooklyn, NY

It looks like I'm the only one that thinks that Steven's advice doesn't go far enough.

From my own experience, it's ALL victims of bullying that get told to "ride it out". And even after you've grown up, you get chided for not having sympathy for the fact that your poor bullies "didn't mean it" or were "good kids who were having a hard time themselves."

I was the victim of bullying for about 7 years, from when I was 7 to when I was 15. It wasn't about being gay in my case -- I was just "different". My parents tried to help me however they could (by telling me to just try to ignore it), and so did my friends (by telling me the same). The damage it did to my self-esteem lasted for years, but I'm pleased to say that I'm starting to move past it.

However -- all the damage could have been averted if someone back then had not only tried to "cheer me up" or advised me to "ignore it," but if they had ALSO acknowledged that I did not deserve to be treated that way in the first place. If even ONE person had told me "what those bullies are saying and doing to you IS WRONG, and you don't deserve to be treated that way." Better still, if someone had stood up and told the bullies, "you know, you're being mean. Stop."

LGBT teens do face a lot of abuse for being who they are. But by addressing the victims, we overlook the fact that abuse is just plain NOT RIGHT, no matter who you do it to. It's just as wrong to broadcast your roommate's personal business via a YouTube clip if they're straight as it is if they're gay.

We need to not only reassure victims that "it gets better," we also need to finally stand up and tell the bullies of the world "you are doing something UNACCEPTABLE, and we will not stand for this." If the perpetrators really are acting out, by all means get them help, but we also need to protect victims by enforcing the standards that bullying is still wrong even if the perpetrator is troubled.

Oct. 14 2010 11:56 AM
Wil Bowen from Detroit

I don't think the "it gets better" project is telling young people to wait it out, it's telling young people to not take their own life. Youth empowerment comes from adults, and when the perception is there aren't any adults willing or able can be a really tuff space to be in. It gets better after your Bible belts small towns, were you can be around like-minded empowering people is Dan's message to me.

Just the fact that "Steven" is closeted prevents him form fully affirming his LGBT students. That really made me sad for him and other educators today.

Oct. 14 2010 10:53 AM

"Stephen" laments that Dan Savage can't somehow be a regular-appearing speaker in schools all across the country.

I have no idea; Dan Savage may have been an invited school-speaker in the past.

But if there were some objection to a Dan Savage appearance, it would be justifiable. Mr. Savage has no credentials as a counselor or therapist. I don't think he ever completed his bachelor's degree. He's never been certified in any educational or counseling profession.

His weekly nationally-syndicated "advice" column is something that would not doubt be regarded as salacious and offensive by many parents.

And finally there is the matter of his misdemeanor criminal history, as noted on his Wikipedia page (see the original page for all linked footnoted authorities):

" Savage has written about his interest in political matters. His political leanings are primarily leftist or liberal, with pronounced contrarian and libertarian streaks.[17] For example, he wrote that in 2000, suffering from the flu while on an assignment for to cover the Iowa caucuses,[18] he was so angered by televised remarks in opposition to same-sex marriage by conservative Republican presidential hopeful Gary Bauer that he abandoned his original plan 'to follow one of the loopy conservative Christian candidates around — Bauer or Alan Keyes — and write something insightful and humanizing about him, his campaign, and his supporters.'[19] Instead, he volunteered for the Bauer campaign with the intent to infect the candidate with his flu. He wrote that he licked doorknobs and other objects in the campaign office, and handed Bauer a saliva-coated pen, hoping to pass the virus on to Bauer and his supporters (though he later said that much of the article had been fictitious). He also registered and participated in the caucus, which was illegal, as Savage was not an Iowa resident. He was charged and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of fraudulent voting in a caucus, and was sentenced to a year's probation, 50 hours of community service, and a $750 fine.[20][21][22][23]"

Oct. 14 2010 10:49 AM
Odie from apparently a place where schools can still discrimate

I work in a school in an Title I district in NJ that's webfilter blocks anything associated with LGBT but doesn't block websites that tout claims of "curing " homosexuality, a bit off topic but we also block sex education websites like and abortion websites unless they are pro-life and you can't get to plannedparenthood but you can get pictures of bloody fetuses.
Specifically the LGBT block, what message are we sending to our gay, straight and questioning students by doing this.

Oct. 14 2010 07:44 AM
Susan from Brooklyn

We can't even wait until kids are teenagers to be welcoming. As parents, we need to be open-minded and accepting before we even know whether our children or their friends are gay or straight.

Oct. 14 2010 06:35 AM

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