I have spent so many hours with American middle schoolers that I think I can safely, and sadly, say that whatever schools are doing to prevent bullying is not working. This is especially true when it comes to homosexuality. As I wrote in my book, “fag” is still considered the greatest insult one 12-year-old can spew at another, and while kids may tell you on a survey that they think being gay is okay, their ugly actions (and words) speak far louder.
Much is made, and written, about school anti-bullying guidelines and programs. Unfortunately the policies are a mass of grey area, they go unenforced, and until teachers actually sit with middle schoolers at the back of the field trip bus they will forever be ignorant of the worst offenses. It makes me sick to think about my friends and relatives having endured even for a moment the anxiety and shame typical of gay preteenage-hood.
Don’t get me wrong: I am glad we are adopting policies and guidelines and character-education lessons and all that. They will, however, never have the power of every single adult modeling truly accepting values and behavior. And given that that is not happening anytime soon, given that we are not going to stop the perpetrators, we need to focus on helping the victims. In that spirit I’d like to bestow my Thanksgiving gratitude on the It Gets Better Project, which in concept and execution is more powerful than any anti-bullying effort I know or could imagine. In these videos, which you probably already heard of but might not have taken time to watch, thousands of gay adults explain to young people that life as they know it now—in which each day might be an exercise in avoidance, insecurity, or worse—is not necessarily the life they will live as adults. They will grow into love. Simply put, it gets better.
I would like to read about what kind of impact this project is having on the internal lives of gay teens. Obviously not an easy story to pin down, but to hear what students who have seen the videos make of them, and what they think of their school-based programs, would be interesting. I am familiar with critiques of the project—it’s too easy, it’s not concrete, etc.—but I am so emotionally drawn to it that I would like to see a Nobel Prize created for Awesomeness, and Dan Savage be named the first recipient. I would like to read more journalism that goes inside gay children’s minds, which only seems to happen these days after they die.