Everyone has gone through a rough time in his or her life. During that time one might have heard the phrase “it gets better.” For the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community the phrase “it gets better” is something these people can rally around. The “It Gets Better Project” was created to inspire and change the way people think and make them realize that life will get better for them. No matter what hardships they are currently facing, life will get better. Growing up is a challenge for everyone but imagine life for a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender kid or teen. Kids are growing up in a world where society tells them the purpose of a man is to love a woman and the purpose of a woman is to love a man. Not only that, but LGBT adolescents are tormented for expressing their beliefs.
Although there are some who still have a positive outlook on life, the It Gets Better Project was created to help those who do not see the beauty of life and the positivity the future holds. Itgetsbetter.org states, “the It Gets Better Project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach – if they can just get through their teen years. The It Gets Better Project wants to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better.” We will explore the roles of how social media activism, plays a role in the campaign. We will see how one girl from Tennessee’s story helped get celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres to tell their story and spread the message of hope to those in the LGBT community. With the help of celebrities came media attention and that attention helped get the message out to even more people. Before the media got ahold of the campaign the project was only know to those who had access to a computer. This means less privileged people were not receiving the campaigns message. As the campaign grew so did the media coverage and eventually a book was written on the project. The book was beneficial because it was a cheap alternative for people who lack internet access. The book helped reach another untapped field of people.
The study of social media activism helps us understand how we interacted with each other in the past and gives a clue of what lies ahead in the future. Social media activism was birthed in the 1990’s with the advent of the internet and mass communication by people using computers, many for the first time in their lives. Communication between people was once limited to a writer and a cadre of newspapers or magazines, but now readers can reach millions with a simple tapping of the keyboard.
A new wave of communication began in 1998 when moveon.org was formed by Silicon Valley executives who were fed up with the persecution of President Bill Clinton; which was relative to his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Through Moveon.org the average American was given a stronger voice in political affairs by pushing Congress to focus on issues that affect American families and not the theatre of politics that polarized the nation. One year later, the internet was used to organize a protest against the World Trade Organization that met in Seattle, Washington. 50,000 protestors charged the streets and communicated using email and cell phones. The Independent Media Center, which still exists today, was created by protestors to get their message out. As we progressed into the 21st century Social Media Activism was the catalyst in immigration protests, for example, the Arab Spring. As Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are becoming more prevalent so does the ease in organizing vast groups of individuals to change the world.
One group of individuals who have used social media activism to affect change is the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual & Transgender) community. It was just recently that strides to accept LGBT individuals have permeated mainstream media; this includes ending discrimination in the workplace to marriage and estate rights. The advancement in their equality would not have been possible without Social Media sites that consist of open activism. One organization that has been active in the fight since 2010 is itgetsbetter.org. This site has allowed young LGBT individuals to post videos on their experiences. Multiple individuals discuss the pain of discrimination from friends, family and strangers. There are also hopeful stories of individuals who finally accept who they are and move on to live healthy, happy and fulfilling lives. With over 50,000 videos and 50,000,000 views, the site continues to be a beacon of light in a dark part of many young people’s lives.
In addition to letting LGBT individuals communicate and form communities, the organization also provides legal help and advice from other members. This is often helpful for people looking for answers when they have nowhere else to turn.
One video in particular touched us personally, Khia from Tennessee. The story of her very short life has the lowest of lows and highest of highs. She was married to a man for a short time before he found out she had an affair with another woman. When she told her husband she was gay he demanded a divorce. The next couple of years she was racked with depression. The failure of her marriage and the continuation of hiding her true self was destroying her life and the life around her. Until one day she met Lisa, a bartender at the local gay bar. After a few group outings she knew they both had developed feelings for one another. Khia didn’t immediately act upon her feelings because they both had a difficult past. She believed they needed more time separately to put her life into perspective. Not too long after, while on a fishing trip together, with a group of people, they kissed for the first time and suddenly fell in love. A short year later, their wedding ceremony commenced in New York City. Though the story ends positively, Khia reminds us that everyday is a struggle of friends, family, and strangers alike who will never accept her lesbian marriage. When Lisa asked Khia’s father for Khia’s hand in marriage, her father refused to give his blessing. Khia jokes that he did not say no, either.
Khia’s message of hope has been viewed close to 2,000 times on Youtube with 25 likes. The number of views on the itgetsbetter.org website may be much higher. The story is empowering because it offers a peak into the lives of people who have lived in ‘the closet’ because of ignorance and hatred. In viewing Khia’s story it is likely more young people will look into their mirror and say, I am a human being and deserve respect.
What resonates here is that Khia’s and the other 50,000 LGBT stories could not have been told 25 years ago. Back then there was no social media to communicate through or an audience to listen to hear us. What social media has shown us is the power of numbers. In any group fighting for basic human rights there is no power of “one,” there is the power of “many”. Many can change cultures, policies and governments. Many can also change hearts and that is what Itgetsbetter.org has done many times over.
In addition to normal everyday people posting videos, celebrities also post videos on social media. On the following Buzzfeed article, it shows videos that portray someone famous speaking about bullying and other problems with identifying as homosexual, including one by Ellen DeGeneres. DeGeneres explains a story about a young boy who killed himself after being bullied for his sexuality.
Another video is by Neil Patrick Harris, where he talks into the camera in a casual manner as if he is talking face to face with the viewer. He states, “ if you are getting bullied, just stick it out and down the road you will find that people will accept you for who you are and not care that you are gay.” This kind of activism can really make a difference in a young person’s life. Hearing their favorite celebrities tell them that it gets better makes a huge difference and could potentially save their life. Activism is doing something that will make a difference. These videos fall under the activism category rather than being slacktvism. Sarah Silverman’s video stood out because she addresses America stating the importance of treating all people equally regardless of their sexual orientation. Silverman (the comedian) comes off angry as she tells the older generation that their mistreatment of the gay population is the cause of the bullies that drive so many young girls and boys to kill themselves. Kathy Griffin (Comedian) speaks to everyone about how 10% of the population is gay and the greater likelihood of them ending their lives compared to straight teens.
All of the videos have a similar message but portray it in a different way. Creating an “it gets better” video is a way to get involved and be an activist in the fight against suicides in gay teens. Although the videos help save some teens lives when they watch them, not all teens have access to the internet, which may cause a problem when they have no way of watching the videos. One way we thought can solve the problem would be to feature a commercial on television, but have it be longer than an ordinary commercial and funded by website donations. The commercial would feature the celebrities talking about it gets better just like the videos. Although some commercials for “it gets better” exist, our idea is to have the commercial be three minutes long and show the actual online videos so that teens without access to the internet can view the videos. This can potentially save lives.
After the campaign garnered praise and many followers by the use of celebrity videos and the general public, Google Chrome released a television commercial featuring the project in May of 2011. The commercial shows a montage beginning with Dan Savage’s original video and continues with clips of videos created by Adam Lambert, Lady Gaga, Kathy Griffin, Anne Hathaway, a gay police officer, and several others. Although the commercial’s main purpose is to advertise Google’s web browser, it also spreads awareness about the It Gets Better project to those who may not have seen it otherwise. Originally only Youtube and Twitter users had access to the project; however, after these commercials the campaign grew exponentially. This allowed for greater accessibility than other projects exclusive to the internet.
Almost a year later, in 2012, MTV created awareness for the project by airing an one hour special featuring founder Dan Savage. MTV followed three teens dealing with the struggles of identifying as LGBT and how being open about their sexuality has benefited them in spite of their struggles. Not only was the campaign being brought to people’s attention outside of social media, now they could just turn on the television to see something even more in depth than five to ten minute Youtube videos could ever be.
The first special was such an enormous success that eight months later, the network aired a second special. MTV followed three more teens on their journey to happiness after exposing their sexuality. Each special spread greater awareness for both the “It Gets Better Project” and the Trevor Project (another LGBT charity that was named after the award winning film, Trevor). Prior to these specials, the project had become both a nationwide and international success and with the help of MTV the reach of the project expanded even more. MTV’s influence over pop culture helped popularize the project and spread support to those questioning their sexuality. This just goes to show how even a popular online site of social media activism can gain even more support through television; however, the project didn’t stop there.
In 2011 the creators of the project released a book that reached the New York Times Bestsellers List. Entitled, It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living, the book takes essays from politicians, celebrities, and essays that have been translated from online Youtube videos about how life gets better as you grow older. This allowed those who don’t have access to the internet to be supported as well. The campaign’s website created an option to donate $25 for the book to be sent to any local library, where anyone in a community can access it.
While it is true that the internet does reach millions of people, we also know that not everyone has access to the internet on a regular basis or outside of school. Even if an LGBT student was aware of the It Gets Better project, the bullying that viewing these videos could potentially cause could deter them from watching. These commercials and television programs made it even more possible for a larger LGBT community to see these videos in the privacy of their own home, away from the scrutiny of others. The book, that can be found in many libraries, including the Normal Public Library, continues this spread of the project. All of these other outlets help in spreading the message world wide and, although the campaign would be popular without them, it is undeniable that these non-web based efforts have a large impact as well. Branching out from the internet makes this project more effective.
In conclusion, social media activism played a major role in the “It Gets Better Project.” There have been some monumental moments in the LGBT community since the project started. Most recently we have seen the Obama administration order insurance companies to cover same sex couples, Jason Collins becomes the first openly gay NBA player, and The Boy Scouts of America lifts the ban on gay scouts. In addition, Illinois became the fifteenth state to pass a marriage equality bill. A lot has been accomplished in the past four years and the “It Gets Better Project” intends to fight on for the LGBT community. Although there have been significant differences, there will always be progress to made. One major goal is to create equality in all states, including marriage equality. Thirty-five states have yet to pass the bill, it will be a long battle; however, it’s one battle the LGBT community is ready to take on.
Since the It Gets Better Project has started there have been roughly 585,000 people who have signed to take the pledge. The pledge acknowledges, “Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I’ll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I’ll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other bullied teens by letting them know that it gets better.” There is hope, but how will you make a difference?