Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants for becoming the first major league team to reach out to support the It Gets Better project, and help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT ) youth understand that there is hope for a better future.
If you aren’t aware of the It Gets Better project, it was started last year by syndicated columnist and author Dan Savage who created a YouTube video with his partner Terry Miller to “inspire hope for young people facing harassment. In response to a number of students taking their own lives after being bullied in school, they wanted to create a personal way for supporters everywhere to tell LGBT youth that, yes, it does indeed get better.”
For all the negative press the internet gets, it is uplifting to be reminded that most people are good and kind and that there are people, groups, organizations and companies who use the internet every single day to improve lives, bridge gaps, share understanding, and provide hope. If you aren’t familiar with the It Gets Better project, take a moment to visit their website.
In my work with over half a billion internet users[i] I’ve come to have a particular concern for those who have to struggle the hardest, the bullied, the cutters, the anorexic or bulimic, the victims of violence, and the victims of hatred. It has been a special privilege to work with these victims, hear their stories, and in some small way help them be safer in their online lives.
Imagine spending a week in the shoes of a teen who is gay, how long would you stay in school if you never knew where or when the next punch or verbal assault was going to come from. What you would know was that these attacks will come – on average 12-15 times a day. You won’t know when you’ll be shunned, what rumors will fly, when teachers will participate in humiliating you, or when you’re going to get the sh#$% kicked out of you again.
And that’s just during school hours. What is remarkable is that so few of these victims drop out. What is shocking is that they get so little help.
According to the National Education Association, 160,000 kids don’t go to school every day because of fears about bullying, it would be thought-provoking to know the percentage of these youth that fall into the LGBT category. It would also be enlightening to understand how many of the 4,400 youth suicides that occur in this country are by LGBT youth who simply cannot see a way to survive one more day of the abuse they receive. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, according to the CDC, and for every suicide, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.
The assaults don’t end with the school bell. You still have to get to and from school, survive times when you’re in town and ‘caught’, or at work and people come in to harass you – and possibly get you fired. You may have to then steel yourself for the hate you’ll receive at home from family members, and the hate that assaults them whenever they go online. Just how long would you last? How could you possibly thrive?
LGBT youth face particular risks online
These youth face some of the most vicious forms of cyberbullying, and they will likely suffer from cyberbullying not for days, or weeks, or months; they will likely face these assaults for years. These kids have a greater need to reach out to find support, and are frequently exploited by those who posed as supporters. These kids have a greater need to reach out to find friends – and risk discovering that their new friends are really gay bashers looking for a new teen to attack.
These youth are looking for answers, trying to figure out who they are and why they feel the way they do, yet are likely to lack the skills needed to find quality search answers from reputable sources that can help them make sense of their feelings and world.
These kids and teens are looking for hope, a light at the end of the tunnel of abuse and despair. The It Gets Better project is a welcome beacon, and a strong resource for those in need. Dan Savage and Terry Miller have also written a book titled It Gets Better that may be a vital gift to someone you know who is struggling with being LGBT in a straight world.
You may or may not like someone’s ethnic background, their faith, their actions or their sexual orientation; no one asked you to. But the emotional, physical and online safety of every single person matters. Every child and teen has the right to a safe and nurturing school environment. It is their right to grow up in an environment that protects them from harm. And it is our duty to ensure their rights are protected.
What you can do
- Talk to your own children and teens
- Help them understand that whether they like or dislike someone, everyone must be treated with respect.
- Build compassion and empathy so they understand that no one ‘deserves’ being bullied, and that they don’t want to grow up being a bully.
- Teach how to step in as an effective bystander to deter others from bullying
- Explain that these values are the same whether they are acting online or offline
- If you know a child or teen who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning their sexuality, be supportive – if not of their lifestyle, at least of them as a person of worth.
- Help them find resources like the It Gets Better website or book, and mentoring/counseling.
- Make sure they really learn how to use the internet safely. Including how to protect their identity, how to securely protect their websites, how to really see and understand the information they are sharing and how others may interpret it, how to conduct quality searches and evaluate the legitimacy of the results, how to avoid targeted scams, how to evaluate ‘friends’, and how to create environments where they are safe meeting ‘friends’.
When anyone is attacked, humanity suffers.
[i] While working at Microsoft, I monitored the use –and abuse – over more than half a billion internet users; since then I’ve worked with tens of thousands of internet users of all ages. Many of their experiences are uplifting; others have shown the depths to which humans can stoop.