By Chris Huqueriza
By the end of 2012, 14-year-old David Phan and 17-year-old Josh Pacheco joined Jamey Rodemeyer and Jamie Hubley in a list of LGBT teens that committed suicide since the inception of the ‘It Gets Better’ Project in 2010. How do we gauge the success of such a campaign when addressing such a viral epidemic?
“[The ‘It Gets Better’ Project] helps bring awareness but not in direct response,” said TV Journalist Steph Watts, who recently hosted an Anti-Bully Project at dot429's StraightTalk conference earlier this year. “I think any campaign that starts a conservation with a sensitive topic like this is a success.”
Journalist Dan Savage created the project to increase awareness and support of the numerous LGBT-related teen suicides that occurred the year of the project's conception: Billy Lucas, Raymond Chase, Tyler Clementi, Ryan Halligan, Asher Brown and Seth Walsh.
According to a study done by isafe.org, 9 out of 10 youths who identify as LGBTQ reported being bullied because of sexual orientation. Aside from actual or perceived sexual orientation, appearance is the main reason for bullying.
Savage emphasized the project is meant to be a support system for teens from their adult role models rather than a solution.
Often isolated, teens are at the onset of high school, and their experiences, for good or ill, are the only perspective they have when dealing with bullying and social pressure.
With the advent of digital media and social networking, bullying has entered the online arena and it has become increasingly difficult to combat.
“Technology has allowed other venues to connect, which includes positive and negative,” Watts said. “It’s socializing, but it has become anonymous with an increase in bullying.”
While a taskforce to report bullying is necessary, there have been many changes on a national level. Aside for the push for stronger anti-bullying laws and hotlines, Obama hosted an anti-bullying conference in 2011.
The Trevor Project also gained an increase in calls and web traffic after the television show Glee aired their LGBT-bullying episode. Also, October 20th has been labeled as Spirit Day when everyone wears purple in support of gay teens and speaks against bullying of LGBT teens.
In a smaller community context, San Francisco’s District Attorney George Gascon honored teenagers from St. Ignatius Preparatory High School who made anti-bullying videos in a contest.
The Huffington Post and Facebook took major steps with their own sections on tips on how to prevent and combat bullying. Each organization had a common method of documentation and reporting the act.
“Anything in the Internet has an electronic footprint. Copy it; Report it, tell your administrators,” Watts added. “It’s not okay [to be bullied].”
According to a study done by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), “only 13% of rural LGBT students reported that school personnel intervened always or most of the time when they heard homophobic remarks, and 11% said school personnel intervened when they heard negative remarks related to gender expression.”
“We need to implement change from the bully to the bullied to the third-party watchers. Don’t sit in the sidelines. It’s not just the kids but their parents too,” said Watts. “A conversation between parents needs to be involved. We need to be receptible, responsible and reactive.”
According to isafe.org, “LGBT students at schools with comprehensive policies on bullying and harassment are much more likely to report harassment to school authorities who, in turn, were more likely to respond effectively.”
GLSEN presented that “11% of rural LGBT students reported having an LGBT-inclusive curriculum, significantly less than the 18% of suburban and 20% of urban students.”
The ‘It Gets Better’ Project reached an international level as videos were being uploaded in places like Canada and Europe. To date, over 30,000 videos have been uploaded of celebrities and national leaders, from Pop Singer Lady Gaga to U.S. President Barack Obama.
The project has helped to shed light and visibility on the topic, but to be truly effective, the direct response needs to come from the smaller communities of our families and peers.