Saturday, 23 October 2010

It gets better

There's a growing controversy in the States this week, as it emerged that retail giant Walmart is stocking a book by Mormon author Janice Barrett, called 'Chased By An Elephant'. Although it sounds like a book celebrating the illegal ivory trade, it's actually designed to make gay kids hate themselves a little bit more, as if they needed the help.

Subtitled 'The Gospel Truth About Today’s Stampeding Sexuality' (hence the somewhat tenuous elephant reference), the book aims to keep kids on the straight and narrow. With the emphasis on the 'straight'.

According to the foreword, "The number of our young people involved in sexual sins has greatly increased in recent years. Some of the most stalwart-seeming youth find themselves involved in pornography, fornication, promiscuity, homosexuality, and the like... This harmful exposure is evident in the lives of many young people through a variety of psychological problems including anxiety, depression, gender confusion, addictions, and even suicidality." 

Graham apparently knows what she's talking about, since she even roped her own son Graham in to write an introduction to Mommie Dearest's book. Tearing himself away from alternating bouts of furious masturbation and violent sobbing, the 'cured' homosexual claims that his faith enabled him to turn away from the “deceitful and predatory nature of the ‘gay’ lifestyle.” Which is silly, because everyone knows that you should never turn your back on a 'predatory homosexual' - that exactly what they want you to do. 

Although he may be trapped in a false existence that denies his very nature, but at least his mother's vehement abhorrence of the 'gay lifestyle' hasn't yet tipped him over the edge into what she (and the FDA) have termed 'suicidality'. 

Sadly, countless other young men and women aren't quite so lucky. The last few months have seen a disturbing wave of teenage suicides, brought about by an epidemic of homophobic bullying. Tyler Clementi, Zach Harrington, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase, Billy Lucas and Cody J. Barker have all made the news in the States recently, by taking their own lives - leaving their despairing families wondering what they could have done to improve matters before it was too late. 

Dan Savage, the sharp-tongued but warm-hearted columnist, decided enough was enough and launched a YouTube campaign called 'It Gets Better'. Although it's only been running for a month, countless celebrities, gay and straight, have added their voices to the project - imploring kids to think twice before doing anything rash. Particularly powerful are the videos uploaded by successful gays and lesbian public figures, who are living proof that acceptance, tolerance and happiness are just around the corner. 

This week, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama added their voices to the mix, in eloquent, thoughtful and sensitively handled pieces. However, given the US government's reticence to act on Don't Ask, Don't Tell and marriage equality, campaigners are concerned that these two prominent politicians are sending out mixed messages - 'It might get better, but don't expect any help from us'.

The real issue is the fact that these videos focus on how to overcome bullying, rather than addressing the source of the bullying. As long as religious bodies continue to fight equality, and argue that homophobia and hate-speech are their God-given rights, then kids will continue to take their own lives.

When Obama tells young people that there are "people out there who care about you and love you just the way you are" he forgets that, in many cases, the parents he has in mind are the worst bullies of all. Parents like Janice Barrett. And sure, kids could go to their teachers if they're being bullied, as long as they don't expect the teacher to be able to show any kind of familiarity or empathy with the situation. After all, Seth Stambaugh in Oregon was fired for explaining to a student that he was gay and therefore unable to marry.

Savage's campaign is a fantastic initiative, and has dovetailed nicely with similar campaigns such as the Trevor Project and GLAAD's Spirit Day on 20th October. Gay kids need to know that it really does get better. But in order for them to believe it, the rest of society has to do its bit in order to keep that promise.

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