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Cheryl Saban Ph.D. Headshot

It Gets Better

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Many, many years ago -- okay, more than thirty years ago -- I had a brief but interesting career as a disco singer. No need to go into all the twists and turns of that crazy part of my life now -- that'll have to wait for another blog. I'm bringing it up to mention that I had two talented, young, gay dancers who worked with me, and that, in a round-about way, is what this story is about. More specifically, how young gay people can often feel isolated, hopeless and alone, judged by hypocrites and intolerant people and therefore why what Dan Savage and friends are doing with the It Gets Better campaign is so important.

Back in those complicated 70s, there was a rich brew of alternatives entering the mainstream, and this stew wasn't limited solely to the music. It incorporated alternatives of all types. Obviously, some choices were easier for the status quo to accept than others, which is probably why some groups tended to stick together -- remember the flower children? I fell into this group. Those were the days when alternatives to the strict mainstream lifestyle came out in droves -- hippies, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, anti-establishment-intellectuals -- an eclectic blend of sub-cultures had emerged from behind the scenes, with all their colors, choices of clothing, hairstyles, drug selections, and sexual preferences. I suppose many of us looked and acted like we had come from another planet to the previous generation, and they treated us that way too. In San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, cities I grew up and lived in, there was safety in numbers -- sort of. At least like-minded people gravitated together.

As a singer, my career was relatively short-lived, but while it lasted, my popularity was in the late-night discos, and those heterogeneous private clubs. Louis and John, my two dance partners, traveled with me when I performed. Not only were they handsome and by profession great dancers, they were fun to be around. Louis and I in particular, became close friends. He would take me to the hottest gay clubs in Los Angeles so we could practice our dance moves. Those excursions were infinitely more fun than any of the straight clubs I'd ever been too. Just to be clear -- back in the day, as a woman in my early thirties, the opportunity to dance with wild abandon with a partner who actually knew how to execute a variety of steps other than the side-to-side shuffle or the bump and grind, without getting hit on, or groped and grabbed in inappropriate places, was bliss x2.

Once my disco career ended, my two dancer-friends moved on to other gigs. Louis and I stayed in touch until he got horribly sick with the then mysterious illness, and had to move away to be cared for by distant relatives, or so he claimed. He didn't survive it. He didn't have much support, outside his close circle of dancer friends.

Looking back, I see how naive I was about how complicated it was for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual individuals to navigate in their everyday lives. It wasn't always easy to share their truth, if they ever did share it. Health issues were a nightmare -- especially back then. Life choices weren't necessarily safe revelations. Many individuals were subjected to subtle and unsubtle acts of bullying every day. The stress could be enormous.

Louis didn't talk much about his family -- but he did tell me that not all of his family members accepted his lifestyle. He was very young at that time -- in his early twenties. He sought refuge and support by staying close to his gay friends, and people like me, who accepted him for himself -- a completely wonderful, talented young man, nuanced with layers of a complicated life history, like us all.

I suppose a modicum of safety existed in numbers for Louis and John, because they were in the entertainment business, and traveled in circles that were more or less protective. But as we know, such protection doesn't extend everywhere, or to everyone.

Cut to today where one would think as a society we would have gained knowledge and wisdom and learned a thing or two about kindness and tolerance. But check the news, and you'll see that sadly, we haven't learned enough. There is more acceptance overall, perhaps, here and there, in areas of some of the large, diverse cities like LA. The gay clubs and bars and well-loved and wonderfully managed neighborhoods that grew up around West Hollywood, for example, the area that Louis and I used to go to dance, became somewhat of a haven for open-minded thinking... a place of peaceful but steady activism and more than that, a boldfaced statement by the city itself that self-esteem, human dignity, equal rights, common courtesy -- all of these ideals, won't be denied from any one individual by another, simply because of a choice in sexual orientation or lifestyle.

Kudos for this kind of intelligent, harmonious thinking and planning, because in many towns and cities around our nation, there are lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens who feel so alone and sad, that they see no other option but to attempt suicide. This has to stop. The Trevor Project, which is the leading national organization providing crisis and suicide intervention services to LGBTQ youth, provides these services 24/7. That means a lot of kids are feeling sad and hopeless. As a society, we must do better.

I hope the It Gets Better campaign reaches more young people everyday. I hope it reaches thousands of kids. Millions of kids. The messages are clear, compelling, and to the point. Life is ahead of you. I hope that any young person who feels sad, lonely or helpless, because of bullying, the fear of bullying, or lack of support, will gain strength and a sense of possibility when listening to the candid messages delivered by the many older and wiser individuals who have participated in the It Gets Better Campaign.

I was moved by the messages. I bought a t-shirt, and I am contributing to the campaign, in honor of Louis, and in honor of those who get to choose to live another day.

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