It is always shocking to see young faces in the obituaries. Even in a time of war, when the faces may be framed by military uniforms, it is hard to reconcile the details of death with a face unlined by age. Recently, grim headlines have alerted us to a tragic loss of young lives that is transpiring not in far-off battle, but on American soil. Healthy gay teenagers are dying in their homeland. Whether they take their own lives like Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, or are murdered like Matthew Shepard of Laramie, these young Americans die because they are gay in a culture that tells them quite plainly that America does not accept them.
This message comes not only from religious institutions that claim to preach the word of God, but from states and the American government that stigmatize gays as second class citizens, barred from experiencing the rights other Americans take for granted. What does it do to the psyche of a gay girl to know that any romantic love she has will never be confirmed within the hallowed institution of marriage? What does it do to the esteem of a gay boy to know that his country will not accept his service in the military if he becomes open about his identity as a gay man?
Cultures evolve slowly, and sometimes laws change suddenly, but not soon enough for those who have already died. Thankfully, the It Gets Better Project is reaching out to those who need courage just to live another day in a world with hate coming at them from so many directions, even from those who should be the most protective like their parents, their religious institutions and their government.
The It Gets Better Project is filling the internet with videos of compassionate adults who have been in the shoes of our nation's gay youth. People like celebrity Tim Gunn who speaks honestly about his suicide attempt at age 17 when he didn't know how to live in a world that was telling him he was not OK as gay. May his heartfelt plea to youth who are in the place that he was be heard: It will get better.
The mission statement of the It Gets Better Project is quite simple: "Many LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] youth can't picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can't imagine a future for themselves. So let's show them what our lives are like, let's show them what the future may hold in store for them. They need to know that it gets better. Submit a video. Give them hope."
Especially poignant is TV host Dave Holmes' eloquent description of what it's like to be different as a young person. We all can identify with what he says, and his advice is brilliant. The It Gets Better Project can help both gay and straight Americans open their eyes to a bigger world. Many people are prejudiced simply because they don't realize that they already know and love someone who is gay. I grew up with many friends who led double lives in a church dominated culture. Their parents and other friends didn't get the benefit of seeing them as full human beings. This robs everyone of emotional honesty and the chance to know the real and rich complexity of humanity.
It's easy to dismiss a group as a whole if one thinks that group is homogenous and burdened with every negative stereotype spread about that group. Once we learn that the doctor whom we trust, our favorite teacher, and the actress we admire are gay and as different in other respects from each other as the sun and the moon, it's a real eye opener. This same principle applies to race, religion and everything else that blinds people to the fact that we are each as unique as our DNA will allow for, and yet linked in the most profound way as human beings.
The message of the It Gets Better Project is a gift to all Americans. The message is inclusive, consoling, healing and optimistic about humanity: hold on for a better day.