This is a story about you: You will survive bullying.
Never fool yourself into thinking your experiences are unique and that you are alone in your suffering. We have met individuals who, like you, feel lonely, ashamed, depressed, hated, and even ready to die. But they are still here, achieving their true potential and sharing their stories -- your stories -- in Yale College's "It Gets Better" video, which debuted to the world last week:
My co-director, Karin Shedd, and I were inspired by our LGBTQ peers to create the video in the hope of uplifting those silenced by bullying. We are straight allies who believe that security, respect, and dignity (basic human rights) are not hetero but universal. We do not believe your particular sexual orientation dehumanizes you. We are a part of a growing population that cares about you.
Together, we interviewed over a dozen Yale students in one emotionally grueling day. Karin collected additional footage of them in their day-to-day lives, and we spent another three months editing. As we reviewed our work, we realized an urgent need to get a message out to the LGBTQ community, put succinctly by Yale junior, Terrell Carter: "You don't deserve the pain you're feeling." Rather, you have value.
We know it doesn't always feel this way. We didn't need our friends in the gay community to tell us the world is not perfect. For many of them, it won't be the last time they are treated like an outsider, called a "faggot," assaulted, or made to feel worthless. Their experiences -- running away from home, being attacked, writing their suicide note -- confirm that things are not changing quickly enough. There may be people and circumstances that have led you to the conclusion that there is not much time left for you. You need to feel it gets better today. So, our friends told us, because you cannot force people to change, the only way to help yourself is to accept yourself.
"It's so interesting, because just to say, "It gets better," what does that really do for us?" asked Hilary O'Connell, President of Yale's LGBT COOP. "I think maybe with a caveat: It gets better when you try as hard as you can, with every fiber of your being, to make it be OK. Even if it can't get a lot better than OK, try as hard as you can to make where you are OK."
Many of our interviewees agreed that the lowest points in coming out, whether it was to friends and family or even just to themselves, were the moments before, fearing that being gay would take over their lives and in some way handicap them. What happens next has been an audience favorite: The students relive the moment they embraced their sexuality as just another part of their identity. The realization sets them free and makes them mentally invincible.
"Can I say being queer gives me, like, superpowers?" asked Hilary. "Actually, in the sense that I am no longer afraid that everybody hates me, [it] does give me superpowers ... I was never really comfortable with myself before coming out. My dad said something to me once that has always stuck with me ... He said to me, 'You can't lock up everything about yourself day to day. You have to live into it.'" Become someone you are proud of. As Yale student and improv actress Hannah Slater put it, "Do what makes you feel powerful."
One of our most memorable examples of this was epitomized by someone we never actually interviewed. Instead, Katie Miller, a transfer student from West Point, spoke for Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt, a young man with the U.S. military. Corporal Wilfahrt is gay. When he joined the military, he was not discouraged by the then-active, discriminatory policy of "don't ask, don't tell." He wanted to serve and lay his life on the line for his country, which included those people who disapproved of his lifestyle. Corporal Wilfahrt was killed in action in Afghanistan. "He's someone that served," said Katie. "It didn't matter that he was gay. He gave the ultimate sacrifice for this country, and I continue to have the utmost respect for him." Like Corporal Wilfahrt, shamelessly go forward in the world, letting your hobbies and passions be guiding lights in moments of darkness.
Karin and I watched our friends speak honestly and bravely about their lives. From a book lover and Kindle hater to a veteran of The Sing Off, our friends are living testimony that it gets better. Since releasing the video, our interviewees have been approached by friends, family, and even complete strangers, gay and straight, moved by their stories and inspired to reach out to those who may be struggling. Maybe they've reached out to you.
Maybe you're reading this and you're at a breaking point. Do not give up. "Wake up every morning and know that you are a beautiful person," said Carmen Chambers, who hails from Mobile, Ala. "There are people like us, and a huge gay community in the world that is your family. I feel like we are family."
Our video is dedicated to you, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, survivors in the war against bullying. This is the beginning of your story: Thank you for your presence and your voice. You give hope to all of us.