That’s the title of a video campaign that was launched a few weeks ago, in response to the death of 15-year-old Billy Lucas – one of several youth recently who have committed suicide after being the victim of bullying. The death of youth is always a tragic thing, with all the promise of a life not yet fully realized snuffed out. The death of youth as a result of bullying is even more so because there was every chance to stop it and make a change in the situation.
The “It Gets Better” channel on Youtube is meant to provide an outlet online where LGBTQ youth can hear the voices and stories of other members of their community and come away with hope that it does, indeed, get better. I think that the channel has a wider message. Although it is geared towards LGBTQ youth who might be at risk, I believe the messages in the videos that have been uploaded – some from famous folks and some from average Joes on the street – speak to all of us who have been bullied or marginalized in our lives.
I was the victim of bullying myself. I have scars – some of them physical, some emotional – from run-ins with people who didn’t like me because I was Native, smart, fat, new to the neighborhood, or whatever reason. Truthfully, I don’t think it really mattered to them what set me apart from them. I think the folks who bullied had just found someone they thought would be the perfect target.
I endured steady bullying throughout elementary and middle school. I won’t go into the details here. Suffice it to say, it still amazes me the lengths some people will go to in order to hurt another human being.
The thing is…it did get better. By the time I got to high school I’d had enough of the bullying – both of me and others around me. I never went on a crusade (which I regret) but I did my best to be someone others could come to when they felt ostracized. It is my sincere hope that, by being an ally – for anyone who needed it – maybe someone was helped.
Now, saying “it gets better” doesn’t mean that things out in the “real world” will be all kittens and roses and lollipops. That’s not how life works. Life is difficult. There are hard questions and you don’t always find answers to them. You’ll meet people who are ugly to you for whatever reason and you can’t always change their minds. And, as much as we’d like to believe it’s something that’s confined to the schools and the playground, bullying exists just as much in the adult world.
Here’s the thing…
You don’t have to put up with it.
There is nothing that says that you should have to endure someone destroying your self-worth just so they can feel better. You are worthy of love and acceptance, and don’t ever let ANYONE tell you that you aren’t.
I consider myself incredibly blessed to be among the people who have endured bullying and come out of it in one piece. I can tell you now that it wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the inclusion in my life of some absolutely wonderful people. Everyone needs allies, and I can’t imagine I would’ve come out of my youth as whole as I am without their help.
I’m sure that a number of you who read this blog – whether you’re a regular visitor or someone who happened to stumble across it in a Google search – have been the victim of bullying in the past. We are geeks, after all. Being bullied often seems to go hand-in-hand with that. Having been the recipient in the past, I know how important it is to stand united with others who feel marginalized.
Today is National Coming Out Day. There is a candlelight vigil over at my old campus tonight, “in memory of all those who have been lost due to anti-queer bias and harrassment.” I’m not sure if I’m going to make it to the vigil or not, but regardless of where I am tonight, I’m going to be lighting a candle. One of the greatest things that came from working for the Diversity Office for five years was watching the students who walked through our doors come into their own and stand up against hate and bias. It didn’t matter whether they were part of the LGBTQ community or a straight ally. They all saw the need to stand together.
There’s one more thing that I want to leave you with today. About a month ago, I was in charge of giving the message during a church service. During the message, I told a story about my father handing me a beautiful newspaper article. I’d like to share part of what I shared then, as I feel it has bearing on today’s topic:
I came home from work, and Dad excitedly handed me a section of the Washington Post. “Have you read this?” he asked. I looked down at what he had given me and shook my head. “I think it’s something,” he said, and urged me to read it. I sat down on the couch and read the article he had pointed out. It was an op-ed piece written by Desmund Tutu, about the issue of human rights and homosexuality in Africa. The first line almost made me cry. As I read through the rest of the article, I could feel goose bumps on my arms, and I just wanted to shake the paper in the air and go “YES!” I had a lump in my throat when I finished reading, and when I looked up I saw that Dad was looking at me expectantly.
“This is fantastic, Dad.”
“I just think that’s something,” he repeated. “I read that and thought, ‘well, that’s what I’ve been saying for years.'” (That comment, by the way, is what nearly made me start crying. Over the course of five years working at the Diversity Office on campus, I had met a number of students who were terrified of coming out to their parents, for fear of what the reaction of their parents would be. I dearly wish that more of those students were blessed with parents who would have read that article and had the same reaction as my father.)
I’d like to read to you an excerpt from the article:
Hate has no placein the house of God. No one should be excluded from our love, our compassion or our concern because of race or gender, faith or ethnicity – or because of their sexual orientation. […] Isn’t it amazing that we are all made in God’s image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people? Does God love his dark or his light-skinned children less? The brave more than the timid? And does any of us knw the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love? […] Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice.
We are given opportunities to act and react in loving way in our daily lives, but how often do we have the personal courage and dedication to this message to follow through with the hard work? The Creator has given us the freedom to choose our own path in the world, and Christ was very clear that that freedom and salvation is open to everyone, regardless of their social, cultural or political background. The call of Christ is always that we would do whatever we can to help alleviate the suffering of this world, that we would help confront the prejudices and evils that we find, and that we would minister to those who need it. It does not carry a qualifier that excludes the people marginalized by our society.