Last weekend a gay teenager in Ottawa committed suicide. In his suicide note, he referenced the message of “It Gets Better” campaign, saying that he just couldn’t wait.
I think his comment points to one of the biggest failures of the “It Gets Better” campaign. Its central message is:
“Hey, we know high school is tough – we’ve been there! But hold on because after you graduate life is going to get a whole lot better. Look, you could have partners and cool jobs and live around other queers. Just wait out that difficult high school period and it will get better!”
Certainly, the notion that life gets better after high school, especially for those who are bullied, is an important part of the message. However, especially for those who are bullied, that cannot be the whole message.
Focusing on the idea of “it gets better” is neglecting the very concrete concerns of the present. Right now there are queer teenagers who are dealing with real hatred, hostility, and violence. Why should they wait for it to get better? They’ve done nothing wrong. They need it better now. We need to make it better now.
Moreover, when a whole litany of successful queer people say “yeah, high school was hard for me too, but look at me now!” it unintentionally sends the message that if they can do it, you should be able to do it. No one’s high school experience is the same. No one experiences bullying the same way. No queer teenager who is dealing with bullying needs to worry, what’s wrong with me? All those queer adults were able to handle it, why can’t I? That is an unproductive discourse for a struggling teenager.
The “It Gets Better” campaign may have been a good way to start having a national conversation about bullying, but the campaign itself is neglecting core issues in favor of having teenagers ‘wait it out’. Where does bullying come from? This is about gender, sexism, sexuality, racism, and classism. This is about hatred and violence.
Real change needs to happen now to address how kids learn about difference. No one should have to wait for there to be less violence in their life.