It Gets Better Project Becomes a Book

From Internet Meme to Published Book

The initial idea for the It Gets Better Project came from a message on Dan Savage’s nationally syndicated column, Savage Love. He’d blogged about the suicide of Billy Lucas and one commentator said that she’d wished she’d known Billy so she could tell him that it gets better.

That was the spark that led Lambda Literary Award winner Dan Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, to record the first video for the project.

Now with over 10,000 videos on the It Gets Better Project website, the duo have released a book: It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living (Dutton). Savage and Miller were at the Barnes & Noble Tribeca store on March 22, the book’s release day, to talk about the project and introduce some of the people whose stories are in the book.

“The hope was for one hundred videos,” said Savage. “One hundred was a nice round number and there would be some diversity so that all LGBT kids could find themselves.”

In just four days they’d exceeded that with 650 posted to the project’s YouTube channel.

At the time they thought they were done, since 650 was the maximum number of videos that could be posted to a channel. But then an engineer at Google, which owns You Tube, raised their limit to 5,000. Today there are more than 10,000 available, which have been viewed more than 35 million times.

Reading from the book’s introduction, Savage noted that “It Gets Better” brought the old order crashing down:

By giving ourselves permission to speak directly to LGBT youth, Terry and I gave permission to all LGBT adults everywhere to speak to LGBT youth. It forced straight people — politicians, teachers, preachers, and parents — to decide whose side they were on. Were they going to come to the defense of bullied LGBT teenagers? Or were they going to remain silent and, by so doing, give aid and comfort to the young anti-gay bullies who attack LGBT children in schools and the adult anti-gay bullies at conservative ‘family’ organizations who attack LGBT people for a living.

The book features just over 100 stories that are culled from the videos. Just like the video library, it includes stories from people from all walks of life. Contributors include celebrities (Ellen DeGeneres, Michael Cunningham, Tim Gunn), public officials (President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Prime Minster David Cameron) as well as dozens of stories from regular people.

Jules Skloot, a performer, choreographer and educator, from Brooklyn, leads off the book and began the reading with, “There’s joy coming for you. So stay with us. It gets better.”

Moishie Rabinowitz, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community in Queens and is now a founding member of JQYouth, said: “Think about how awesome it would be to actually be able to live who you are and still have friends and still have ties to your community and still be respected.”

Angelo D’Agostino, a singer/songwriter from Brooklyn, said: “There’s great comfort and security in knowing that there is an entire community out there waiting for you and welcoming you if you can just push through and persevere.”

Krissy Mahan was on a bus for six hours to get to the reading from her home in upstate New York where she builds chicken coops and fixes things. “If you’re living in the country, I’m sure there are some things that are kind of frustrating for you, and you’re probably rockin’ the flannel shirt every now and then, but that is going to be totally hot to somebody someday. It’s gonna get real better.”

Writer, poet and director from the Bronx, Gabrielle Rivera, read, “So, do I say it gets easier? No, but you get stronger. And you get more beautiful. And you believe in yourself harder. And anything this messed up world throws at you, you’ll be able to handle.”

Rivera’s work appears in Ariel Gore’s Lambda Literary Award winning anthology, Portland Queers.

To further the project’s mission of getting these stories into the hands of young people who need them, the It Gets Better Project website offers people the opportunity to buy a copy of the book and have it donated to a school or library. The book tour also continues into the spring and Savage and Miller plan to have guests in each city to read from their stories.

Miller, reading from his epilogue, captured the message of the project to the kids it targets: “The message you’re receiving today is much simpler, much louder, much clearer. It gets better.”

Photo: Jeff Adams