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The Best of ‘Better’

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Dan Savage

‘It Gets Better’ hopes to show teens that suicide doesn’t have to be an option

by Terri Schlichenmeyer

 

High school, it seems, was built for drama. Maybe it’s because of hormones, or because everybody’s searching for who they are or the person they’ll become. But one thing is certain: mean girls, jocks and cheerleaders, nerdy kids, geeks, and bullies generally cannot co-exist in peace.

And therein lies the problem, particularly if you’re on the receiving end of brutality, teasing, or ostracism. Not only does that stuff hurt, but it makes life so unpleasant that you can sometimes see only one way to stop it.

Columnist Dan Savage, with his husband, Terry Miller, and a friend, decided to do something about that. In It Gets Better, they explain what happened and how their un-splashy video became a tidal wave of support for LGBTQ teens.

Just a hundred videos. That’s the response that Savage and Miller hoped they’d get from a YouTube post they made in the aftermath of several teen suicides. In an Aha! moment, Savage realized that those kids had no vision of a future and
no idea that things get better—hence,
the video.

One video begat two, then a hundred, then a computer crash, a presidential message, and a movement. In this book, they gather notable messages—some poignant, and some surprising.

The video messages come from places as distant as Australia and Iraq. Politicians weigh in, as do ministers, doctors, dancers, soldiers, and teachers. One man offers to send letters of support. Another gives the website for an alternative school. Some see being gay as a gift. One man says he was his own bully.

The gay and straight kids, parents, and friends seen in the videos all have a common message: Find your people. Hang in there—it will be over soon. Don’t suffer in silence. We need you to live. Some videos describe kids trying to take their own lives at 15, 12, and even 10 years old. A girl says that there are many things she would have missed if she had ended her life. A man begs teens not to make him miss the chance to know them.

It Gets Better is one of those books that slams you from emotion to emotion with stories of six pages or less. Readers will get teary, they’ll laugh, nod their heads, gasp, and want to scream.

A word of warning: although this book is intended for middle-schoolers, it may be too much for them to handle. What’s written here is often profane, in-your-face, and generally pretty grown-up, so adults should not give the book to kids who may not be ready for it.

Still, if you know someone who needs this book, you’ll feel compelled to act. After you’ve read it yourself, you’ll know that It Gets Better may indeed give suicidal teens a better chance of surviving.

 

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.


 

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Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terry Schlichenmeyer is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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