While browsing through the online San Francisco Chronicle ‘Entertainment’ section (yes I live in Boston now, but a girl can still read, right?…) I came across a review of the documentary ‘It Gets Better’ which is airing tonight (Tuesday the 21st) on MTV and Logo cable channels at 11:00 P.M. Watch it if you can! The film follows the stories of three LGBTQ young people: Aydian a transgender man about to get married, Vanessa, a young lesbian woman whose mother is having difficulty accepting her, and Greg, a gay student body president who has yet to come out to his family and friends. The film is part of the ‘It gets better project’ created by partners Dan Savage and Terry Mill in response to the high LGBT youth suicide rate. According to the ‘It gets better’ documentary trailer (watch it below!), 1 in 3 LGBT young people attempt suicide at least once in their lives. The ‘It gets better’ campaign started with a single video in which Terry and Dan speak directly to LGBT youth telling them quite literally to hang on, life may be hard now, but it gets better. Since then thousands of videos with the same message have been posted by many people, including several celebrities, both openly gay and straight, and even President Obama. The videos have grown into a movement.
The it gets better campaign focuses on hope as it’s central message. By telling LGBT youth who are going through a hard time that “it gets better,” one is effectively giving them hope. This is very resonant to me as right now I am in a production of Execution of Justice by Emily Mann. The play tells the story of the trial of Daniel James White, the city supervisor who killed both George R. Moscone and Harvey Milk in November of 1978. It is a very intense play that has sparked many audience questions and debates, which is very exciting and really makes me believe in the power of theatre all over again! The second act opens with a recording of Harvey Milk’s campaign speech, Harvey’s central campaign message was hope. He says:
“Two days after I was elected I got a phone call and the voice was quite young. It was from Altoona, Pennsylvania. And the person said “Thanks”. And you’ve got to elect gay people, so that the thousand upon thousands like that child know that there is hope for a better world; there is hope for a better tomorrow. Without hope, not only gays, but those blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s: without hope the us’s give up. I know that you can’t live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.”
I have been thinking a lot lately about what would have happened if Harvey Milk had not been killed, and if Dan white had not merely received a seven years and eight month prison sentence because of the Twinkie defense. There is part of me that feels incredibly cheated, that feels like if Harvey Milk had lived LGBT people would have full equal rights today. Of course we can never know that for sure. But for me it is easy to become upset that gay marriage is not legal in the majority of U.S. states, that homophobia is so rampant, and that in many places job discrimination is still legal based on sexual orientation, as is the ability to deny hospital visitation rights. Perhaps because I was not alive during Harvey Milk’s time and before, it is easy for me to forget how far we really have come (And it is far! If you are interested in knowing more of the history around Harvey Milk’s time and before, read The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shiltz). It gives me hope that the ‘it gets better’ campaign is in existence. It feels like Harvey’s Milk message is still very much alive, even if we have work yet to do. I do believe that It does get better and I know it will. I believe that sharing our stories as a society and individuals, through plays like Execution of Justice and projects like the ‘It gets better campaign’ we can and will create change.