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12-16-10 Update: Psychology Today article on It's Get Better and Make It Better campaigns
10-13-10: Faith and Religion on Bullying -- Update Oct. 13. In my original post on the It Gets Better and Make It Better YouTube projects, I began to ask questions about faith, bullying, and gay teen suicide. Change.org has published a blog on how religions are reacting to bullying, several weeks after the suicides in Sept. and not quite two weeks after the YouTube projects.Oct. 6, 2010 "GLEE" UPDATE: This week's episode of Glee struck a nerve because of the spate of real-life teen gay suicides in Sept., and because it focused on faith. I believe it portrays what I've been feeling about the "It Gets Better" and "Make It Better" campaigns. The character of Kurt embodies both of them. And both are holy.
In the show, Kurt's anger and pain erupt when he learns his father might unexpectedly die. His peers insist on praying for his dad. He rejects the prayers and insistently objects to his friends thrusting God on him. “God is Santa Claus for adults,” he snaps.
They pray over his father in the hospital anyway. This violation of boundaries adds a variable of torment to the frightening situation. His anger at unwelcome evangelism threatens his integrity. (This is the button trigger for me personally) It also prevents him from accepting well-intentioned loving kindness and support.
He turns to a classic Beatles song to unleash his despair at facing the loss of his dad - the one person who loves him unconditionally and who fully embraces Kurt's identity.
His voice floats over flashbacks of his father reaching for his son's hand as they approach his dead mother's grave. In a slow, tearjerker rendition of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," he cries for what he needs - what we all need if life becomes unbearable: Accompaniment and Unconditional Love.
The teen knows how precious that hand is. He knows that life is better, the future is better if that grasp is there rather than not. Kurt's father showed him that life got better after they grieved the loss of his mother. His father showed him that life is what you make of it. Kurt lives his glam identity in the face of bullying at school because of it. He has friends who accept him, he marches on, and things get better. "Why else would I continue to come here (the school) when I'm harassed daily," he says to underscore the conscious choices he's made.
The reach; the father-son grasp; the holding fast and not letting go, are acts of mutual faith.
Thinking about the episode and the news brings me to these questions:
What does faith mean in the context of bullying and teen pain? Is it the following? "I trust in God or the Universe and that things will get better?"
Or, what about this? "I have faith that together we will see things through, and in this act of accompaniment, you are not alone. And, that with my presence, because of my life experience, you can take comfort and muster the resources to make life better. And in the identity of "we", at the very least, things will get better." I believe in the latter.
(Another blog post this week: Who Am I?)
My two eldest nieces led SLGBTQ student alliances when they were in high school. One of them is now a sophomore at Columbia, where she's an outspoken feminist, and the other is an abortion rights activist and clinic worker. My sophomore niece proclaimed on facebook that she thinks the It Gets Better campaign invalidates the feelings of LGBTQ teens. She says the campaign doesn't offer LGBTQ teens anything to help them develop the self confidence to stand up for their right to exist and love. To explain, she cited a blog, Why I don’t like Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project, as a response to bullying, which is written by someone else and getting a lot of attention. The girls are also advocates of a site that launched this week, the Make It Better project (MIB). Its purpose is to empower kids to make their lives better now. (The last video at the bottom of this blog is from the MIB campaign.) We've had a lively discussion on facebook. Of course, I agree that we need to work to end bullying and rid our culture of that which cultivates it. The Make It Better project is very good but there will still be teens who do not feel strong enough or who need more.
For those of you who don't know, two gay men launched a campaign on YouTube for LGBTQ people to record their stories and experience from when they were teens. (The video is at the end of this blog) The hope is that, by example, those who are suicidal will see that others persevered. The stories of multiple gay teen suicides of the last several weeks prompted the two gay men to start the campaign. I wish there had been a YouTube to connect millions of people like me to me when I was a teen. Even though I was outspoken and resourceful, there were times when that wasn't enough. I needed to hear that things would get better. That life was worth living. But I didn't, at least not for being lesbian. My outspokenness put me in harm's way and I got caught. Had I had the kind of support that is pouring out on YouTube now, I would have recovered sooner and stronger. What adults are offering on YouTube is not a panacea. It's just one of many tactics to help LGBTQ teens get through darkness. But the enormity of the outpouring, IMHO, takes on a life of its own that is more than just "It Gets Better." It's causing discussion in religious institutions, at schools, in the media and at community centers. It prompted leaders of the Gay Straight Student Alliance to create the Make It Better project. I don't know if my life experience makes a difference to my nieces. I don't understand the "my way" is better than "your way" dichotomy. The adults on YouTube are not therapists. The title of the campaign means something different to everyone who is responding with a video of their own stories. To many it means, things get better when the teen takes action to better his or her life. To others it does mean that they waited out the high school years, even though their school had an alliance of SLGBTQ. They could not bring themselves to join it. I've wondered if my nieces are willing to see the love that is implicit in the act of sharing one's story to help others. They and their friends say that if adults want to help there are better ways and that the videos on YouTube are harmful. But does that mean we should not accept that many kids, in the teen years, don't have a voice and can't muster one? When people worldwide make the effort to connect to these kids, they are reinforcing the interconnectedness of life and sharing a part of themselves. They are extending their presence. They are extending a hand.
I'm still stumped by their reaction to the It Gets Better campaign. Maybe their approach reflects a healthy desire to live in the now and make now better. But I do not share their dismissal of future possibilities. It's those possibilities that help make the journey of life worthwhile. When the opportunity is right, I'm going to offer that our ability to see truth improves when we open our hearts to recognize and understand acts of love. Isn't that our new (UU of Arlington's revised 10 Commandments) First Commandment, the one that prompts us to keep our hearts open to the holy. Here's the original video that started the campaign. Underneath are more responses that I happen to like. From the Make it Better campaign: