U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has joined the chorus of celebrities offering support to gay teenagers who are suffering from bullying, advising them to "hang in there and ask for help."
In a videotaped message posted Tuesday on YouTube, Clinton said she was saddened by recent suicides by young people who were bullied for being gay, or because people thought they were gay. (Watch Clinton's message below).
"These most recent deaths are a reminder that all Americans have to work harder to overcome bigotry and hatred," Clinton said.
Anti-gay bullying has been in the spotlight recently after the suicides of several teenagers. The victims included Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, who shot himself with his father's handgun, and Tyler Clementi, 18, a Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in New York after his roommate secretly recorded him with another male student, then broadcast the video online.
"I have a message for all the young people out there who are being bullied, or who feel alone and find it hard to imagine a better future: First of all, hang in there and ask for help," Clinton said. "Your life is so important - to your family, your friends, and to your country. And there is so much waiting for you, both personally and professionally - there are so many opportunities for you to develop your talents and make your contributions."
Clinton said she is "grateful every day" for the work of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees at the State Department.
"It wasn't long ago that these men and women would not have been able to serve openly, but today they can - because it has gotten better," Clinton said. "And it will get better for you."
Syndicated relationship and sex advice columnist Dan Savage began the "It Gets Better" project last month, hoping it would turn into exactly what it is: A destination for gay young people to receive comfort from a variety of perspectives on their Internet home turf.
The project now has a YouTube channel and a website. It is also closely linked to The Trevor Project, which provides free, anonymous counseling to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in crisis - especially those considering suicide.It is almost impossible not to be moved by the videos. "Project Runway" star Tim Gunn talks about attempting suicide as a confused teen. Members of New York's Youth Pride Chorus talk about being bullied and ostracized before singing the soul classing "Ooh Child," which promises "Things are gonna get easier." Singer Ke$ha tells bullying victims, "however you are choosing to live is beautiful."
The video messages are unique, but carry common threads. Many speakers talk about growing up in conservative communities and strongly religious households. Many talk about knowing of no other gay people and believing that they were alone in the world. And most talk about finding loving communities, rewarding careers, and life partners - things that they say they could never have imagined during the darkest moments of adolescence.
In one of the most widely-distributed videos not from a national celebrity, Forth Worth, Tex. City Councilman Joel Burns delivers a 13-minute speech to a city council session - in the heart of red Texas - discussing his homosexuality, highlighting the recent teen suicides, and excoriating the schools and officials that have done little to stop the bullying.
"I really, really believed that kids killing themselves over being gay was a relic of another time," Greenwood, a writer and English instructor at Tufts University near Boston, said in an interview. "I mean, it was nearly 30 years ago when I climbed my bridge. I thought that even kids who were bullied now had online communities or other ways of feeling hope about their identities."
Savage, a gay rights activist who also writes books, travels the country speaking, but he knows many towns and schools will never invite him. That is one reason he set up the "It Gets Better" channel on YouTube and asked for video stories, starting with himself and his partner, Terry.
"We're totally overwhelmed by the response," Savage said. "The most gratifying are parents sitting down at the computer and watching with their kids. So many kids, they're bullied at school by their peers, they go home to homophobic parents who bully them, and then they're dragged to church on Sunday for more bullying from the pulpit."
Sitting in an airport reading about the deaths of Minnesota 15-year-old Justin Aaberg and 15-year-old Billy Lucas, who killed himself in his family's barn in Greenburg, Indiana, Savage knew the power of his own story, his years in Catholic boys schools as the son of a church deacon and a lay minister.
"High school was bad," Savage said. "I was picked on because I liked musicals. I was obviously gay."
His parents came around, however. So did his partner's family in Spokane, Washington, where Terry was stuffed into bathroom stalls and school officials dismissed his parents' complaints about bullying as a natural consequence of being gay. They have been together 16 years and adopted their 12-year-old son, D.J., at birth.