“When the message out there is so horrible that to be gay you can get killed for it, we need to change the message,” Ellen DeGeneres poignantly explained on her show after the 2008 killing of 15-year-old Lawrence King. By the same token, if the message is so horrible that you should kill yourself for it, we need to change the message.
As important as it is to tell today’s kids “it gets better” on an individual level, it’s also critical that we as a society become better for the benefit of those kids. For the LGBT youth who are in hostile environments, we need to tell them that it won’t always be so difficult, that their lives will improve. But, we also need to reduce the hostility in those environments.
Achieving this goal is by no means an easy task, nor is there an even remotely simple solution. From sensationalistic media and homophobic politicians to the language in schools and stereotypes that dehumanize us, there are clearly areas screaming for improvement.
While there are truly positive media images and figures for LGBT youth, there are also many negative ones and the impact of the positive images can seem far removed and irrelevant to a young person who has no similar example in his or her own life. The real conditions for many of these adolescents are hateful politicians, teachers and even parents. When combined with constant repetitions of “that’s so gay” and “what a fag” from supposed friends — and there is no one standing against such language — a very bleak outlook is created for youth who think that’s all the world has to offer them.
Stereotypes also play a major role in building latent (or not so latent) homophobia in our culture. Many people, even those who comprise the LGBT community, accept stereotypes as reality, despite their severe consequences. When stereotypes about a large community become perceived as true, as they are by many, we lose the very thing that makes us human — our individuality. When we’re all seen as monolithic, we’re not recognized as fully human and that results in a fundamental lack of respect toward us.
At the It Gets Better candlelight vigil held on Oct. 11 in Charlotte, hundreds took hand in reaching out to struggling LGBT youth to tell them that suicide is not the answer. I am proud to have been a small part of that, but I hope attendees also left with another mission going forward: standing up and speaking out against homophobia wherever, whenever and however it manifests itself. : :
— Tyler DeVere is an editorial intern with qnotes.