December 17, 2010 | by Kevin Naff
‘It Gets Better’ gets annoying

Hillary Clinton was cheered recently for recording a video in support of the increasingly annoying ”It Gets Better” campaign, then a week later told a reporter that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Democrats love the “It Gets Better” craze because they can post sanctimonious warm-and-fuzzy YouTube videos without having to actually do anything. I’d rather Hillary endorse our full equality and keep her convenient, safe opinions on bullying to herself. How many Democratic politicians posting these videos — Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Clinton — support our full equality under the law? How many celebrities posting “It Gets Better” videos donated money to fight Prop 8?

The problem with the campaign is that average LGBT voters will mistake words for actions. It’s akin to politicians marching in Pride parades each June, then returning to their jobs where they refuse to fight for LGBT rights.

It doesn’t get better because a bunch of preening celebrities say it will. It gets better through hard work, sacrifice and after finding the courage to come out.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

28 Comments
  • “The problem with the campaign is that average LGBT voters will mistake words for actions.”

    QFT. Too many queer voters, including activists who really ought to know better, believe with perfect faith in what politicians tell us, while making endless excuses for what those same politicians show us. Besides, if those people presume to tell us what it’s like to grow up LGBT, just how do they know?

  • God forbid something we do get ongoing media attention that isn’t negative.

    Use the attention for something constructive, not bitchiness. I really do not understand – we get brutalized for same sex marriage, brutalized for equal rights, brutalized for DADT – and *finally* something comes along that the bigots cannot argue with without looking terrible and we go and cut ourselves down.

    You do realize that to help kids minimize the bullying they get in schools, equality legislation needs to pass. What better argument for it than this? Do you really not think this lays a potential groundwork for activism?

    We’ve been given a gift of positive attention. Use it.

    I am so sick of all this whining.

  • Dennis Kucinich has been an advocate for full and total gay equality as long as he’s been in congress. Remember that next time everyone laughs at him in the presidential primaries.

  • Felix Rivera-Perez

    I would like to know the real reason Kevin Naff finds this project annoying. Did he actually review all of the videos submitted not just by celebrities and politicians, but also by every-day people who really care about our LGBTQ youth? What has Mr. Naff done to help encourage LGBTQ youth feel empowered? And so what if a celebrity started this project? At least he started it and others have contributed to it. which is more than what I can say about most in our community.

  • Dan has been adamant about calling out those politicians every chance he gets, and pointing out that they have the power to “make it better.” I don’t think that he’s shirked the complexity of this issue at all. And, some of the videos made for the project even critique it from the inside.

    “The administration does say all the right things, but we don’t see the action to back up these words,” Dan Savage told CNN’s “American Morning.”

  • Apparently, you have a rather low opinion of “average” LGBTQ voters. Don’t you think, just maybe, those folks have learned to smell hypocrisy before they step in it?

    Besides, the project is aimed at kids too young to vote. If it prevents one suicide, I think it was worth annoying you.

  • It Gets Better is annoying? You know what I find annoying? Listening to the news to hear about another young gay kid KILLING himself because he was bullied so badly. I don’t care who participates in it, whether gay or straight, Clinton or Bieber, as long as the message gets out there, because those kids need to know that just because the other kids in their schools are naive douchebags, not everyone is, and that there are people that they don’t even know that care about them, and feel their loss when they harm themselves.

  • Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. IGB is serving a need in the community for people without support to see a glimmer of hope, enough hope not to commit suicide. This is life and death for people.
    If you’re frustrated by Celebrities and Politicians leveraging a cause, I totally understand. Keep in mind though that Celebrities and Politicians are constantly being reinforced with the idea that their association to a cause, in any form, matters. Not as much as their money, and certainly nothing compared to any actions they might take. Ultimately though, that’s a problem with people “buying the hype”. Know Celebrities and Politicians by what they do, challenge them to do more, or criticize them if you feel like that is going to make them change. Leave IGB out of it, their work worthy of your respect.

  • StraightAllyWilmington

    While I agree with every word of the article, I have to disagree with the point. The purpose of the It Gets Better Project is to prevent LGBT teens from killing themselves, not to be an activist organization on any and all LGBT issues.

    I fully agree that many political leaders are using their It Gets Better videos for political coverage on gay issues, but that’s on us, not them. We, as voters, have to be aware of when they’re blowing smoke up our asses. I still welcome their attempts to curb the alarming suicide rate amongst gay teens, even if their votes aren’t always in line with the concerns of the gay community.

    • Agree with you! Another StraightAllyWashingtonDC…this is teen suicide prevention. we have to keep them alive long enough to be as enlightened as you!

  • Clearly, Mr. Nash is channeling his frustrations over our elected officials’ (in)action on LGBT issues in the wrong direction. This campaign is less about WHO is sharing encouraging words and more about WHAT their saying and the intention behind their words. And I fully believe every participant’s (celebrity or not) words when they say that they want these kids to hang in there, that what they’re going through is tough but that it will change as they get a little older. And that’s the whole idea behind this beautiful campaign: to offer some nonpartisan encouragement and some personal stories that may save a life. Not further a political agenda. Plus, even if some find hypocrisy in a handful of politicians’ and celebrities’ “It Gets Better Messages”, why should that negate the THOUSANDS other heartfelt messages from the LGBT common man and woman?

    So, a politician can’t wholeheartedly support LGBTQ kids with an anti-gay bullying message but be opposed to same-sex marriage? If only life and personal views and belief systems were so black and white, Mr. Nash.

    Sadly, this pessimism and negativity towards something so profoundly genuine in intention only adds to the chaotic background noise that confuses and depresses these kids in the first place. Another typical example of how the LGBT community often cannibalizes itself when it should instead be united in a cause like suicide prevention efforts on behalf of our community’s youth. So easy to criticize, but I wonder what Mr. Nash and others like him have done on behalf of suicidal LGBTQ youth? Wonder how much THEY have donated to The Trevor Project and other organizations working on behalf of this important cause…?

  • Actually, participating in “It Gets Better” IS an action. Granted, it is a small action, but a big part of our young gay people’s issues is ACCEPTANCE. By our leaders lending their faces and names to this awesome project, our youth are able to see acceptance at all levels. Let’s stop bickering about this. Some biggest roablocks we face in the fight for equality are brought about internally by our own “over-the top, whining-that-it-isn’t-enough” extremists. Division amongst the converted just warms the hearts of those would oppress us.

  • My problem w/ the campaign: What happens to LGBT youth for whom it doesn’t get better? For some, the campaign will produce feelings of worthlessness (“If it gets better for them, why doesn’t it get better for me?”), betrayal (“They lied when they said it would get better!”), and frustration (“When will it get better?”).

    What will be the answer then?

    • But one thing I like about the project is that these voices are heard too. Yeah, it gets kinda annoying listening to rich, white, mostly beautiful men go on about how it gets better when there are other structural inequalities, gender issues, geographic issues, financial issues etc that make is NOT get better for a lot of people, but the fact that anyone can post a video allows for this critique to happen from within the project itself
      http://velvetparkmedia.com/blogs/it-doesnt-get-better-you-get-stronger
      I’m still a fan.

  • The cmpaign is aimed at young people who are contemplating the ending of their lives based in part on the belief that their life will be not worth living if anyone finds out they are gay/lesbian. Its not about the politicians or celebrities, it is about these lost souls and as such, it has lost its appeal. The will to live won’t come from the Clintons or the Obamas or any other “name’ on the list. It will come from the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and community.

  • Been fighting my pessimism tooth and nail, but the holiday season is a bleaker time than any other. It’s much harder to ignore the lack of progress as far as the people power who have posted videos goes.

    The DADT stand alone repeal bill passed the House and is going to the Senate – members of the House who voted to get it through and who spoke on behalf of LGBT service members DID something to make it better and I appreciate those people. My hopes will follow that bill into the Senate.

    Instead of focusing on the people who haven’t yet lived up to their It Gets Better message, I’m trying to focus on those who have or are in the process of making it better. Actions indeed speak louder than words. I’m thankful for the people who are fighting in courts for our equal rights and the many LGBT people who have posted their own stories of how it actually got better for them.

    It may seem annoying to you that politicians are falling short of their messages, but that is the MOST typical problem with politicians. Making promises they don’t keep. I don’t honestly think people are so clueless they don’t see it, but I do hope we remain aware of the alternative and don’t shoot ourselves in the foot with Democrats. Slow progress is better than NO progress.

  • Kevin, you have redeemed yourself for that horrible piece on the Target/Best Buy boycott situation. Please keep up the good work.

  • I don’t think many people probably take the politicians’ videos seriously. I certainly don’t. The videos that truly move you and make you think come from every day people, and the “It Gets Better” project has done a good job of highlighting those as much as any celebrity.

    Yes. Hard work makes a difference. And yes, Facebook and other social networking ‘activism’ can be brought into question as to their benefit. But sometimes all it takes is a small reminder you’re not alone to change a person’s mind.

  • As adult queers, we can critique the follow-through or sincerity of these videos from politicians and celebrities, but that isn’t the point of the campaign. The point of the campaign is to have statements from high-profile people and people from all walks of life telling young queer people that their lives will improve as they get older, and that they shouldn’t consider taking their own lives because it’s so difficult for them right now.

    The campaign has taken on a life of its own and certainly extends beyond that original idea, but I completely disagree with your assessment that people like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama shouldn’t have recorded these statements. They are powerful and helpful to those who need them most.

    We adults can be more guarded and hold their feet to the fire; that’s not the job for the kids.

  • There is potential abuse of power when it comes to anything. Including something as wonderful as “It Gets Better”.

    I think you’re mistaken from critiquing “It Gets Better” as a whole. It was never created as a political platform for politicians to try to get votes. It was created to help the LGBTQ youth of today in a time of their life when it’s hard to believe or think that life can get better than the day to day torments of school days.

    Words come before actions and someday politicians will be willing to come out of the closet, so to speak, and support us directly. They just have to get over their fears of being completely ostracized by their constituents and any other fall out that could happen.

  • Your sentiment is shared by a lot of us that feel It Gets Better should choose its speakers with more care. Nice post

  • While I never want to discourage anyone from doing what they think may help, I have been leery of this whole It Gets Better Campaign from the start. I still don’t know how many troubled LGBT kids it will resonate with or how many it will even reach. Probably a few. But I’ve always seen it as an almost exclusively overblown “feel good” exercise to benefit us queer grown ups and give our straight allies a chance to jump on the bandwagon without having to do any heavy lifting.

    For older LGBT folks I think it’s mostly just a way to help us deal with our grief & guilt feelings for having failed so miserably in accomplishing what the “gay liberation movement” set out to do: change the world so that others coming after us wouldn’t have to go through the horrors of the closet we grew up with. We once realized that it would take a thorough revolution to fix the things that needed fixing before we settled for assimilation…

    We were fine there for a while, thinking that the next generation was better off because of the work some of us have been doing all these years. We have reason to believe there is way less homophobia overall in today’s youth. Now there are queer youth-oriented organizations, GSAs, local centers & programs in certain areas of the country (and a show like GLEE on TV!) — none of which we could imagine existing when we were young.

    With all this we still hear about the tragedy of kids who obviously have a tougher time dealing with their environments and situations than we did. We didn’t have it so bad that we didn’t survive it. We didn’t feel that the only way out was suicide. Some did, for sure, but we’ll never know who they were for the most part. This point is that those of us who are still around did not feel so hopeless & helpless that we actually killed ourselves.

    Yes, we have the advantage of being so many years or decades out of that miserable time of life so we can pat ourselves on the back for making it through and tell each other that it sure as hell IS better now than then. It got better. For us. But when have teenagers ever really cared what it’s like for people years older than themselves? All they want to know is what we can do for them – now.

    Not saying I have an answer to that. Except that I know that we need to do better than platitudes and promises. If we really want to make a change in their world it’s the world we have to change, not them. If we want to see that queer kids get out of their teenage years alive like we did we have to do more than tell them things will be different when they grow up.

  • I think the focus of his review is wrong. For me, the It’s Getter Project is wonderful because it’s about the MESSAGE. The message gets people to act up and fight for change. If you never receive the message, if you get lost in a hole somewhere of depression or frustration, you will never have the courage to change for the better.

    There are so many campaigns out there that have videos pushing people to contact congressmen or donate money, but the It Gets Better Project was never that, at least to me. It was about having a real human face on the other end of the world, reminding me that it was okay to be human, to suffer, and to feel not alone.

    Don’t change. I think an awareness campaign is more important than the forceful advertising tactic.

  • YES, let’s focus on the POSITIVES PLEASE!!! This is indeed laying groundwork for the future. . . and yes – politicians will always seek opportunities to make themselves look better . . .
    But this project is for the YOUNG PEOPLE out there who feel like life is not worth living!! Have you (Mr, Naff) forgotten the message i.e. the real point here? It just might mean a great deal to a young person to hear the President of the United States say those words! Rewind to 35 years ago… would you? Reflect on the openness to the LGBTQ community back then and then criticize the IGB campaign! What a waste of energy MT. Naff! . . .This is an awareness campaign – and IT IS WORKING!!

  • HRC has always said that marriage is between a man and a woman, that she fully backs “civil unions” with rights and obligations equal to those of marriage, and also that it is a question that should be left to the states, not decided on a federal level.

    Aside from the issue of where this question will be decided – in DC or at the state level – it is clear that Clinton’s argument is basically one of vocabulary, or semantics, or definitions of terms if you will. In the muslim environment, marriage can be between one man and up to 4 women; but in our western environment, marriage has long and everywhere been between one man and one woman.

    Same-sex ‘marriage’ is thus not ‘marriage’ to most people. If we could find another word for it, such as HRC’s ‘civil union’, and assign to it all the concomitant rights and obligations of traditional marriage, then HRC and many, many other people would be in favor. It’s just a matter of vocabulary.

    Not that I think ‘civil union’ is so great. One day the boys at Hillbuzz tossed out the idea of finding another word for same-sex marriage, but gave no suggestions. I have none myself, but then again I’ve forgotten my Latin and Greek and Hebrew. Maybe we could just take the Greek, Hebrew or Chinese or word for marriage from some African language, transliterate it into English, and use that as a new word. Just an idea…

  • Kids are killing themselves. Someone had an idea to use the internet to promote the idea that there is something to look forward to and people out there who look, and think, and LOVE the same way you do, even if in your small town there is no one you can identify with. It is a message worth sending. Yes, politicians and (gag me) celebrities are going to jump on the band wagon…does that mean we dump to bandwagon and give up on young lives? Ok…so you are queer and out what are you doing to help the next generation who are getting the message from tv and the internet that it’s ok to be gay…just not in your hometown?

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