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It Gets Better

15 May 2012

Before I start writing this blog, I should declare an interest. I worked with Dan Savage, the brilliant, inspirational originator of the It Gets Better campaign years and years ago, when I ran a DIY campaign to market two of his books, Savage Love and The Kid It suffices to say, I love Dan Savage – he’s a hugely witty writer, and I’d challenge anyone to read his Savage Love columns without roaring out loud (and, perhaps, blushing a little on the tube home). Dan is one of those rare people who actually makes things happen. So I wasn’t as surprised as I might have been when one day at the cinema I saw Dan, and his partner Terry Miller, in an ad featuring their It Gets Better video campaign, to remind, reassure, even promise, young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that life gets better. That while it may feel hard, here, now, at school, a bright future lies before them.

The It Gets Better website, features a timeline which starts with the 2010 suicide of American teenager Justin Aaberg, followed by the much-reported death of Tyler Clementi, both of whom had been subject to homophobic bullying before they died. The It Gets Better campaign responded to that, and to countless tales of the bullying faced by young people each year. It’s a major problem: research from YouGov and the charity Stonewall found that nine in ten secondary school teachers and two in five primary school teachers say pupils experience homophobic bullying, even if they are not gay. The campaign is simple: it invites people to sign a pledge that they will challenge homophobic discrimination where they see it, and invites them to submit their own It Gets Better video recording.

This is the first of a series of Forster blogs on campaigns that we like, admire or simply find interesting. I think what stands out about It Gets Better is twofold – firstly, that it couldn’t have existed in a pre-digital world, and secondly, that it is a paradigmatic example of that much sought after phenomenon: a groundswell campaign, made up of literally thousands of real and individual voices. The campaign embodies itself. It is, itself, a message: at the last count, over half a million people pledged to spread the message that their lives had got better, and so will yours. It is, itself, an endorsement: figures from Barack Obama, to staff at Disney and Nokia, to normal, every-day people on the street, have posted their own messages. The question of authenticity, so often used to attack campaigns, can hardly be raised here.

What I really love about this campaign is its emotional intelligence. It taps in to something that I know I feel strongly, of how nice it would be to go back and talk to that miserable, hopeless teenager we once were, and show them the great reveal that life did in fact, get better. That of all those awful things we thought might happen, only some of them did, and we got over them, and better things followed. While the campaign has a broad focus, its methodology and its messages are universal.

Of course, a campaign has to be judged, really, on what it achieves, and it’s almost impossible to know, in this case, that another teen will be saved from suicide because the campaign exists. But studies can track levels of homophobia, and recent reports suggest that it is dropping significantly, in the UK at least. And what can, clearly, be judged is that on the record of those involved, this campaign succeeds on its own terms: it gets better, because we say it does.

See Dan and Terry for yourself here.


Agree? Disagree? Let me know @ellen_odonoghue


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