In response to a rise of gay youth bullying and suicides in the U.S., Dan Savage and Terry Miller created the It Gets Better Project, soliciting personal stories from LGBT adults and allies to let LGBT teens know that life gets better.
Since its launch in September 2010, more than 50,000 stories and messages of support have been shared on YouTube from LGBT adults and allies including political figures Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, actors Anne Hathaway and Neil Patrick Harris, TV personalities Tim Gunn and cast members of Modern Family, comedians Sarah Silverman and Stephen Colbert, musicians Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and Ke$ha and professional football team San Francisco 49ers . Several companies including The Gap, Google, Facebook and Pixar, too have shared videos with stories and messages from their employees. The videos have collectively been viewed more than 50 million times. The project has spread beyond the U.S. with chapters in countries including Australia, U.K., Chile, South Africa and Malaysia. Elizabeth Weise wrote:
“They sit down in front of the camera, and they start to talk. In English, in Spanish, in American Sign Language. Proudly wearing their U.S. Marine uniforms or wedding rings or holding squiggly, giggling children.”
A reader shared her surprise at the volume of support the cause gathered:
“Until you see a trend like this, you have no idea of even a fraction of the overwhelming amount of support that is out there – you know in theory, but you can’t really gauge it.”
Social media and YouTube gave the co-founders the opportunity to reach out to supporters and LGBT teens across the globe with their message in real-time and without the need of seeking approvals or spending money. In an interview with ABC News, Dan Savage co-founder of the It Gets Better Project said:
“It occurred to me that we can talk to these kids now. We don’t have to wait for an invitation or permission to reach out to them using social media and YouTube.”
In addition to the platform, the movement also relied on personal stories to connect people around the cause and to spark participation and action both from adults and from the teens themselves. In their book It Gets Better, Dan Savage and Terry miller wrote:
“Thousands of LGBT adults who thought they were just going to contribute a video found themselves talking with LGBT youth, offering them not just hope but advice, insight, and something too many LGBT youth lack: the ear of a supportive adult who understands what they’re going through.”
Blogger Christine Friar pointed out:
“Obviously, it’s important for there to be a national discourse about bullying on TV and in the paper, but for the kids who have to wake up every morning and deal with victimization on a personal level, the fact that The Huffington Post covered the issue might not do a lot to make them feel less alone.
“That’s where It Gets Better comes in. It’s the internet at its best: connecting people to one another through their personal stories and letting them know that they’re not alone.”
Change can be a slow process and a struggle for the change-drivers. Thinkers make the case that personal stories are vital to bringing attention to a cause and engaging people around it. Drawing a parallel between the civil rights movement and It Gets Better, journalist Kate Tuttle pointed out:
“Whether or not the adults can agree on much-needed policies to help them, one thing we can learn from both Eckford’s story and the messages from the It Gets Better Project is that change comes with struggle, and telling the story is a vital part of the process.”
Each transmedia adaptation adds to the movement. The two one-hour specials on MTV helps reach more people via multiple devices, the book of essays has been donated to school libraries, and the musical tour involves audiences at the local level.
TV Academy chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum said:
“The ‘It Gets Better Project’ is a great example of strategically, creatively and powerfully utilizing the media to educate and inspire…
“This is television moving well beyond the traditional physical set in the viewer’s living room to the intimacy of the monitor, laptop, tablet or mobile device and delivering the ideal mix of inspiration and creativity to affect awareness and, ultimately, change.”
Jimmy Nguyen, creative producer of the it gets better music tour and LGBT advocate, wrote:
“[The show] adds a vital dose of community by interacting – both on and off stage – with straight and LGBT students, teachers, residents and singers from the town… With these novel twists, the it gets better tour does not just speak to a passive audience. It depends on the community to get actively involved. And it asks the all-important question – once the show leaves, what will local residents do to help their LGBT youth?”
Some thinkers list It Gets Better as an example of transmedia activism for its use of content, stories and multiple platforms to inspire, connect and educate people, and create dialogue around the cause. As Brannon Cullum wrote:
“While there are numerous examples demonstrating the thoughtful use of digital media for advocacy, there are a select number of cases where organizations and activists are using multiple digital platforms and distribution channels to connect, educate and inspire supporters. These instances can be referred to as ‘transmedia activism.’”
In addition to stories, the movement was also fuelled by community support and gives merit to the theory that some successes can only be accomplished by a ‘loosely affiliated group’ and not the institution.
As Clay Shirky, thought leader in internet technology, wrote in his book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations:
“the loosely affiliated group can accomplish something more effectively than the institution can.”
In the case of It Gets Better, the community was responsible for spreading the word, initiating discussion at the grassroots level and changing teen’s perception of life. In a paper on “Fraternity and Social Change in the Digital Age,” politics student Maxwell Mensinger noted:
“By wresting control of its narrative, an entity (again, a group or individual) may begin to reshape the dominant interpretation of its story in a way that changes public and private perceptions of that entity’s identity.”
Movements use either story or community, or a combination of the two, to connect with people and gain supporters. For instance, Undroppable uses stories to encourage students to stay in school. All Out uses community to drive LGBT activism online and on-ground. Alpenliebe Kindness Movement uses both stories and community to inspire people to share kindness and happiness.
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