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February 19, 2021
by Tina Arnoldi

“It Gets Better”: More Than a Slogan

February 19, 2021 08:04 by Tina Arnoldi  [About the Author]

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on UnsplashThe "It Gets Better" project aims to reduce suicide among LGBT adolescents by offering narratives by mainly adult LGBT people. A recent, but small study, found both positive and negative aspects of these campaigns.  Messages were helpful for promoting hope, but there was a perceived lack of diversity on sexual identities, and some shallowness around suicidal ideation. I invited experts to comment on whether these types of campaigns can make a difference. 

Event planner Keith Willard is a 52-year-old, white, gay man who has been in a relationship for 17 years and married 4 years. Willard believes these campaigns have a positive impact by helping kids know that things really will get better. A decade ago, I planned a yearly GLBTQ Prom that was independent from the local school system to give youth a place where they could celebrate,” said Willard. “Every year, I found location and catering partners that would sponsor the event 100% so every person that wanted to come would be able to regardless of availability to pay.”

Willard's motivation to help stems from his personal story. “I was an awkward teenager - overweight, 6'3 redhead and gay. I was picked on, my car was vandalized on multiple occasions, and I came close to suicide several times. It was by sheer luck that I made it to college where I was able to find others like me and I realized that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. In fact, I was unique! I learned to love my hair, my heights and my weight. It was because of how alone I felt that I decided to start the gay prom. I knew that if young people could look forward to a prom where they could totally be themselves, that it might bide enough time for them to see the larger picture and find their place in this world.”

Stephen Light, a certified stress management coach and co-owner of Nolah Mattress agrees “It Gets Better” campaign is a good idea, especially for the closeted LGBT community or those that do not have a nearby support system. He recognizes the critics, but still believes it’s a helpful message. “Although it is not as diverse as critics want, it is undeniably providing relief and comfort. Countless LGBT youth benefited from the empowering messages, which made them feel loved, accepted, and validated.”

Yeah, but…. is how Ron Blake, with the Blake Late Show responded to this study, saying that “more than soundbites and slogans are needed.” He concurs with other experts that the campaign provides hope and is a great start, but notes that soundbites and slogans are generalities that don’t address diverse needs. He explains, “We need specific examples beyond that catchphrase that let young LGBT individuals know what is available to support them.”

So what else does he suggest to enhance the message behind the campaign? “Share TEDx talks that are helpful to watch. Identify local community organizations throughout the country that address these matters for kids. Share a booklist that is teen friendly for kids struggling with their sexual identity.”

He stresses that all efforts should embrace the diversity that matches the diversity of the young LGBT audience being helped. “For example, TEDx talks from young LGBT people who are black, white, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern, etc. We want it to connect to the young folks and be relatable in their experiences.”

Blake also shared how he wrote a letter to the editor to a local newspaper this past summer, talking about how it got better for him after a traumatic experience. “I had a fraternity experience in which a group of Greek-lettered boys wanted to kill me. Because I was gay. It took 32 years for me to talk about this. And for it to finally get better. I had no one to turn to. No specific example of help. And no hope during that time. And it almost did not get better for me. Suicide was becoming a better and better option each day over those decades.”

While Blake admires existing efforts, he stresses there is more work to do. “It can get better. LGBT youth want more than hope. They want to know how. Let's get more specific in how they get that help. Let's get beyond the soundbite. The slogan. The catchphrase. That's how it truly gets better.”

About the Author

Tina Arnoldi

Tina Arnoldi, MA is a business consultant and freelance writer in Charleston SC. She has reviewed books for PsychCentral and has a portfolio on Contently. You can learn more about her and connect at TinaArnoldi.com


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