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Teaching “It Gets Better”

posted: 2.2.11 by Barclay Barrios

The It Gets Better Project is an effort to stem the tide of suicides among young people who are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning). The project started when noted gay columnist Dan Savage made a YouTube video with his partner to let LGBTQ youth know that “it gets better.”

Since then, the project has grown to include videos from a broad spectrum of celebrities as well as everyday people. Given the number of LGBTQ suicides in the news lately, it seems like a timely project to explore in the writing classroom, particularly since it takes place within a larger context of a rising movement against any kind of bullying in early education. (My fellow Bits blogger Jay Dolmage has also written about this project.)

When I think of It Gets Better I immediately think of Daniel Gilbert’s essay “Reporting Live from Tomorrow.” Gilbert’s idea of a surrogate—someone who is living the future you’d like for yourself and so can give you the best sense of how happy you will be in that future—perfectly fits with each video promising LGBTQ youth that it does indeed get better. In crafting an assignment around this project, I’d have students consider Gilbert’s idea of the super-replicator, an idea that spreads voraciously. I’d ask them to think about homophobia or bullying as a super-replicator, then have them write on what effect surrogates like the It Gets Better Project might have on super-replicators.

From Gilbert, I would move to Kenji Yoshino’s essays “Preface” and “The New Civil Rights.” One of Yoshino’s central concepts is the idea of covering—hiding or covering up those parts of yourself that may not fit into dominant culture. Covering extends the notion of the “closet” broadly, asking students to think about how they obscure parts of their identities to fit in. LGBTQ suicide has everything to do with covering, or a failure to do so, but Yoshino’s discussion of civil rights would also provide students a framework to think and write about bullying in schools more generally.

To end the sequence I would use Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “Making Conversation” and “The Primacy of Practice.” Appiah talks about the need for cosmopolitanism. At first, students take this to mean that Appiah is telling us to just get along, but the concept is much more complex, and this sequence might help students to see this. According to Appiah, cosmopolitanism describes the problem as much as the solution. We live in a world so diverse and interconnected that it’s impossible to avoid difference. How do we get along without killing each other?

It’s a pressing question given the international arena, but I like how It Gets Better brings that question to the realm of the school. What’s nice about this sequence is that it also allows students to participate in the project themselves or to advocate for change within their local contexts.

As for the videos, they are often quite moving. And I can join them in testifying that it does indeed get better.

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Categories: Campus Issues, Emerging
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