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Back from the future: A digital hug for bullied LGBT teens

Imagine in the middle of the torment and taunt of high school, someone who lived through it all could reassure you: life really does get better.

Studies show that lesbian, gay bisexual and transgendered teenagers are up to three times more likely to be victims of bullying than their heterosexual peers.

But a new online video channel, created by Seattle writer Dan Savage is reaching out to them, collecting video from LGBT adults who have survived high school and come out the other side.

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The project, which went live on September 21, has a growing collection of videos - including a poignant submission from a young woman at the University of Waterloo.

We asked Mr. Savage why he started the project, and to recall his own high school years:

Q: How did you get the idea for the It Gets Better project?

A: I was reading about the latest suicide of a bullied gay teenager-and there have been two more cases since then-and I thought, "I wish I could've talked to him for five minutes, I wish I could've told him that it gets better." And then I realized I could talk to teenagers. Not to the kid who had already decided, in his despair, to end his life, but to other isolated and bullied gay teenagers. I had access to a digital camera and to YouTube.

Q: What has been the response so far?

A: It's been utterly overwhelming. In four days we've received more than a 100 videos-from gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans folks. And from straight folks. Right now we're at more than 300,000 views for the channel-which has only been live since Tuesday.

Q: Why do you think it's important for LGBT youth to hear this message?

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A: A lot of LGBT youth can't picture a future for themselves-isn't that what, in many cases, a suicide is about? I wanted to post videos from happy, healthy, out LGBT people talking about their lives now, after high school, because most gay teenagers don't know any average LGBT adults. They don't know that life for out gay adults, even with the usual struggles and heartbreaks, is pretty wonderful. Worth hanging around for, worth getting through high school for.

Q: Can you describe some of your high school experiences and how it impacted you?

A: I was harassed and bullied a bit-I liked musicals, I wasn't interested in girls. But I wasn't subjected to the kind of vicious bullying that so many LGBT teenagers are. My boyfriend - he's my husband in Canada, my boyfriend in the United States - had it a lot worse in high school than I did. He was brutalized, emotionally and physically, and the administrators at his middle and high school refused to do anything to protect him. They were as homophobic as the students who were tormenting him.

Q: How important would an It Gets Better message have been for you as a teenager?

A: You know, thirty years ago I was 15. I didn't know any gay people, my parents had no gay friends, there were no openly gay people on TV or in public life.

When I realized I was gay I thought my life was over-I thought my parents would reject me, I would never be in a long-term relationship, I would never have a family. It would've been tremendously helpful to me then if I had been able to get a glimpse into the lives of happy, well-adjusted gay adults who were accepted by their families and loving their lives-and there were happy gay adults back then, gay adults who had the love and support of their families, who had found love and lasting relationships. But there wasn't something like YouTube back then.

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More

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