One of the biggest challenges in social justice advocacy is demonstrating success. When the whole goal is to prevent people from having negative experiences, it’s hard to prove that strategies are actually working, because there isn’t physical evidence. The desired result is “no negative experiences,” but some might see this as merely “nothing.”
Take the “It Gets Better” project. Tens of thousands of videos have been made since the anti-bullying campaign launched a year ago. Surely one of IGB’s undeniable successes is the way it has rallied many people in the public sphere to take pro-LGBT stances, from politicians to sports teams. But does the campaign actually make a difference for the young people it targets? Some have critiqued it as “self-congratulatory back-patting,” suggested it’s “useless,” or expressed concern that it includes “no path to change.” Even the Disappointing Gay Best Friend was unimpressed. While we can track suicide attempts, mental health trends, and rates of bullying, it would arguably be difficult to ever directly connect IGB to the positive results it might be fostering.
But there’s one exception: young people saying thank-you. Box Turtle Bulletin posted this video today from a teenager named Dylan:
Dylan found an “It Gets Better” video from YouTube user “depfox,” gay couple Jay and Bryan Leffew with their kids Daniel and Selena. Through the Leffew family, Dylan saw that he didn’t have to pray away the gay or repress his identity. He could, in fact, grow up to have the loving family that he has dreamed of. Since posting his thank-you to the Leffews last month, he has since made a follow-up video telling his own coming out story in which he also talks about how important Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns’ video was for him as he was figuring out his identity. Dylan’s journey is far from over, because though he came out to the world at large on YouTube, he still hasn’t talked to his family about his identity. Still, by coming out, he is already on a better path.
Is it fair to suggest that IGB saved Dylan’s life? Yes. Nobody will ever know what his story might have been, but if some Internet videos helped him avoid a life of denial, depression, and psychologically harmful ex-gay therapy, that is surely a victory. It’s pretty hard to call something “useless” that has saved a life, and it would be foolish to assume Dylan is alone. “It Gets Better” is making it better one video at a time just by being there for young eyes to see. Keep them coming.