ItGetsBetter.org—the revolutionary online video project designed to draw attention to bullying and abuse of LGBT youth—jumped from the internet to bookshelves across the country with the publication of an anthology of essays edited by Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller. Like its online counterpart, the hardback It Gets Better is drawing much needed national attention to the plight of LGBT youth who all too often face horrendous verbal and physical abuse from their peers and adults, including parents, teachers, and family members.
A tragic consequence of anti-gay bullying is the endemic rates of suicide and attempted suicide among LGBT youth. However, the accumulated harms on young people do not end there. Increasingly, behavioral scientists are documenting an array of adverse health impacts directly related to growing up in an anti-gay environment. For example, surveys show that gay/bisexual men harassed or physically attacked as youth (including at home) have higher rates of unprotected sex, HIV acquisition, depression, substance use, and partner violence than their peers who did not grow up in such hostile environments.
For AIDS activists, these findings underscore the urgency to combat homophobia and other forms of discrimination if we are going to make a dent in the epidemic. Acceptance of HIV prevention education, testing, and treatment is too often hampered by the fears of being labeled gay and the torturous existence that can follow. Without adequate support, nurturing environments, and comprehensive sexual education, gay teens and young adults are getting infected with HIV at disturbing, unconscionable rates as they face the compounding obstacles of homophobia and HIV stigma.
The AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) has been at the forefront of addressing these challenges by supporting HIV-related anti-stigma campaigns, engaging young people online through withmecomesacure.org, Peter Pointers on Facebook, and ringonit.org, and promoting healthy, resilient images of gay men through a project akin to It Gets Better called “How are you healthy?” Our health promotion portal LifeLube.org engages transgender, gay, and bi men in health topics and community mobilization activities.
AFC also supports an array of HIV prevention, care, and advocacy projects serving tens of thousands of trans, gay, and bi men citywide and our staff are championing legislation pending in the Illinois General Assembly to advance comprehensive and gay-affirming sexuality education in Illinois schools.
This is why AFC is so thrilled to have Dan Savage speak at our Spring Luncheon. At today’s event, AFC will celebrate 25 years of accomplishments fighting AIDS and will describe the urgent work that lies ahead for us all.
Thanks to Dan, It Gets Better has become a clarion call for the anti-bullying movement. It is especially powerful because it connects to and intersects with a multiplicity of issues that threaten the health and well-being of our LGBT youth. With persistent advocacy and attention, a whole range of health indicators, including HIV, can improve for this and the next generation.
David Ernesto Munar
AIDS Foundation of Chicago