Dalhousie students help spread It Gets Better message

Campus community invited to contribute videos of hope for LGBTQ youth

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Alex Hallink in the Dalhousie Women's Centre getting ready for her It Gets Better Project event. (Photo: Dane Butler)

A Dalhousie University gender studies course, a Thanksgiving potluck dinner and friends with a mind for social activism conspired to create an event that took place Tuesday at the Dalhousie Women's Centre.

Between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. students, faculty or anyone supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer (LGBTQ) youth could drop in and film a message for the It Gets Better Project.

Columnist and author Dan Savage started the project in September in response to a string of highly publicized suicides of queer youth blamed on bullying. The project has grown significantly, with thousands of videos from all over the world. Celebrities and everyday citizens including people from the straight community and people from the LGBTQ community have all filmed messages for the project.

Dalhousie students get involved

Alex Hallink and Ashley Alberg organized the event through Dalhousie's Gender and Women's Studies Student Society.

Hallink is a second-year kinesiology student and Alberg is in her third year of theatre and gender studies.

Hallink had been thinking of doing her own video for the project. As part of a course in gender studies she had an optional activism assignment. If approved by the professor it would be worth 20 per cent and replace that portion of the exam grade.

"But that wasn't really why I wanted to do it," Hallink says. "I have an opportunity to do something important so I was like, why not?"

A spot was selected in the Women's Centre where participants could privately record their messages of support.

Hallink is no stranger to working for the benefit of others. She has spent time in inner cities of Jamaica and is colouring a moustache onto her face in support of Movember for the duration of November.

At a Thanksgiving potluck, Hallink began pitching ideas to Alberg and another friend. After some discussion, and some good cooking, the idea had taken shape: invite anyone who wants to film a message and put all the videos together online.

With the decision made to act on the project, the pair moved to making it happen. "First I had to go through university council. I proposed it to him, he okayed it, he sent it on to my professor and she approved it."

Hallink's next step was speaking with Dalhousie's Human Rights Equity and Harassment Prevention Office. The office suggested that because this is an academic project release forms should be signed by people who record videos. The release form ensures that Hallink has the final submission rights to the videos.

Some don't think it gets better

Some people oppose the It Gets Better Project, particularly in the world of blogs. Many LGBTQ bloggers have taken issue with the project. In a response widely spread online via tumblr and on sites like Queer Watch, blogger Zoe Melisa lists her critiques of the project. Among her objections are that the project was started by a privileged individual and that there's no "path to change" in the project.

Another blogger, Jason Tseng, has a different objection. "I went from being ostracized by my straight classmates in high school to being ostracized by many white gay men in an urban gay enclave," he writes.

Alberg says she understands why some people obejct to the project.

"I do understand people's negative opinions. Because it's not going to stop everyone from committing suicide, that's not something you can control, unfortunately," she says.

Both Hallink and Alberg acknowledge that the It Gets Better Project isn't perfect. Neither believes that bullying will stop or that things will change overnight. The way the project has grown and the diversity of the experiences and messages being shared makes them optimistic about the project.

Reaching an audience

"People seem to think that high school is the be all end all," says Hallink. "The thought that some of these kids who're getting bullied and tormented during high school are taking their lives because they don't think it's going to get better."

According to the statistics on the It Gets Better Project website:

  • More than one-third of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide.
  • LGBTQ teens are bullied two to three times as much as straight teens.
  • LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

"The people I want the messages to reach are the people who need them," Alberg says. "Even if it helps one person I think we've done our job. It needs to be talked about, it can't just keep getting shoved layer after layer under society."

Three video messages were recorded by the end of the day. Hallink says people contacted her letting her know they were busy today.

Despite the small turnout, Hallink says she's happy with the results. She's looking into organizing a second day for the event.

The videos will be compiled and uploaded to the It Gets Better Project website as a group message.

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