“It Gets Better:” Wellesley students
Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 20:11
"I guess I didn't realize how many people would see it," Amelia Iuvino '11 said. Iuvino appeared in a video that Claire Grossman '12 and Sarah Turrin '11 contributed to the "It Gets Better" Project, journalist Dan Savage's campaign to reach out to young people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT).
According to ItGetsBetterProject.com, "It's a place where LGBT adults can share the stories of their lives, and straight allies can add their names in solidarity and help spread our message of hope." The Project's website features a video archive of LGBT adults who have overcome bullying and found happiness, including Project Runway's Tim Gunn, as well as supporters of the Project, including President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton '69.
Grossman and Turrin's video has over 9,800 hits on YouTube and even appeared on the College's website. It featured testimonies that "it gets better," from 14 Wellesley students, several of whom offered extended personal narratives.
Marken Shedd '11 of Barrington, R.I. dealt with bullying after she came out. "Girls would tell me they couldn't have sleepovers at my house anymore and boys would ask me if they could ‘get in on it,' so it got sexualized, which felt really odd," she said in the video.
For Turrin, her school in Haddonfield, N.J. was very silent around gay issues. "It was hard because it just felt like there was no way to come out because it wasn't an option," she said.
Sammy Sass '11, who reported that a female stranger in Wellesley's CVS complimented the video, said that responses to the video have been unanimously positive.
"The response has been really wonderful," Grossman agreed. She received positive messages from students, faculty members and alumnae. Among these messages were emails from students who wrote that they had the courage to come out to their friends after seeing the video.
Grossman attributed the video's effectiveness to its personal approach. "You're not abstracting the message into platitudes, which often happens in queer outreach," Grossman said. "By showing actual faces and testimonies, there's something very real about it." She says that activism through hyper-personal interaction over the internet is definitely something good. But a major criticism of the project was that the students spoke from a point of safety and privilege.
"It Gets Better doesn't always mean you have to move to a city or go to a liberal college," Grossman said. "There are other ways to make it better for yourself." She noted that students in the video pointed out that finding a support group is a way to do this.
"We can only talk about our experience," Shedd said in response to the criticism. "Even if it weren't coming from a voice of authority, it's coming from a place of experience and testimony," Grossman said. "My friends in this video are all testifying to their experiences as gay individuals. If anything, it's meant to say I'm here. I'm in a place where I can be comfortable about my sexuality and have come to terms with it. It's about visibility."
Wellesley for Equality, a student organization that addresses political and legislative issues related to the LGBT community, also plans to release a video by the end of November. The initiatives to make Grossman's video and Wellesley for Equality's were unrelated, according to Laura Gruberg '11, co-president of Wellesley for Equality. "We're so gay that we need two ‘It Gets Better' videos," Grossman said with a laugh. "It's encouraging in a way. It's empowering."
Gruberg explained that the fact that so many individuals and institutions made videos to voice their support motivated Wellesley for Equality to make its own. "We wanted Wellesley College to be among the people sending a strong message of solidarity to all the LGBT youth across the country," she said. "It's such a privilege to go to a school like Wellesley with lots of out queer students, lots of LGBT programming and school support for it, a wide spectrum of gender diversity…and when you have privilege you need to use it for good." Wellesley for Equality's video will feature shots of students holding up personalized "It Gets Better" signs.
"While Claire's video features a core group of six to eight people talking for a prolonged period of time about their experiences and thoughts, we wanted to fit 30 Wellesley faces, with no talking, into the video and have it stripped down to its main point: it gets better," she said. When the club advertised for the event, it called for students who had been through a negative experience, but had come through it stronger and asked them to make a sign that testified that it got better for them.
"This video isn't about smiling college girls holding up signs; it's about showing how far each of us has come," the club wrote on its advertisement.
"The Project is important because it puts the spotlight on LGBT youth who are in desperate need of help and validation," Gruberg said. "They may feel alone and stuck but hopefully when they see videos from people all around the world, testifying to how much better it gets, their worldview grows larger than just their high school or just their church or hometown. The point of the project is to send these videos out into the huge world of the internet, where anyone and everyone can access them and give them a reason to hang in there."