Senators star in message of hope for LGBT youth
WASHINGTON — Thirteen Democrats in the Senate are the stars of a new five-minute video, following in the footsteps of Lady Gaga, Anne Hathaway and other celebrities. But their message is serious — that there is support available for young gays or lesbians who are being bullied or facing discrimination.
Part of the “It Gets Better Project,” an initiative launched last fall in response to a series of suicides by gay and lesbian students dealing with harassment, the senators' video was shown Wednesday during a news conference kicked-off by freshman Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware. It is now available on the organization's website, www.itgetsbetter.org, and on YouTube.
Coons, one of the featured senators, said the purpose of the “It Gets Better Project” — which has received video projects from more than 20,000 people, including President Obama as well as many celebrities — is to reassure members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community who may be going through hard times. The message: You have allies and your plight will get better.
“The ‘It Gets Better Project,' is in my view, a really remarkable effort to support young people who are feeling isolated and alone, simply because of who they are,” Coons said, prior to reading an e-mail from a young man who was considering suicide until he came across a video from the “It Gets Better Project.”
The harassment problem has taken a toll nationwide. According to a 2009 study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, about nine out of 10 LGBT middle and high school students experienced harassment at school. Of those, about two-thirds felt their safety was at risk. Additionally, 18.8 percent of the students reported incidents of physical assault at school because of their sexual orientation.
Vermont's senators, Democrat Patrick Leahy and Independent Bernie Sanders, were not in the video.
But Leahy said in a statement that the project's “compelling personal stories are powerful and inspirational ways to make sure that young people understand they are not alone. The project is an antidote in the age of cyber bullying. People facing adversity, including vulnerable young adults, need to hear these messages of hope and optimism.”
Melissa Murray, executive director for Outright Vermont, an organization promoting safe and healthy environments for LGBT youth, praised the video project.
“When folks — particularly folks that are elected officials and have a lot of visible power — stand up say, ‘It does get better and it is OK and we're here to support you,' I think that sends a really powerful message to our youth and a message that they don't get all that often,” Murray said.
In addition to Coons, the stars of “A Message of Hope from the United States Senate” include Ron Wyden of Oregon, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Mark Udall of Colorado, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Al Franken of Minnesota, Dianne Feinstein of California, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
All 13 senators co-sponsored legislation introduced by Feinstein this year to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which recognizes marriage solely as an act between a man and a woman.
Blumenthal, Connecticut's freshman senator, said the video doesn't only speak to victims of discrimination, but to bullies and haters.
“The message is, ‘Hatred and bullying aren't cool, they aren't acceptable, they are unconscionable,' because of the damage they do to the human spirit,” Blumenthal said.
The video comes less than one week after the state of New York passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage and during the national LGBT pride month. According to the Human Rights Campaign, six states — including Vermont — and Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex marriage.
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