‘It Gets Better ‘ campaign loses another teen

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In late September 2010, following a string of suicides by young men and women bullied for being gay, an online video project called “It Gets Better” took to the Internet, providing voices of encouragement, love and hope to persecuted gay adolescents everywhere. Among their voices was Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, who posted his own contribution in May.

“Just love yourself and you’re set,” he said in his video, “… and I promise you it’ll get better.”

But for Jamey, it did not get better. He committed suicide on Sunday, Sept. 18, mere weeks after starting high school, and months after posting his message.

In interviews with CNN and NBC, Rodemeyer’s parents asserted that harassment, both at school and online, were contributing factors. “He had the biggest heart,” said his mother, Tracy. “But students would say things like ‘you’re like a girl or whatever’ … Some would even say, ‘what are you, gay?’… he did not like it.”

Jamey’s death has reopened the questions man people have been asking in increasing numbers: is it actually getting better? How can this be prevented?

Dr. Rodrigo Torres, a coordinator at DePaul’s office of LGBTQA Student Services, feels that schools need to do more to enforce the message that bullying of any variety is unacceptable, and they need to start getting that message across at an earlier age.

“It’s important to start educational efforts earlier with children to understand differences, to work and grow across differences,” Torres said. “What is acceptable gender/sexual behavior … such messages are communicated richly at a very early age, and we must counter them at an early age.”

Schools need to treat bullying with zero tolerance and hold staff and faculty accountable for ensuring the policy, said Torres. “If someone knows that adults in charge will not tolerate this type of behavior, they feel safer,” he said. DePaul student Nathaniel Bass, a sophomore, feels that more people need to step up and defend their harassed peers.Kelly Carpenter, a freshman at DePaul, is grateful that she is in a place that is more accepting of the LGBT community, but she is aware that it is not like that everywhere.

“It’s so sad that it came to this,” said Carpenter, who was also active in LGBTQ groups in high school. “In high school it’s very cliquey. It’s not cool [to be different] … here, people can be completely different and still get along with each other.”

Senior Gabriela Haro agreed that the high school atmosphere made bullying much more apparent to her than what she has seen at DePaul. “Personally, I haven’t seen incidents [of harassment],” said Haro. “In high school, there was an unbelievable amount of pressure “to get along with everyone…fitting in.”

“People should speak up,” said Bass. Bass thinks that society’s perception of the LGBTQ community has improved over the last few years but that this kind of bullying is still around. The fault does not just lie with the tormentors but also those who stand quietly by and let it happen.

“Lots of people are afraid to say something even if they do accept it,” said Bass. “They need to speak up when someone is being treated unfairly.”

Rodemeyer’s passing serves as a reminder that, as much as we have tried to make it “better”, there are still young men and women suffering at the hands of their peers. However, Dr. Torres cautions that we should also remember the image depicted by the media is not representative of the entire LGBTQ community.

“It is too easy to equate being gay with being weak, needy, or suicidal media attention inadvertently enforces that,” Torres said. For those facing discrimination, Torres would “validate their pain, acknowledge the difficulty and work with them to address these challenges.”

“Simply telling someone ‘it gets better’… is a helpful but too simplistic response,” said Torres. “Helpful, but not all that we can do.”