It gets better
A local take on the national project to save gay youth
Published: November 11, 2010
When 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi leapt from New York’s George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, a portion of the nation’s psyche fell with him. Amid the non-stop white noise of anti-gay wedge politics – the fear of gay adoption and marriage, the frustration of gay soldiers faced with a fluctuating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy – a message perhaps not discernable by adult ears was reaching a crescendo among the nation’s questioning youth. That message was simple: You may think you have it bad now facing the bullies in high school, but wait until you get out in the real world. That’s when people will really come after you.
Clementi’s suicide followed a string of similar sad stories – 13-year-old Seth Walsh in California, 15-year-old Billy Lucas in Indiana and 13-year-old Asher Brown in Texas all killed themselves within a month of each other – inspiring syndicated Savage Love columnist Dan Savage to launch his It Gets Better Project in conjunction with the national gay youth suicide hotline, The Trevor Project. According to Savage, gay (and gay-friendly) celebrities couldn’t carry any relatable message to the ordinary masses. Savage’s YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject) invited people from all walks of life to share their coming-out stories in the hopes that it might shift the narrative from bleak to manageable; real stories from regular people.
“What kids have a hard time picturing is a rewarding, good, average life for themselves,” he told the New York Times in September. “Becoming Ellen [Degeneres] is like winning the lottery. But there are a lot of happy and content lesbians who we don’t see or hear from ever. Those are the people teens need to hear from right now.”
We contacted Savage – whose column is published in this paper – and he gave us his blessing to move forward with a local iteration of the It Gets Better Project. Below are the stories of some notable and some ordinary gay Central Floridians, each coming from disparate (sometimes horrifying) places to arrive at the same conclusion: If you hang in there long enough, life inevitably improves.
Sam Singhaus, 52
I remember coming out. I remember it well. When I was 18 years old I wanted to run away to New York City. Apparently my parents had found out, some friends of theirs had found out, and I discussed it with my parents and, uh, so for two days I hid out at my friend’s house with my boyfriend. We were going away to study dance. We had to go by the house, though, to pick up our suitcases, and my parents were sitting there waiting for me. My dad was a football coach and a high school principal and my mother was a teacher, so having a gay son was not really on their list, not their ideal list. But we talked it out and they said that they think there are some things you should do for your family. And I said, well, ‘I think that you raised me right. You raised me to believe in being who I am, and I’m intelligent and healthy and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the gay lifestyle, because that’s what I am naturally.’ So I said, ‘Let’s just work this out.’ And like most parents, they disowned me. They disowned me for about six months.