This week, MTV and Logo aired an “It Gets Better” special, anchored by one of the co-founders of the It Gets Better Project, Dan Savage. The 60-minute special followed the stories of three individuals facing challenges encountered by many in the LGBT community: Greg, a high school senior struggling to tell his friends and family he is gay; Vanessa, an out lesbian woman seeking her mother’s acceptance of her sexual orientation; and Aydian, a trans man preparing to get married. Throughout the special, messages from Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller summarized the history of the It Gets Better Projects, shared coming out experiences, and offered encouragement and hope to those feeling unsupported. Segments from other user-created videos were included as well, highlighting the diversity of individuals who have lent their voices to this project, from celebrities to government officials. With more than 30,000 user-created videos that have been viewed over 40 million times, the It Gets Better Project has grown enormously over a short period of time, brining inspiration to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth worldwide.
At the beginning of the episode, viewers are introduced to Vanessa, a 19-year-old African American woman living in Connecticut who is a singer-songwriter and an out lesbian. Though she had a difficult time at first, Vanessa is comfortable with herself, and has a girlfriend, Rashaida. “Things got better because I accepted me. I found my truth, but I still have this void,” Vanessa says, thinking of her family. Despite the happiness she has found in her life, Vanessa’s parents have not come to terms with their daughter’s sexual orientation. Vanessa shares that her mother, Valerie, mistakenly believes that Vanessa will ‘grow out’ of being gay. Later in the special, Vanessa tells Valerie that she is happy with herself, and that she is hurt by her mother’s refusal to acknowledge her relationship with Rashaida. Upon hearing about the pain her actions have caused Vanessa, Valerie apologizes, saying, “I love you for who you are…and I’ll get to that place you want me to be.”
In another storyline, Aydian, a transgender man and pastry chef, is planning to marry his fiancé, Janilee, but must address the fact that his birth certificate does not affirm his gender identity. Aydian discusses his fears around having to tell the wedding officiant that he is transgender, as he has never had to come out to anyone before and does not want to deal with overly personal and potentially uncomfortable questions. When Aydian does come out to the wedding officiant, she reacts with a smile, assuring him and Janilee that she is excited for the wedding. “That was an awesome, epic moment in my life to come out for the first time,” Aydian says of the experience. The next task, filing for a marriage license, proves to be more difficult, as conflicting forms of identification create understandable anxiety for the couple. This seemingly mundane administrative task is but one example of the everyday obstacles that transgender people face living in a world that regulates gender in multiple ways using various rules and guidelines. Fortunately, Aydian and Janilee sail smoothly through the process and are able to legally marry.
When we are first introduced to Greg, he had yet to tell anyone that he is gay. Unlike Vanessa and Aydian, who have found some acceptance and support in their lives to be who they are, Greg feels he is hiding a part of himself from his friends and family, and it is slowly putting a strain on his well-being and his relationships. He is the student body president, participating in several extracurricular activities, and while his friends consider him to be a fun and social person, Greg fears their potential reactions to him coming out. At a GSA meeting, Greg tells his fellow members that he is gay, taking a large first step toward living openly and abating his fears as his friends unanimously embrace him sharing his truth. He later speaks with a youth counselor and some close friends about coming out to his parents, deciding to write them a letter explaining everything to them. Shortly after leaving the letter in his house and preparing himself for the “worst possible scenario,” Greg receives a phone call from his mother, telling him that she and his father love and accept him. “That was amazing to hear,” Greg says. “There’s still a lot of work to be done with my parents, but I’m feeling way more confident than I have in the past couple years. I’m so glad this is over, and I was so nervous about everything, but it’s nice to finally start to be myself.”
The “It Gets Better” special ends with Vanessa, Aydian, and Greg at pivotal and exciting moments in their lives. Vanessa is strengthening her relationship with her mother, Aydian is marrying the woman of his dreams, and Greg is beginning to share a part of himself that he never has before. Parting words from Dan Savage and many user-created videos repeat the message of hope, patience, and self-acceptance, inspiring a generation of young LGBT people to be who they are. You can watch the whole special here. GLAAD applauds MTV, Logo, and the It Gets Better Project for their commitment to LGBT youth, and thanks them for elevating this important message.