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"It Gets Better" Down in Fort Worth, Texas

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, October 15 2010

Those of us not from the great state of Texas might hold certain, well, prejudices about the place. (Outside of Austin, that is.) For example, it might come as a surprise to find a Fort Worth city councilmember sharing his painful tale of growing up as a sometimes suicidal young gay man with a father aptly named "Butch." Even more of a surprise is that not only would the politicians burly colleagues on the council whisper tender words of encouragement as he struggled to the words out, but that he would get a standing ovation from the crowd as he finished.

But the "It Gets Better" project is about all that -- learning from one another, and about one another, and doing it through video. Fort Worth councilmember Joel Burns, age 40 and elected in 2008 to represent the north Texas city's ninth district, taped his difficult presentation to the city council and uploaded it to YouTube. Tagging it "It Gets Better," Burns' wrenching 12-minute speech became part of the growing collection of videos that are part of writer Dan Savage's project to let LGBT kids that life can, indeed, get better. "There's so so so much more," and emotional Burns told not the council, but his intended audience of teens in Texas and elsewhere. "Yes, high school was difficult. Coming out was painful. But life got so much better for me. And I want to tell any teen who might see this: give yourself a chance to see just how much better life will get. And it will get better. You will get out of the household that doesn't accept you. You will get out of that high school and you never have to deal with those jerks again if you don't want to." Since it was uploaded on Wednesday, Burns' video has been viewed nearly half a million times.

Blue State Digital, the firm best known for driving the Obama campaign's online successes, has partnered with It Gets Better to build a sleek interface for the project at itgetsbetterproject.com. On the back end, they're making use of the YouTube Direct API that sets up website owners to allow users to upload videos directly through their site, videos that the site creator can then curate to his or her liking.

Many of these Its Get Better videos are, like Burns', made and posted with intention. But the momentum behind the project is producing videos more slyly made. Fox 5 DC covered a Washington fundraiser for the Trevor Project, the LGBT anti-suicide project that is the vessel for funding coming in through IGB. The fundraiser was put on by friends and colleagues of Blue State Digital, and raised $10,000. Fox reporter Roby Chavez slipped in his own message of cross-generational hope at the very tail end of his otherwise straightforward coverage of the event. "Many of us who are gay think it's important to let those struggling out there to know their greatness is coming," said Chavez to the camera. "Many of us lead great lives, and want you to be around."

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