Youth Radio: LGBT youth hope "It Gets Better" now

Sayre Quevedo. Photo by Amanda Banks, courtesy of Youth Radio

San Francisco is renowned as a relatively safe haven for gay and lesbian people. But in many parts of the country, LGBT youth can face cruel harrassment that can lead to tragedy, as it did with a Rutgers University student who recently committed suicide.

To address this issue nationwide, a group called The Trevor Project launched a video series called “It Gets Better” – you may have seen it online. The videos highlight the happy lives of gay adults who survived childhood harassment, and they’ve gone viral, with celebrities from music to film to TV and Broadway, all joining in to record short, encouraging videos geared towards LGBT teens. And one of the latest uploads comes from outside gay America – a video from President Barack Obama himself.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (video): I don’t know what it’s like to be picked on for being gay, but I do know what it’s like to grow up feeling that sometimes you don’t belong. It’s tough.

Seventeen-year-old Sayre Quevedo from Youth Radio has been deeply moved by the video series, but now that the campaign's really taken off, he’s got some mixed feelings about the sentiment behind it.

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SAYRE QUEVEDO: I love the “It Gets Better” videos as much as the next gay kid. But I worry the campaign makes it seem like gay teenagers need to stow away in a time capsule until adulthood, when we can feel fulfilled and safe. I’m lucky to find an image of what it can look like to be happy and gay, I only need to look back at my past, not into an imagined future.

I was nine when I came out to my mother one night in February. I remember sitting her down at the kitchen table as my brother was getting ready for bed, saying to her, “I think I’m – I don’t know what the word is – transsexual? Bisexual? Gay?”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s the word – ‘gay.’ That’s what I am.”

She asked me if I was sure, and I nodded.

“And you’re sure it’s not because I had girlfriends before?”

I shook my head.

“Well,” she said, “I’m happy for you, honey. Now get ready for bed.”

A year later, I shared my news with my fifth grade class. And then my mom threw me a coming-out party. My brother, mother and I spent hours making the house presentable, washing tablecloths and filling balloons. We printed my coming-out poem on lavender paper and passed it out to the friends and even teachers who showed up. When I blew out the candles and cut the cake, slicing through the red, cursive icing letters that spelled, “Happy Coming Out,” it didn’t even occur to me how fortunate I was. This was a gay kid’s dream come true. And I was living it.

Since then, some things have gotten better, but it’s kind of hard to top a childhood coming-out party. So in other ways, things got worse. One time in eighth grade, I was hanging out at my school with some friends when a group of girls started pointing at me. They told me my eyebrow piercing looked stupid, that I looked like a fag. They began screaming things like, “You’re going to hell! You’re sick!”

In a moment like that, telling myself, “It’s going to get better,” helps – a little. But what made the difference was the support system that had my back. My friends, my family, my gay-straight alliance and the staff at my school who I knew would enforce rules regarding homophobia.

So even though I’m moved by the videos, I’m not thrilled with “It Gets Better” as a motto for my generation of gay youth. I don’t think we should have to wait to live happily. The last line of my coming-out poem from fifth grade goes, “I’m a boy. A boy who’s not afraid to say, ‘I’m gay.’ Do not laugh – I’m the same kid as yesterday.”

I might be older now, but the message hasn’t lost its relevance. Kids don’t change because we realize we’re gay. Our opportunities to be happy shouldn’t be either.

This piece was produced by Youth Radio.