President Obama is the latest public person to contribute to Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better Campaign,” on the heels of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. In the video (above), the president says that “We’ve got to dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage — that it’s some inevitable part of growing up.” He notes that although he doesn’t know what it’s like to be bullied for being gay, “I do know what it’s like to grow up feeling that sometimes you don’t belong. It’s tough. And for a lot of kids, the sense of being alone or apart – I know can just wear on you. And when you’re teased or bullied, it can seem like somehow you brought it on yourself — for being different, or for not fitting in with everybody else.”
The video and message is a powerful one, especially since it’s coming from the President of the United States. I am incredibly pleased that he chose to participate in this important project and hope that his words have an impact on those gay men and women who may not believe that “it gets better.” However, there is a part of me that is also bothered by his participation, as well as the participation of anyone else who does not actively support gay marriage.In the video, President Obama says, “As a nation we’re founded on the belief that all of us are equal and each of us deserves the freedom to pursue our own version of happiness.” That may be true, but the “freedom to pursue our own version of happiness” is not afforded to all gay Americans who wish to marry the person they love. That is a basic human right that is being denied of them simply because they are “different.” While my gut tells me Obama himself does not give a hoot who anyone marries, his administration has not come out in support of gay marriage, likely because doing so would be an unpopular and unwise strategic move, especially with midterm elections coming up, and his own reelection in just two years. I get that politicians have to pick their battles in order to get anything done in Washington. I understand the argument that Obama can’t, at least at this time, prioritize gay marriage over the other pressing issues facing the country, the solving of which requires support from the public and from across the aisle.
That being said, I worry that having politicians participate in the “It Gets Better Project,” what with their unsteady support of gay rights, makes the country as a whole lose sight of the fact that a society which, by law, treats gay people as different is teaching its youth that gay people are different, which leads to bullying in the first place. Sarah Silverman, the comedian, summed this up beautifully and succinctly:
“Dear America, when you tell gay Americans that they can’t serve their country openly or marry the person that they love, you’re telling that to kids too. So don’t be f**king SHOCKED and wonder where all these bullies are coming from that are torturing young kids and driving them to kill themselves because they’re different. They learned it from watching you.”
I am, in many ways, glad that Obama and HRC participated in the “It Gets Better” project because their influence is powerful. Yet, let’s not forget that while it may “get better” for gay people, we, as a nation, need to BE BETTER about treating them as equal citizens who truly have the right to pursue their own version of happiness.