For LGBTQ and disability rights activists, allies and California youth, as of April 14th, it got better. The CA senate voted 23-14 in favor of a bill mandating the inclusion of curriculum based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, and if the bill is adopted by the state assembly, the teaching of LGBTQ history will become lawful. Much like the cultural contributions made by women, people of color, immigrants, aboriginals, and workers, if the bill is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, California will become the first state to require the inclusion of LGBTQ history in schools. Hardly mentioned in the media thus far, the passage of the bill will also grant people with disabilities long overdue space in California classroom curricula.
Even while opponents comment with predictable yet terrifying homophobic/transphoic threads in online coverage of the bill, and Fox News rants irrational bigotry as usual, it looks as though recent LGBTQ suicides are finally sending a message to state legislators. Proponents of the bill urge teachers to model acceptance, saying that including LGBTQ and PWD history is necessary before youth will understand queer people and people with disabilities as having rights and protections. Whether it took the widely publicized death of Tyler Clementi in September, or Dan Savage and husband Terry Miller’s viral could-be-a-lot-more-inclusive video campaign It Gets Better Project, its youth-led response Make It Better Project, and the vital work of community organizations who have been addressing LGBTQ youth issues for decades, awareness around queer teen suicide prevention and bullying has exploded.
The It Gets Better Project, although it has generated the most publicity of the previously mentioned groups, has been critiqued for tokenizing the t and perhaps b in the acronym, especially in not including enough trans people or addressing the unique and challenging barriers trans people face in the United States. Promising youth that it gets better can trivialize and ignore experiences that don’t match up, meaning for some, life after high school can get even worse. Says Ev Maroon:
I knew there were well adjusted transpeople as I was making my decision to transition, too, but I still made arrangements to take my own life at one point. Knowing “it gets better” is far, far from enough to do anything about the systematic oppression of a group of people. But perhaps it makes Savage feel mushy in his shoes.
LGBTQ youth themselves have been some of the biggest constructive critics of the It Gets Better Project, stating that youth don’t want to wait until high school is over before life becomes livable, rather, they are encouraging youth to support each other with clear steps for youth and adults to create change now.
Male, white, cisgender, affluent and famous, Dan and Terry are touring the launch of the It Gets Better Project book—a collection of stories from campaign supporters—and a book that culminates the largest collective effort to stop queer bullying in schools, ever. Let’s hope one day soon their book will be stocked on the shelves of public school libraries alongside many more in LGBTQ history and culture across California and beyond.