Yesterday a group of staff members at the CBC Toronto office released a video entitled “It Gets Better from the folks at the CBC” to mark Bullying Awareness Week in Canada. The video features well-known personalities Sook-Yin Lee, Brett Wilson, Jian Ghomeshi and Brent Bambury recounting their own personal struggles with being bullied growing up. The affecting video also includes contributions by queers such as playwright David Demchuk and CBC Arts writer Sarah Liss.
But the message of their video isn’t limited to anti-queer harassment: Lee talks about being the only Chinese kid in her class and the racist persecution she suffered as a result; Wilson recounts being chased down the halls repeatedly by a group of bullies; one contributor remembers being constantly mocked for her scoliosis. And while expanding the scope is certainly well intended, laudable even, trying to target all bullied youth diminishes the video’s effectiveness and its relevance to queer youth.
Any effort to bring hope to bullied youth should be applauded, and this project is no exception, but the video’s departure from the It Gets Better formula leaves this viewer wondering why it’s called “It Gets Better."
While the majority of the contributors are gay, only three of them explicitly identify in the video as such (Tony Kushner quotes don’t count). And, remarkably, at two points contributors explicitly identify as not gay. Note to Jian (though I’m confident you’re already sensitive to this, so perhaps you’ll forward this to the video’s editors): no one deserves anti-gay bullying, so ending your account of homophobic harassment with an assurance that they got it wrong isn’t really going to lift the spirits of a bullied queer teen.
Even the list of resources that concludes the video, the entire point of the exercise, has had its queerness expunged: the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line is listed, yet it’s identified simply as “YouthLine” (and, as of this posting, “Lesbian Gay Bi Trans” is not even included in the video’s description). UPDATE: The video description has been corrected and now reads: “Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line."
It Gets Better critics have rightly pointed out that bullying goes beyond lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth — to race, ethnicity, class, ableism. All can contribute to the hell of being young in environments that demand uniformity and punish those who are different. But, as US President Obama mentions in his own It Gets Better video, the campaign is a response to a rash of queer teen suicides and statistics that show that queer youth have a greater suicide risk than other youth. We can’t fault CBC staff for their commendable effort with this video, but if you’re targeting all bullying, and taking efforts to un-queer your contribution, maybe you should call it something else.
(Psst — this goes for you too, Mr Ignatieff.)