It Gets Better

Thursday, February 26, 2015

It Gets Better

The week of "It Gets Better" Fox Valley culminated with a public performance at the PAC. After the performance, cast members answered audience questions. (Photo provided by INCLUDE)

Contributor: Josh Kilgas, Resource Development Officer at United Way Fox Cities

The "It Gets Better" project started in 2010 as an outreach on YouTube in response to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) youth facing harassment and bullying. The bullying that LGBT youth experience all too often ends in the taking of their own lives. The videos became a way for many people, including celebrities and national leaders, to tell youth that "it gets better" and give them hope for their future.

Locally, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center (PAC) and INCLUDE brought the "It Gets Better" project to our community. The project included a series of community conversations, videos featured on the Post-Crescent's website (watch the "It Gets Better" video by Peter Kelly, President and CEO at United Way Fox Cities) and performances. The week of activities culminated with a performance by members of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles on February 21st at the PAC, which I attended. As a member of the LGBT community, this topic is dear to me. I was proud that United Way Fox Cities was one of the sponsors for the event and didn't want to miss out on the experience.

The performance at the PAC largely featured coming out stories from the performers and stories submitted to the "It Gets Better" project. The show highlighted the joys and struggles many LGBT have experienced in their coming out, making the performance moving to me on many levels. I related both through my personal experience and through the experiences of my friends.

To me, one of the most powerful moments in the performance was when they had members of our community sing a song about having "more friends than you know". It was incredible to have a local message of acceptance. Also, at the end of the performance, there was time for the audience to ask questions. A younger male stood up and told the cast that their performance gave him the courage to come out to his parents.

The "It Gets Better" Fox Valley project sparked conversations about LGBT youth that may not otherwise have happened, at least not as deeply or publicly. The discussion was far-reaching, with conversations happening across the area in schools, among community leaders and with nonprofits. Our community as a whole benefits from this conversation, but in particular, I think it was a powerful message to LGBT youth who may otherwise feel hopelessness. They heard that it truly can get better and there is a community that supports them, right here in the Fox Valley.