Student organizations are collaborating with the university to make an “It Gets Better” video as part of a nationwide campaign to voice support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens after a string of suicides among gay youth.
“It Gets Better” is an online video project started by Dan Savage, a journalist known for his internationally syndicated sex column “Savage Love,” in which people post videos online supporting LGBT youth.
“People can post videos talking to LGBT youth, talking about their own experiences coming out or talking about their life now,” said LGBT Resource Center Director Vincent Vigil. “It’s to let them know that you have tons of support. Try to find support that’s out there. It will get better, please use resources. Don’t take your life.”
The LGBT Resource Center, Lambda LGBT Alumni Association, the LGBTQ Faculty and Staff Alliance and the Queer and Ally Student Assembly are all working on the video. Vigil said about 30 students, as well as some faculty and alumni, were interviewed for the project.
“My hope is for people to know online and people that are here at USC that we’re a safe and affirming environment for them if they identify as LGBT,” Vigil said. “It’s a positive message to send out to our students to let them know that they have resources here and if they’re feeling depressed or lonely, to please stop by our center and utilize the resources we have on campus.”
Vigil said he plans to post the video on the “It Gets Better” YouTube page and on the USC YouTube page.
“Once it’s finished, we’re going to try and get it to go viral [and] have people on Facebook send it from friend to friend to friend, post it on people’s walls so that it spreads,” Vigil said.
Chris Berry, a graduate student studying math, shared his story about growing up in a conservative environment in Orange County. Berry said he believes that growing up would have been easier if he experienced more visible support, like the “It Gets Better” videos.
“I basically said that anyone growing up in a place where they don’t fit in, things will get better. They will go somewhere and find a community,” Berry said. “We as a university are a caring community and we support those who are part of our community and it shows that we want to have an impact in peoples’ lives and be an element for change for the better.”
Greg Oertel, a sophomore french horn performance major, said he talked about the difficulty of belonging to a Mormon family and coming out, considering the church’s conservative stance on homosexuality.
“I was in a really depressed state, but eventually my family was able to be OK with it, or if they weren’t, be OK with it around me and support me. It ultimately made me a happier person,” he said. “It was great to know I had the love and support of my family.”
Oertel said he looked to the news and popular media to find visible support.
“I didn’t know anybody personally to talk to about this issue,” Oertel said. “I did look to celebrities as a beacon, like Ellen DeGeneres, and the life that she lived, but I didn’t know anybody, I was in an environment where we didn’t talk about gays.”
Vigil said that although the main purpose of the video is to reach out to struggling LGBT youth, he said he also hopes the video will show prospective students a glimpse of USC’s welcoming community.
“If I’m a prospective student and I see that USC put this video together, it’s going to say a lot to me, especially if I’m the mother or father of a prospective student and see how welcoming USC is,” he said.
Vigil said the LGBT community at USC has become more visible over the past few years.
“We’re come a long way if you look back 10 years, up until now. USC has the stereotype of being very conservative … but students would argue that it is a very liberal and inclusive place,” Vigil said.
Jenny Ham, an undecided sophomore, said that she became involved as an ally through her work as a Undergraduate Student Government residential senator.
“This year, being in USG really opened my eyes to the types of people out there and understanding their day-to-day struggles,” she said. “QuASA has grown so much. Their events and their support are everywhere. Everywhere you go you’ll see LGBT students, and you can’t deny that they’re not there or that they’re not like you because they’re not straight.”
The overall purpose of the video is to tangibly show support for the LGBT community at USC and LGBT youth around the world, Ham said.
“Things like this make USC a stronger community. USC recognizes the slight differences among people, but at the same time accepts them as a whole, because we’re USC students — we’re Trojans,” Ham said. “Whoever you are — whether you’re gay or straight or bisexual or whatever — we embrace you and won’t exclude you in any way.”