It Gets Better: UA edition

Daniel Thoman
Sun Star Reporter

In September, a string of gay youth suicides gained national attention. As a response, Dan Savage, sex columnist and editor of The Stranger newspaper in Seattle, started a campaign where various gay and straight celebrities recorded videos offering a promise to gay teens that “It Gets Better.” After hearing about the program, Kate Wattum, Statewide Web Information Coordinator, brought together a group of her gay friends that work at UAF to do a set of videos, revolving around their own stories and how things “got better.”

Of the six people involved in the series, all of them said that their own worst fears of losing their friends and family didn’t happen and that they were accepted. In a few cases, they only felt safe about coming out because they had a circle of supportive friends, among other reasons. Jerry Farnam, an OIT video support specialist, said that it had been “draining” to try to live a lie every day.

One of the biggest issues facing gay teens is coming out to their parents. Although every story is different, the group of faculty and staff that participated in the video had relatively good coming out experiences. Joy Morrison, Director of the Office of Faculty Development, said that coming out was made easier by being on a completely different continent than her parents. Assistant Vice Chancellor Pete Pinney was up in Alaska when he came out, far away from his parents in southern California. The consistent message was that the fears were always worse than the reality turned out to be, although several acknowledged the horror stories of kids being kicked out of their houses, or similar.

Along with “It Gets Better,” the people behind the UA videos had some other advice, much of which they wished they could tell their younger selves. Pinney said that you “have to own your own space.”  Jeanne Laurencelle, Production Planner of the Alaska Satellite Facility (ASF) said to “be braver.” Kelly Gitter, Lead Video Support Specialist for OIT, said that someone should “realize it’s okay.”  Morrison advised gay youth to “stop trying to be heterosexual.”  Wattum said to “look around” because people will accept you.  Farnam said that when he accepted who he was, he was much happier.

All of the members agreed that it was important to have a strong support group when coming out, but Farnam also mentioned that many people feel very alone when the time comes. Even with that fact, everyone cited a strong group of friends as one of the things that helped them through the rough patches.

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