When “Savage Love” columnist Dan Savage launched “It Gets Better” — a viral campaign intended to lift the spirits of distraught gay teens and thwart additional suicide attempts — he quoted the late Harvey Milk: “You gotta give ’em hope.”
It’s a sentiment I myself espoused when I decided, after the suicide deaths of two 11-year-old boys last year, to write about my own experience with homophobic-centered bullying for The Root. At the time, I had never told my mother that I was gay. After I explained this fun fact to my thoughtful editor, she worried about whether I wanted to really go through with the piece, given the potential ostracism I might face after its publication.
Ultimately, I moved forward with my plans and finally had the conversation I had put off for far too long. It didn’t go as well as I had wanted it to, but the outpouring of e-mails I received from parents and teens made up for it. I was convinced that I gave people what they needed: hope. A year-and-a-half later, I increasingly worry whether relying on hope will be a hindrance in combating the rampant homophobia that causes grief in the lives of so many.
Indeed, hope can only go so far.
Not far enough for Joseph Jefferson, a 26-year-old gay youth activist in New York who unexpectedly took his own life on Oct. 23. On his Facebook wall, Jefferson wrote: “I could not bear the burden of living as a gay man of color in a world grown cold and hateful towards those of us who live and love differently than the so-called ‘social mainstream.’ “
All too often, gays — particularly those of color — are reminded of how much resentment toward them exists. It’s easy to grow pessimistic about the chances of one’s situation improving when so many signs suggest otherwise.