Unless you’ve been under a rock this week, you’ve probably seen this week’s troubling stories about gay teens committing suicide. The deaths of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown from a small town just outside Houston, Texas, and Seth Walsh in Tehachapi, California have haunted my thoughts this week. Watching Seth Walsh’s sister’s Youtube clip made before her brother died -while she still had hope that he would live- brought me to tears.
This morning, I clicked on a link that several of my friends had posted on Facebook in response to these suicides. It Gets Better is a YouTube channel with short narratives by gay people who survived horrible bullying and harassment during their youth and who find out, upon leaving high school (and sometimes their home communities) that life gets better. It really does.
The site was created by none other than Dan Savage, author of several books and writer of Savage Love, the nationally syndicated column on sexuality. He started this project in response to the death of Billy Lucas, an Indiana teenager who hanged himself on September 9.
So what does this have to do with the deaf community?
I clicked on dozens of the videos posted to this channel this morning, hoping to see one in American Sign Language.
So I went through and clicked on the very first one – the one that Dan Savage and his husband Terry put together to start off this project. I clicked on the closed captioning tab, hoping that the captions would come on. (And figuring that they probably would not, just because.)
So I put on my hearing aids, switched t-coils on, and wrapped the hooks of my iNoiZ earphones over my ears. I watched Dan and Terry talk about the pain and struggles of growing up gay in unsupportive environments. I’m hard of hearing, so I didn’t catch every word, but I understood enough to get that life had been very hard for them growing up – especially for Terry – yet once high school ended, it got better.
I started thinking about the gay deaf people I know and the pain of their own growing up gay stories. And I started thinking about the experience of being mainstreamed and being “the only one” and realized that there are many gay deaf kids out there now who did not have access to this incredible website.
So I sent an email to Dan Savage and asked him to please consider captioning his Youtube clip. I figured maybe I would get a response in a week or so, or maybe I’d never get a response. But I had to try.
I made three points in my request to him, which I sent with a link to a free captioning tool for YouTube, just in case.
My first point was that adding captions would benefit gay deaf youth who do not know American Sign Language. The second point was that captions would also benefit hearing gay youth with hearing parents who might overhear the It Gets Better clips. If captions could be turned on, they could watch the video clip without having to worry about anyone overhearing.
(I’ll get to my third point in a minute. Bear with me.)
In less than 2 hours, I received a response. It was from Dan, who asked if I knew of any hearing volunteers who might be able to listen to the clip and do the captioning.
I thanked him for his response, and added that I would try to find someone to do this, planning to ask some friends tonight on Facebook.
A few hours later, I received an email from some guy named Terrence, who told me he had just finished captioning the clip. I guess I’m a little slow these days, because I made no connection between Terrence and Terry.
That’s right. Terry, Dan Savage’s husband, took time out of his day to transcribe their video clip, figure out the program, and upload the captions so that gay deaf kids could have access.
Because. It. Is. Just. That. Important.
Oh, yes. Remember that third point I mentioned earlier?
I wrote Dan that I was planning to blog about the It Gets Better site on my Deaf Echo blog, which has a large percentage of deaf and hard of hearing readers. I told him that I’d ask the deaf community (this includes CODAs and interpreters in my definition) to please record their own stories of growing up gay and how it gets better in American Sign Language.
Here’s the site. Please please please take a few minutes to tell your story.
You may save a gay deaf kid’s life.