More than 10,000 messages of support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community have been created worldwide after the It Gets Better Project launched in September 2010. This week University President James W. Wagner contributed his own video message to the campaign.
The project began last year when columnist and author Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller filmed a YouTube video to offer hope for those facing harassment in school and in their communities, according to the website.
The suicides of gay youths Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, Cody Barker, Asher Brown and Raymond Chase, all within the month of September, prompted people around the world to follow in Savage’s footsteps to make similar videos.
Celebrities and other well-known figures, including President Barack Obama, actress Anne Hathaway, Ke$ha, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and others, have submitted videos to the campaign “to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better,” the website says.
In his video message, which was premiered to the public at the annual Pride Awards on Wednesday night, Wagner states that “the Emory vision calls for us to be a diverse community,” a vision that “invites and even requires a certain authenticity, authenticity of self, a kind of eagerness to take each other seriously, in all of our variousness, regardless of whether you are male or female, transgender, irrespective of national, ethnic or racial heritage, whether you are gay or lesbian, straight or queer, whether you adhere to a religious faith or not, you have a place at Emory, working in community for positive transformation.”
The making of the video was initiated in November by College senior Alec Fox, who said he had gotten the idea from a friend who had posted the University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann’s “It Gets Better” video on Facebook.
“I watched it, I loved it, and thought, ‘I would love to see something like this here,’” Fox explained.
Wagner responded positively to the suggestion, Fox said, commending the administration’s quick response to his inquiry.
Fox said that having a university president rather than another member of the university administration create a video is significant because it hits the entire community.
“That’s the highest authority,” he said. “It makes it more meaningful.”
Wagner wrote in an e-mail to the Wheel that he believes it is important for an institution of higher education to pass on such a message of support because the University has “the opportunity, perhaps even the obligation, to try to pursue a standard of community always somewhat higher than exists beyond the boundaries of our campus.”
Emory’s participation in the campaign, according to Fox, is indicative of the University’s inclusive nature. For a prospective student, Fox noted, knowing that the president of a university is supportive of an open-minded community is a comforting thought.
“The message is intended to encourage those who feel or who are made to feel different that, not only is there a place for them in the Emory community, but that Emory’s community is incomplete without their ability to engage comfortably as their authentic selves,” Wagner wrote.
Since it was officially released by the University on Wednesday, the video has reached more than 750 views.
A number of current students, faculty, staff and alumni, both gay and straight, have posted the video to their Facebook pages since the video appeared on YouTube on Monday, Feb. 28. Fox described this as a sign of just how far-reaching the video is and has the potential to be.
Vice President and Deputy to the President Gary Hauk wrote in an e-mail to the Wheel that the University administration hopes to see the video unify the Emory community at large.
“Our hope has been that others will lend their voices, so that Emory will have not just one voice but many conveying similar messages,” he wrote, adding that the LGBT Office and the President’s Commission on Sexuality, Gender Diversity and Queer Equality will be identifying additional speakers for future video messages.
Wagner wrote that it would be “a positive thing” for the video to leave its viewers with a greater desire to pursue the values of an ever-improving community.
“I hope that the message is seen by the Emory community, in particular, as an encouragement to continue with determination to build on the level of community that we currently enjoy,” Wagner wrote.