Following several highly publicized suicides by gay youth this fall, this year’s annual OutFest paid special tribute to LGBT young people, with dozens of students taking the stage to thunderous applause and choruses of “It gets better” from throughout the neighborhood. But thanks to a film crew on hand that day, that support will continue to reverberate far beyond the Gayborhood.
“It Gets Better — Philly’s Video” hit the Internet last week and has thus far been viewed by nearly 2,000 YouTubers.
The initiative was the brainchild of director/producer Mel Orpen and producers Brian Wigganton and Rudy Flesher, who collaborated with co-producers Matt Thompson and Brooke Jinheebae Boroughs.
Out writer Dan Savage sparked the “It Gets Better” video effort this fall in response to a spate of youth suicides, encouraging LGBTs and allies to submit short videos to demonstrate to struggling youth that happiness is attainable.
Orpen, an independent filmmaker and the creator of Aikifilm, said the organizers were eager for Philadelphians to get their own messages out in a unified way.
“What we wanted to do was respond with one voice as a community to what we had been hearing in the media recently, but what we’ve been aware of going on in our community for so long, in terms of bullying and intolerance and violence, whether self-destructive violence or violence against a queer-identified or presumed queer-identified person,” she said. “We wanted to respond in a positive, proactive way.”
From the onset, the filmmakers knew they wanted to showcase all of the colors of the rainbow and communicate to young people the vast diversity that exists just within the LGBT community itself.
Orpen said the group decided there was no better place to show that range than at OutFest, which this year drew about 40,000 LGBTs and allies from all walks of life.
“We felt we really had a responsibility to be inclusive and find a way to include the most members of our community as possible. We didn’t just want LGBTQ people, but also allies and people of every possible description, because people of every description are affected by this issue,” she said. “So we thought OutFest would be the best way to really do some outreach into the community.”
The organizers sent out feelers prior to OutFest and pre-arranged many of the interviews that day, and by the end of OutFest had interviewed nearly 60 people.
The interview subjects ran the gamut — from a 20-year-old college student who talked about life after coming out and his future career in the military to a young woman who stood with her three out female friends and talked about life as an ally.
While the faces showed the vast diversity of the city’s LGBT population, many of the messages were threaded together with the common idea that youth have the support and confidence of the wider LGBT community.
“Don’t get lost in the valley of the lows because you’re going to come out the other side. We all do.”
“Pick yourself up. Tomorrow’s a new day. Believe in yourself because I believe in you.”
“You are who you are, and there’s a reason for that. You’re going to be amazing.”
Mayor Nutter even chimed in with his own words of encouragement.
The video features film of the mayor during October’s rainbow flag-raising ceremony at City Hall.
“Here in the city of Philadelphia, the cradle of liberty, freedom and democracy in the United States of America, we do not tolerate any discrimination against anyone for any reason,” the mayor said. “Be whomever you want to be, wherever you want to be it, here in the city of Philadelphia.”
Orpen said Nutter wanted to be interviewed on scene at OutFest but his schedule was upended by President Obama’s visit to Philadelphia that day.
The crew also extended an invitation to Obama but Orpen said they anticipated his schedule wouldn’t allow him, although they did receive a personal explanation from his staff. Orpen noted that, within a week of their request, the president had created his own “It Gets Better” video and, although they’ll never know if their urging played any role, if “even in the tiniest way we were one small grain of sand that helped tipped the scales in favor of him making his own video, we’re really proud. No president has ever offered such a public statement on this issue, and I’m really glad that we allowed Philadelphia to speak out and be a part of this meaningful initiative.”
“It Gets Better” now has its own YouTube channel that is populated with countless videos and, while the local video has its own Philly flair, it also offers something that some others don’t: resources.
At the end of the video, Orpen provides practical advice for youth viewers, advising them to seek information and assistance from outlets like The Trevor Project, which works to stem the tide of LGBT suicide, gay-straight alliances and LGBT community centers. The video also encourages youth to contact their elected officials and urge them to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act, providing online resources to help them locate contact information for representatives and senators.
“I think this is what really makes our project unique,” Orpen said. “I feel like what we offered was a very inclusive message that includes the voices of the community but also blends that with resources and information. We wanted to go beyond the personal messages and stories and really reach out. It’s always nice for the young people to hear words of kindness, but we wanted to be more than that and provide tangible resources. We wanted them to feel inspired and supported but also connected and to know what action they can take.”
To view the video, search for “It Gets Better — Philly’s Video” on Facebook or YouTube.