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Monday, December 20, 2010

Maine Residents Join Together to Fight Anti-Gay Bullying

By Brandon Miller -

I remember the day that I recorded my "It Gets Better" video. I was one of the first 30 or 40 people to make one and I could not have waited a second longer. The instant I saw Dan Savage and his husband on my screen, I knew that I wanted to be a part of this movement. I kind of felt like I needed to be, if only because it allowed me a certain element of cleansing. I wish my younger self had the IGB campaign, but it makes me feel amazing that kids nowadays do. And I know it helps. Just take a look at the messages the videos have received.
The campaign has become so widespread that you would be hard-pressed to find an American state not represented. But in October, a reporter named Deirdre Fulton did a site search for people from Maine and found they were nearly invisible. The Portland Phoenix reporter promptly grabbed a camera and started filming people. She uploaded stories from more than a dozen Mainers, a number which more than doubled last week after a local event in Portland.
"High school was hard for me, and I'm straight," Fulton says. "Issues of isolation are universal. It's even harder for some kids, especially when they don't feel like even the adults, much less the peers in their life, understand. That's why this message is relevant to everybody. It's not about being gay or straight, it's about being human, it's about being nice."
Last Monday, an event was held at the Rines Auditorium at the Portland Public Library. Hosted by a dozen community organizations and three local Gay Straight Alliances, the event allowed anyone who visited to film an "It Gets Better" video. David Jacobs, a manager at the library and the first openly gay city councilmember in South Portland, Portland City Councilor Jill Duson and State Representative Terry Morrison of South Portland all filmed messages.
The other part of the event included an evening screening of the film "BULLIED." The film is about Jamie Nabozny, his hardships with anti-gay bullies and his federal lawsuit against his school district. Nabozny ultimately won his lawsuit against the northern Wisconsin school district, with the court finding that they failed to protect him.
"It had a very powerful message," said Kaleigh Colson, co-president of Portland High School's Gay-Straight Alliance. "They have actors acting out the story he's telling. They use dialogue from the transcript of the trial."
And Portland High School isn't the only school with a GSA. Betsy Parsons, co-chair of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), says 53 Maine high schools now have GSAs. That's about one in three. A former educator of 30 years, Parsons says openly supportive school staff and more out teachers help students feel accepted.
"All (the alliances) have to do is be visible in a school so that the student body knows they exist, to immediately lower the tension level inside kids," Parsons says. "That says they're in a place where somebody cares."
People in Maine care, obviously. And Mainers are saying "It Gets Better." This is totally a state I can get behind.


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