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Through his childhood, ever since the time he was four years old, Michael Anthony Vasquez’s father listened to Christian radio programs every morning. One of the major topics on the programs, Vasquez said, was homosexuality, which the preachers would decry as wrong, a sin that would condemn you to hell.
“Every morning, I would have a lump in my throat when I heard that,” Vasquez said. “It would make the hair stand up on my neck. I wanted to cry.”
It didn’t get easier right away for Vasquez. He said he was teased at his East Los Angeles school, where other kids called him “faggot” and its Spanish equivalent, “hoto”. His older brother later stopped speaking to him, after hearing a rumor he was gay.
But Vasquez, who is now 32 years old and lives in Whittier, drove all the way to the Abbey in West Hollywood on Tuesday night to deliver a message to kids who are going through what he did: it gets better.
In the wake of a spate of suicides among LGBT teens last month, openly gay columnist Dan Savage, of “The Stranger” in Seattle, started the “It Gets Better Project”. In an effort to show LGBT youth what they have to live for, Savage and his partner made a video, recounting their own struggles in high school and the joys they’ve found later in life, and they encouraged others to make videos of their own.
Since then, celebrities, public officials, and thousands of lesser-known LGBT people have posted videos to YouTube, talking about the difficulties they faced in middle school and high school, explaining how much better their lives are now, and urging LGBT teens to seek help rather than end their own lives. Many of the videos have gone viral, garnering hundreds of thousands of page-views.
This week, the Abbey, in partnership with the City of West Hollywood, the Trevor Project, and Pristine Videos, has hosted a video studio where locals could make their own “It Gets Better” videos.
David Cooley, founder of the Abbey, said he wanted to encourage people in the community who were coming to the Abbey for recreation to get involved in the project and tell their own stories.
“Coming out of the closet is not an easy thing,” said Cooley, who is gay. “I want kids to be able to look at videos, and hear stories, and know there are people who love and support them.”
Esdras Romero left school in Gardena, where he was bullied, to come to Fairfax High at the start of his freshman year. Now a junior and president of the school’s gay-straight alliance, Romero said the attitude towards LGBT students at Fairfax High is much more accepting than in Gardena, but harassment still persists, particularly from the new crop of freshmen every year, Romero said.
“It makes a difference to see gay adults talking about how much better their lives have become, because you get to see how much advancement there has already been, and hopefully how much more there will be. There are still huge social pressures. It’s not just that gay kids shouldn’t be afraid of having to come to school. Straight kids also shouldn’t be afraid to have gay friends because they’re worried about what people will think.”
Combating the isolation many LGBT youth feel was the primary theme of the videos at the Abbey. Kate Jacobs and Robert Jacobs, two siblings who both identify as homosexual, said they did not talk about it with each other until they were into their 20s.
“I think it’s vital that LGBT young adults and teens realize that no matter how bleak it looks or how alone they feel, even if they feel like the only person in the world who’s going through this, they’re not,” Robert said. “There could be someone as close to you as a sibling who’s going through the same thing, and you don’t even realize it.”
The difficulty of coming out of the closet is a common topic of conversation at West Hollywood bars like the Abbey, an experience LGBT people have bonded over for generations. In their videos, however, people tied that experience to happiness in their lives later on.
“I almost feel like we’re superheroes,” Vasquez said. “We have to live double lives for such a long time. I know it made me a better person.”
For more information on the project, visit www.itgetsbetterproject.com.
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