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Symbolism Doesn’t Make Anything Better.

Justin Huang pens an interesting post on HuffPo Gay Voices, yet I think he has it all wrong, and I believe the way he has linked the President’s actions to the “It Get’s Better” project is short-sighted and maybe even dangerous. (Emphasis is mine)

Because this is actually not about the Obama campaign or even his legacy. This is about the most symbolically powerful person in the world openly voicing his belief that everyone has the right to marry whom he or she loves. And this statement comes at time when there is a suicide epidemic among our nation’s children. The future of our nation have been killing themselves, did you know?

We can argue amongst ourselves in our little bubbles of privilege: “Oh, Obama is just trying to get our votes!” “He’s doing it for politics, not principle.” “Now the Hollywood elite is going to give him millions!” “What a flip-flopper.” And that’s your prerogative, because there’s truth to much of it, plus you get to sound clever. But this much is true: A terrified gay teenager in middle America has just been told by the president that he or she has just as much a right to love and marry. And that teenager doesn’t care about your intellectual meanderings of politicking.

All that teenager knows is that his or her future will be drastically different: It just got better.

There are others who have nasty things to say about the “It Get’s Better” project, and I’m really not one of them. Dan Savage is not my ideal activist, but I think the basis of the project is fantastic and needed, and I want to see it grow and grow and grow. But there are some who question why suicides continue even after the “better” message is out there. In fact it is troubling to see how a number of beautiful and powerful youths have ended their lives after they have added their own videos.

Here is the reason why.

Simply saying it gets better doesn’t make it so.  This isn’t Bewitched where Samantha wriggles her nose and things change. The value of It Gets Better is to place a sense of hope and focus that down the road, if you get yourself that far, it will be better. And in my personal opinions, Huang’s ideas are simplistic and do little to grasp the reality of the needed hope that will help save these kids.

All that teenager knows is that his or her future will be drastically different: It just got better.

This statement is so far from true, that maybe it is from the Twighlight Zone. Things didn’t get better, and some might even argue that things just got harder or more complex and in that regard, maybe worse.”Better” isn’t a light switch.

I do not mean to argue with Huang that what the President did was huge and important. It was. Am I glad he did it? You bet, and will I do everything in my power to help him be re-elected? Yes, for sure! I would have done that anyway, however, because I know that this President has done more for LGBTQ Rights than any other US President, ever! A gesture, that you call symbolic (and I call substantial and expected) is not the deal breaker. What the President did was simply give voice to what most of us expected all along. His refusal to defend DOMA, and his effort to end DADT- actions like these were real and tangible evidence of his support for who we are as LGBT persons and the importance of our relationships. No symbolism involved. Simply real, useful change.

Huang’s piece tugs on our heartstrings, as if the life of some teenager just got a bit better. Until they go to school the next day and get beat up. or their possessions vandalized, or the next time they hear “faggot die.” But it gets better, (in Huang’s way) every time there is a LGBTQ television character or some other celebrity comes out.  All of these folks are points of light making a brighter day down the road. The President didn’t add that much in that regard.

The sad part is that some folks will actually think that it did get better, and then when the shit hits the fan again, they are going to wonder why even after it gets better, does it still suck? Because in reality, it didn’t just get better. It didn’t get worse, and is the stage set for things to keep getting better? Yes! But for that teenager, yesterday, today, and tomorrow may not really be all that different from one another.  Heck, the next year may not seem too much better, and if Obama loses, everything will get much worse.

We as Queer adults have a responsibility to help our queer youth, and I don’t think we do that by looking for symbolic gestures and pretending they are magic.

via Justin Huang: It Is Now Symbolically Necessary to Reelect Obama.