In 2010, more than 70,000 LGBTQ+ people and their allies uploaded videos and stories to provide hope and encouragement to the LGTBQ+ youth with the message: It Gets Better. This was the birth of a wildly successful global movement born out of social media. Today It Gets Better (IGB) is a non-profit organization that reaches millions of young people each year with the mission to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ+ youth around the globe through powerful storytelling campaigns, educational programming and resources, and dynamic community building initiatives. The organization also works with international affiliates in 19 countries to further spread their message of hope to the LGBTQ+ youth.
The It Gets Better Project connects daily more than 1.65 million followers across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Tumblr, Twitch, and ItGetsBetter.org. Their work has been translated into an award-winning MTV special, a NY Times bestselling book, museum exhibits, and live performances – and in 2012 was awarded the Governor’s Award for use of media to educate and inspire.
We had the opportunity to meet with Chair and President of IGB, Paul Dien, to learn more about the organization, the challenges they’re facing, and the strength of storytelling and social media.
What is the founding story of IGB?
Over ten years ago, It Gets Better was started by Dan Savage, who is a famous activist and columnist. And this was really at a time post-Matthew Shepard where the national narrative was dark. And what we were trying to do was create a movement that was empowering young people and create a hopeful world where it didn't feel so dark and be a lighthouse of positivity. And then it just became a grassroots viral campaign at first where videos were being uploaded by all folks from all walks of life. And then we had celebrities, from Lady Gaga to RuPaul to President Obama, record their own videos of messages and hope. But what's amazing about that founding story was it's rooted in social media and flipping the script on creating these conversations of hope, again, when it feels so dark.
And I feel like we're now at a time where these culture wars are happening but now we have more resources and more relationships with content creators, where we aren't just uploading videos of hope. I think we're meeting young folks, Gen Z folks, where they're at in this moment. And I think that's the power of working with young people. It's constantly changing. The demographics change, culture changes, the way they consume media changes. The culture has shifted from 10 years ago when the conversation was very focused on white, cisgender men and we are really celebrating intersectionality diversity. And I think that's such a critical part and a personal mission for me because I became the board chair three years ago. It really put an authentic stamp on diversity inclusion, so it’s been a fun next chapter. The background of where it started was amazing. But now it's like, okay, how can we grow it and evolve it and make it bigger given the culture wars and that the community is under assault in a different manner now?
What is IGB’s mission?
Our mission is really to uplift and empower LGBTQ youth. What we're trying to do is provide storytelling that's uplifting and reflects the LGBTQ view, the importance of why they matter, why our community matters, and what we can do to continuously celebrate and empower young LGBTQ folks. It's a very tricky time for our community. There are over 220 anti-LGBTQ bills that are happening across our country. So we are doubling down and we feel like we are a ray of light during a dark time in the national narrative. And in addition, what's really exciting about the organization is we have over 17 affiliates globally. So from countries from India to Brazil to Colombia, we're really trying to create a footprint and a grassroots movement, not only in our country, but around the world.
We're also the largest LGBTQ youth organization on Tik Tok. So again, I think we're trying to meet the community where they are. We’re excited because there's so much happening in terms of content and in terms of working with awesome brands, like you guys. Last year we worked with over 50 brands from small startup organizations as well as large organizations like Converse and American Eagle that support our education initiatives. We're really focused on showcasing and empowering LGBTQ youth and creating a safe space for folks who may not feel like they are supported by their own families, and who don't have a community that they can very closely identify with locally. That's the power of digital and social media where you can find your chosen family elsewhere. IGB started out with uploading videos and it’s grown to working with amazing content creators and different organizations to really take it to the next level and do deeper, meaningful content that hopefully will not only change the hearts and minds of folks that we’re working with, but also bridge the empathy gap for people that may not have the right resources to help support folks who need these words of encouragement.
How did you get involved with IGB?
I got involved after the Trump election. I've always worked in marketing and impact and I was just trying to figure out what else I can do to give back and be part of the community. There was an opportunity to join the board. And that's kind of how it started. I was just so passionate about trying to figure out what else I could do with an organization that might need my help and it has been such a privilege and honor. If you think about how much work IGB does for such a small team, it’s crazy. I come from corporate America where it's like, we have a lot of money and resources and to see such a smart, dynamic team just do stuff without much money, it's amazing. And I'm sure you guys get it too as a startup, just the hustle. The elbow grease put into all the work is pretty amazing.
What do you want people to know about IGB?
That's a good question. I think we are trying to be a source of light and provide an opportunity to uplift and empower young LGBTQ youth. And I think that's the legacy of the organization and the next chapter is just to continue that North Star. Progress and civil rights and civil liberties are always going to be questioned. But we're here to say we're not going anywhere. And we're going to continue to use the powers of content and storytelling to help inspire folks and bridge the empathy gap. I think that's a huge part of what we are trying to do. So it's not only just empowering young people, but also their allies, whether it's their parents, community leaders, or other organizations that focus on social impact. We try to really focus on intersectionality. And whether it's women's rights, immigrant rights, or Black lives matter, I think all of these kinds of points impact our community as well because our community is a very diverse one. So we want to try to reach everyone who sits at the intersectionality of these different communities with the message of hope and to do it with a sense of integrity. And I think the organization really does that well. I’m so proud of the team and the staff that do this day in and day out.
Why do you think IGB has been so successful at addressing intersectionality within the LGBTQ community?
I give props to the staff. At the end of the day, the team, the executive director, and the staff are so onpoint and so immersed in building relationships with people from all walks of life. We really do believe that there's a local impact to what we do, working with local schools and local organizations to build alliances and partnerships. Our team is diverse and also reflective; some of the younger folks who work at the organization reflect the target demos that we're trying to reach out to. But it's also attending different kinds of conferences, and continuously working with other organizations to share resources and tools to look at culture and diversity in a compelling way. We also do a lot of research and monitor the comments from young folks on our social media platforms.
What are your goals for IGB?
I think in the past two or three years, the pandemic has shifted our strategies. But our North Star is to continuously spread this message, not only in the United States, but globally. Our global affiliates are a huge component of where we want to be in the next five years and the next 10 years. We have a large footprint in Latin America and South America. We have affiliates in Europe, and Russia, and we're really looking at expanding our network to Asia as well. We have an affiliate in Shanghai and India but we're really looking to grow to help provide resources to local communities.In addition, nationally, with everything that's going on in terms of the anti-LGBTQ bills, we just launched this amazing program called 50 states. 50 grants. 5,000 voices. It’s really focused on giving grants to young leaders in all 50 states that are focused on education. These are grants from $5,000 to $10,000 to local youth LGBTQ leaders in their own communities across all 50 states. I think what's really amazing about this program is that we're not telling anyone what to do. We're asking young folks what they need. And I think the sentiment is what kind of world do you want to live in and how can we help you? I think that's so critical when it comes to intersectionality because we're not trying to impart anything we're saying. There are all these amazing young leaders that are trying to drive impact in their local communities at their own schools. Every generation has its own plight but as elders at the organization, we're trying to provide them with the resources to actually bring that to life.
What are some of the biggest issues IGB is tackling at the moment?
The 220 anti-LGBTW bills in Congress. It's a huge one. And we've already seen some of them pass like “Don’t Say Gay” in Florida and the anti-trans bill in Texas. And it’s gonna be an election year in two years. So I don't think this is going away. This is a long-term strategy for us. And I think 50 states. 50 grants. 5,000 voices. is a big part of actual impact, to combat all the negativity and darkness that the other side's trying to bring in terms of public policy.
How can people help or get involved, especially allies?
I think it's essentially just going to our website. There are a bunch of different initiatives and campaigns in which you can donate to. There are also resources and content that you can share to friends and families that might need this work. At the end of the day, it is to help folks that might be struggling or to help families that may not understand. It's important to just share that there are folks doing this work and to continue empowering others, especially our young folks to create a more hopeful, inclusive world. I think our tone is not to be cheesy. We know how critical this work is because we know how hard it is. I think you need the hope, the lightness, the humour and the cleverness to combat the darkness. There's authenticity in acknowledging the darkness. But I think what we're trying to do is face it with our own brand and our own messaging that hopefully will inspire folks.
Be sure to follow It Gets Better on social media and learn more at itgetsbetter.org.
Image Credit: It Gets Better