The implications of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) vary greatly around the world. In some places, the best places, being LGBT means – well – nothing: LGBT people are afforded the same legal rights and civil sanction as anyone else. In other places (and there’s more of them than you might think) being the way you were born to be is punishable by life in prison, or death.
I live in the first kind of place, and boy am I glad. I’m not gay; I don’t lean left; and much of what my contemporaries praise as progressive is, to me, just plain weird. Adjusted for the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m pretty much Newt Gingrich. Yet nothing delighted me more than when, in the fourth grade, one of my daughter’s born-male schoolmates started living (and attending school) as a girl. How cool is that? The kid has parents willing to step outside the bounds, and the local public-school backed their play. The best part is what happened when little Johnny turned up in a dress – nothing. There was a bit of nervous giggling in her immediate proximity for the first week or two, but before long Johnny was Jane and that was that. It was such a non-event to my 10 year old that she didn’t mention it for a month.
Is this child transgender? Is “she” gay? At that age, who knows? Stepping into a female role might be the realization of the kid’s true nature; it could also be ‘just a phase.’ That’s not the point. The matter here is that, whoever this kid is – straight, gay, transsexual lesbian and opera-lover – he or she has the right to be it, without repercussion, prejudice, or shame. In this case, we as a society effect the ideal: being true to oneself is not a political issue, a social quandary, or a pathology; it’s a basic and presumed human right.
I reflect on this today because SAP, where I work, announced it has extended the reach of its “It Gets Better” film by releasing translations in nine languages: Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and closed captions in English for the hearing impaired. (To access the translations, click the “cc” button on the YouTube video player.)
Back in June, I had the pleasure of reporting on the SAP contribution to the It Gets Better project founded in 2010 by Dan Savage, author of “Savage Love,” to help prevent suicide among lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. It features a collection of more than 50,000 videos, SAP’s among them, made by people of all ages and walks of life, celebrities, politicians (among them U.S. President Barack Obama) and corporations. The films, collectively viewed more than 50 million times, encourage young people to reach and get help if they are experiencing bullying and rejection because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
SAP’s film was, in a word, special. It featured SAP’s co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe, a cast of many ‘out’ executives, and Steve Fehr, an SAP employee who lost his son Jeffrey to suicide after years of anti-gay bullying. It resonated with many, many people, prompting this effort “to share the film with more people who need to hear it,” says SAP’s Moya Watson, coordinator of the grassroots project.
Her comment got me thinking: Among those people are many who live in places a far cry from my town – places where being different can mean, whether court commanded or self-imposed, a death sentence. And those places, as was the case with Jeffrey Fehr – who lived and died just 100 miles away in suburban Sacramento – aren’t necessarily all that far away.
I did not know Jeffrey, but I wanted to take the opportunity to honor his memory by reflecting on the progress we’ve made in some places, making the case that it’s way past time for this betterment to spread everywhere, and urging you to take 12 minutes and watch this film. Watch it in English. Watch it in French. Send the link to someone in Russia. Keep watching until we all speak the language of change.