What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?
SAP employees release our It Gets Better film today in support of LGBT youth in crisis. As we do, we reflect on what makes a community, who belongs to it, and how communities can hurt - and how communities can help.
I am proud to be an SAP employee today as we release our own It Gets Better film. I'm also humbled, regretful that we didn't make this by December 31, 2011, and vulnerable. I will explain.
The It Gets Better Project, founded in September 2010, is a collection of over 50,000 videos submitted by individuals, celebrities, employees, and organizations in response to a number of suicides of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) teens or those perceived to be gay or different. The goal of the videos is to counter bullying influences by telling personal stories about how life gets better – to offer hope by speaking directly to people at-risk of suicide. In the video, I join my incredible colleagues with my heart on my sleeve. But I was absolutely compelled to help fellow colleagues make this happen, even more so after I learned about Jeffrey Fehr.
On January 1, 2012, 18-year-old Jeffrey Fehr of Granite Bay near Sacramento made the devastating decision that he could no longer go on living and took his own life. He had recently graduated from Granite Bay High School where he was a pioneer as the first male cheerleader. He was well loved by his friends and his family, and was a bright light and inspiration for countless peers. He was also an out gay youth who had endured years of teasing and bullying.
In the words of his father, SAP employee Steve Fehr:
Jeff chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem not realizing the pain, heartache and agony he was leaving behind. Please do not do that to the ones who love you the most. Please reach out for help now to the many resources available.
On January 2, Graph Desino, schoolmate of Jeff's at Granite Bay High School, posted on the blog Graph's Crap:
When I was a freshman, I wrote a Gazette article about Formspring and its uses/abuses. It was pretty dull stuff, truth be told. But somehow, while I was fiddling with my own Formspring account, I stumbled upon Jeff's. ... I don't remember any specifics, but the hate and anger thrown at this kid, holy ****.
[Jeff's] Formspring archive remains etched in my mind for a reason. I'd always felt very uncomfortable here, with my bisexuality, and all those knowing glances, but I thank God I never had to deal with what he did. It was unrelenting. Often obscene. Always anonymous.
But he replied to them without animosity. That was the really incredible part.
We can't see Jeff's Formspring account anymore but we can imagine what sort of stuff that was that he had to deal with. In a Granite Bay Gazette article from November 2010, shortly after the It Gets Better project's inception. Schoolmate jcologna writes stories from close to home about how gay students are impacted by bullying. Teacher Katrina Wachs says in the article:
“Since I came to this school I have been shocked by how many times a day I hear ‘that’s gay,’ ‘fag’ and a myriad of other slogans and verbal slurs,” GBHS teacher Katrina Wachs said. “I think it’s a real human rights issue.”
The author goes on to talk about others struggling with bullying:
“It’s gotten pretty overboard, I got hit in the face last year,” the anonymous junior girl said. “I have had people go on Myspace and post ‘yes on prop 8’ on all of my pictures and I have gotten texts like ‘oh you’re a stupid lesbian you probably have aids’ and just stuff like that.”
Jeff Fehr himself is quoted in the article. And the junior girl who is bullied remains nameless, but we know there have been other teen suicides. She concludes: “I feel like maybe if it was talked about more in class then maybe it would be less of a problem.”
So we're talking about it.
In making and releasing this film I had countless conversations with SAP colleagues and beyond that I shall never forget. Many of these conversations necessarily, given the track record of sustained bullying and cyberbullying as we've sadly grown to see above, revolved around how to react if people are going to say bad things. Many of the conversations however have been nothing short of inspirational, and these sustain me.
Recently I was asked something by one of our beloved community advocates right here on the SCN that I shall also never forget. The project resonated with her and she wondered whether, if she wrote about it, it would be inappropriate to talk about suicide and bullying in general and not specifically LGBT suicide and bullying.
And I answered about how she should absolutely do so -- that she should apply the message in whatever direction speaks her truth.
Because what is a community? The LGBT community may all-too-accurately point out that suicides within our community are markedly particular -- the fact is, in U.S. surveys, lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents and adults have two to six times higher rates of reported suicide attempts compared to comparable straight people. Among transgender people the rates of suicide attempts are markedly high but not well measured.
And yet LGBT people are our communities; and our communities at SAP and on the SCN represent diversity at its finest --- we represent.
Communities are the sum of their people. And companies are the sum of their employees. And SAP helps companies run better. This film is about being better to each other, valuing differences - being the best people we can be.
Communities can hurt - and communities can help. Watch, share, talk, and help us be the kind that helps.
Tonight in Palo Alto we premiere the It Gets Better: SAP Employees film to a live audience in Cafe 1 at 5:30pm, where we welcome Granite Bay High School teacher Katrina Wachs to participate on a panel to talk about what is going on here. We also welcome local Gunn High School teacher Daisy Renazco and prominent LGBT suicide prevention organization Trevor Project CEO Abbe Land, as well as Seth Levy from the It Gets Better project.
If you are in town, please join us at 5:30 tonight. If you are not, please watch the film and share widely. Help us help even one person realize that they are not alone. My deep thanks.