It Gets Better: The Video Heard ‘Round the World and in the White House

Is it possible for one video to launch a social change revolution? Can one YouTube video inspire others to take action and become activists?

President Obama proclaimed June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month and launched a new section on the White House website dedicated to the policies and issues impacting the LGBT community. Both are landmark civil rights statements never before made by a sitting President. One of the sections of this White House microsite worth noting is called “It Gets Better.” Sound familiar? It should. The section name is a tip of the hat to the successful It Gets Better Project launched to reach out to LGBT teens contemplating suicide due to bullying and prejudice.

The message discusses the happiness, potential and positivity that awaits youth after the difficult teen years. This project — started with a single YouTube video by columnist Dan Savage and his partner Terry in September 2010 — turned into an international movement, inspiring more than 10,000 user-created videos by world leaders, celebrities, activists and others. It has been viewed more than 35 million times and has inspired people around the globe. Watch Google Chrome’s recent tribute to Dan, Terry and their video:

What can we learn from the success of the It Gets Better Project for launching a social change revolution?

  1. Be honest. Both Dan and Terry shared their personal stories regarding difficult teenage years. It was their personal accounts that made the video so engaging and inspired others to share stories.
  2. Keep it simple. The majority of It Gets Better tribute videos have something in common — creators used a simple web or video camera to record testimony or a pledge of support. Most didn’t use fancy editing or production. The personal nature of this  format eliminated those distractions, allowing users to just focus on the messenger and the message.
  3. Use your connections. Dan Savage is a well-known journalist with a syndicated column, a weekly podcast and a spot on “This American Life.” To say that Dan is well-connected is an understatement, and he shared his video with as many people as possible, spreading his message far and wide. Like Dan, we all have family, friends, neighbors, co-workers or like-minded people in our lives who would be willing to share our message and call to action. Reach out via e-mail and social media to get your message to the right people.
  4. Don’t overthink it — just act. Dan and Terry recorded their video in response to a wave of LGBT teen suicides headlining the front pages of newspapers around the country. To be responsive to the growing issue, they quickly acted by recording their video and posting it to YouTube. They were able to capitalize on a news cycle still covering this topic and received more exposure than if they had waited and posted the video a few weeks later. As my mom would say, “You have to strike when the iron is hot.”
  5. Believe the sky is the limit. Did Dan and Terry know that a few months after posting their video, President Obama, Pixar employees or the World Series champion San Francisco Giants would make videos of their own? Probably not. They may have only intended their video to let LGBT teens in crisis know they aren’t alone, but by placing no limits on their efforts, their video led to a movement of love and support and a new non-profit organization focused on sharing that message of inclusion with others in need. Change is always possible with commitment, passion and a willingness to do whatever it takes to accomplish your social change goals.

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” In the case of June’s LGBT Pride Month Presidential Proclamation and It Gets Better Project, a moving campaign to help youth live for a brighter future can begin with a single YouTube video.