In high school, Weinberg sophomore Ryan Lim was in choir one day and his teacher publicly told him that he needed to be “fixed.” Later, when he asked his principal if he could start a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) chapter at his school, his principal refused. His reasoning was that homosexuality was no different than bestiality, and therefore, it would be immoral to support such a student organization. Many years later, Lim has started up a similar project but on a much larger scale: It Gets Better: NU Chapter.
The national It Gets Better campaign was started by well-known author and sex columnist Dan Savage in September 2010 to give hope to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth facing harassment. It has since then turned into an international movement, and now it has reached Northwestern University.
The start of Lim’s Northwestern It Gets Better project could not have come at a better time. Just recently, on September 24th, the Northwestern Athletic Department officially joined Dan Savage’s national It Gets Better campaign, making it the first college campus sports division to take part. The video included head coaches Pat Fitzgerald, Kate Drohan, and Claire Pollard, as well as, student athletes Michael Thompson, John Shurna, Amy Jaeschke, and Michael Batts. The Director of Athletics and Recreation, Jim Phillips, was featured as well.
The idea for the It Gets Better Project: NU came to Ryan during a moment of frustration when he learned about Jamey Rodemeyer’s suicide. Jamey Rodemeyer was a 14-year-old boy from New York who committed suicide late September due to severe bullying for being gay. A few weeks earlier, Jamey had left his own It Gets Better video.
“It really struck me,” said Lim. “He knew about the It Gets Better project, but it wasn’t enough. Even being encouraged by it, he ended up hanging himself in his room.”
The goal of It Gets Better: NU is to make a personal, rather than just an electronic, connection with the LGBT youth in the Chicago/Evanston area. Lim hopes the group will be able to visit high schools and share their stories about how their lives have gotten better. Then, he plans to set up a one-on-one mentoring program. Any student who would like a mentor would then be placed with a Northwestern student.
“Our big dream,” Lim says, “is to hold a Mayfest where we would invite the LGBT youth around Chicago to Northwestern. We would have a showcase and show them that it could get better.”
Zachary Wichter, president of Northwestern’s Rainbow Alliance, thinks the It Gets Better project is a great idea. “The goal that Dan Savage set out for the project is to get to kids in homophobic places and tell them it does get better. It Gets Better is an important way to get the dialogue going about LGBT youth and let people know there is a problem an it’s not fair for these people,” says the Medill junior.
It’s not just students getting involved with the It Gets Better Project at Northwestern but faculty members as well.
Emma Jampole, Bienen alumnus (’73) is a part-time teacher in the Bienen School of Music. She brings an interesting perspective to the project as a transgender—a member of the less well-known and discussed part of the LGBT group. Until she was 3, she didn’t even realize that she was a boy. She struggled throughout her life until she finally transitioned in her early fifties.
“Imagine if you were happy being a woman but you’re trapped in a guy’s body,” Jampole says. “Every morning you wake up with a guy’s body with a guy’s voice with guy hair. For every transgender person, it comes down to either transitioning or dying.”
During her undergraduate years, Jampole spent days in the Deering Library researching gender identity issues. She was able to find some close friends to talk to. Joining the Marching Band turned out to be a saving grace. Years later, at her first rehearsal for Northwestern University Marching Band alumni, she felt like she had come home.
As a middle school teacher, Jampole has seen the pressure kids are under, and she believes the It Gets Better campaign is life-giving.
“It lets others know they are not alone. It has the potential to give a lot of hope. I think the direct contact will be very powerful. Someone looks at Ryan and sees a nice young person, and it is aspirational. It makes the person think, ‘Wow, I want to be like that, and I guess I can,’” Jampole says. “Maybe I could be a role model wherever I fit in. I would like kids to realize that being gay or trans is not an obstacle to being successful. I want to help people like me who haven’t gotten this far and haven’t been so fortunate.”
As of right now, neither Jampole nor Lim knows where this project might go, and according to Lim, that’s what makes it exciting.
“This project started with me freaking out, but now it’s so much bigger than just my issues.”