Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2012

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Joanne Belknap

Abstract

In September and October of 2010, there were 11 highly publicized suicides of young gay men under the age of 18 across the United States. As a response, author and columnist, Dan Savage, created a YouTube video campaign called the It Gets Better Project as a suicide prevention mechanism for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. The campaign has millions of viewers around the world, and people and groups such as President Obama, Justin Bieber and the San Francisco Giants, have participated be creating their own video messages. The It Gets Better Project has received criticism from social justice communities for perpetuating white homonormativity and from suicide scholars as contributing to the phenomenon known as suicide contagion. This thesis is a content analysis of the 100 most viewed It Gets Better videos (on October 20th, 2011), coded for the identities of the people making the videos (including race, sexual orientation, class background, gender identity and religious beliefs), as well as the video content (e.g., references to ‘it gets better,’ encouraging viewers to come out, and references to getting out of high school). Results of the study showed that the campaign’s videos were mostly made by gay men, as well as by white, and middle-aged people. The primary messages being communicated to LGBT youth were ‘it gets better,’ telling viewers that it is their responsibility to improve their own lives, and using a violent or suicidal story from their own lives to communicate these messages. The study demonstrates the need for an intersectional approach to oppression work within activist movements, as well as the need to work with field experts (suicide scholars) in producing effective social and political campaigns.

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