What do you wish your younger self would have known? That It Gets Better.
The It Gets Better projects is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQIA youth around the world through storytelling. Resources are put towards getting stories out and onto the screens of children to build connection, an education program that helps take some of the best queer stories into classrooms, and their global program to empower a variety of communities to communicate across 20 countries. Since their partnership began in 2017, Converse has invested more than $518K into the It Gets Better Project. This support has afforded the organization the ability to expand its reach and amplify the impact of its mission to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQIA youth around the globe.
I got the chance to speak with Justin Tindall (he/they), the Director of Programs and Operations, as well as Alejandro Isabella (he/she), a youth voice, to hear about the impact IGBP has had on their respective journeys.
IGBP began in 2010, born out of viral video campaigns on YouTube. As Justin stumbled upon some of the content after college, he recognized how important the videos were for queer people but had yet to give space to his personal connection to the messaging. Fast forward to 2012, and he comes across content from IGBP again. However, this time the video truly mirrored his experiences:
“I was on the internet one day, and I stumbled across a new It Gets Better video that was made by students at my former University. I grew up Mormon and attended BYU, which is a Mormon University. It's a very conservative and very strict community. And that video, in contrast to the previous ones, broke me. It took seeing young people who knew my story. They grew up in communities like mine, they grew up in families like mine, they knew what it was like to be a queer Mormon kid. And knowing all of that, they still had the bravery and the courage to come out and put their story out there in an effort to support other queer people in the world. It took seeing myself reflected, for that light switch to turn and say, ‘This is definitely me. I am part of this community. And I can't keep living in the closet. I can't keep living this lie anymore to myself, or to the people that I love most in the world’. So that video was the catalyst of me deciding to pave a different path for my life.”
That moment for Justin brought him to work for the organization that he says saved his life––and now he works to continue to provide that experience for others, like 17 year old Alejandro Isabella.
Alejandro Isabella is a force if I’ve ever met one. Her journey of coming out started when she was in 6th grade, and is ever-evolving. It is filled with love, liberation, exploration, and joy. He’s experimented with labels such as lesbian to queer to bisexual, and has allowed his gender identity to ebb and flow. The point is not in the semantics of labels––it is in the constant evolution and revolution of self.
She credits the beautiful space and welcoming atmosphere to being able to express herself in ways that she chooses to–much of which her own energy is responsible for creating, but is expanded by communities like the IGBP. Though he has fluctuated between masculine and feminine energy throughout the years, joining the IGBP Class of 2021 was the first time she felt allowed to resonate with both genders, identify as genderqueer, and introduce himself as Alejandro Isabella.
Though she carries herself with a self possession that is hard to come by, Alejandro Isabella admits that the journey has not always reflected the confidence she holds today:
“I would truly tell people to hold onto the ‘it gets better’ mindset. I almost feel hypocritical because there was a point in my life where I was like ‘This is so frustrating. I feel like I'm never gonna find a label that's gonna resonate with me’. But I still did. You're gonna find a label for yourself. You just take your time. So often it's like it's so normalized, to find a label for yourself and stay with it for the rest of your life. And I feel like I'm living proof that that's not how you have to do it. You can go at whatever pace you want, whatever label you want, make up a new label just for yourself! Like, who's gonna stop you? I try so hard to stress that it's okay if you don't have a label now. Since seventh grade I’ve been experimenting with my gender, but I didn't know what gender queer meant until three months ago. There's so many labels and there's so many beautiful identities. It's yours, it's not how other people perceive you.”
Through her first year working with the IGBP, she’s had the platform to self reflect outloud and share a story that resonates with and helps so many others. It was an honor to witness her spread their message and joy, and get to know them for who she is. Her sense of security in the unknown is bound to inspire others.
Listen to the full conversation on Spotify or Apple: THE POD byGEN-ZiNE.
Beyond a platform for storytelling, the It Gets Better Project is a holistic organization that follows the young queer identity journey. They aim to hop into the journey at the beginning of the questioning journey, and serve as a preventative measure to provide support from the beginning. Whether kids need direct services such as housing, a therapist, counseling, clothing, hormone replacement therapy or more, IGBP has robust resources. During the summer of 2020, they launched an ambassador program to give the microphone and stage to youth so they can speak to each other and share their stories. It Gets Better provides the means for them to talk to each other, connect, share, and strengthen one another.
Stay tuned for….
"Writing Our Own Dictionary"is a new web series that takes a deep dive into the vast LGBTQ+ glossary of terms. In this four-episode series, hear first-hand from LGBTQ+ people about what their various labels and identities mean to them in their everyday lives. The first episode drops Weds, Oct 6 onwww.itgetsbetter.orgwith new episodes every Wednesday in October.
The It Gets Better Project is partnering with Converse throughout the month of October for a series on TikTok called"Moments in Our History."Incorporating LGBTQ+ influencers, participants share the most impactful/surprising/important moments and figures that stick out to them in LGBTQ+ history for National Coming Out Day and LGBT History Month on TikTok. Check the It Gets Better Project TikTok channel and search the hashtags #NCOD #LGBTQHistoryMonth