We Have this Really Powerful Tool to Effect Change

Brett M. Peters from the It Gets Better Project talks about the power of storytelling to spread his organization’s message.

Viral success stories burst onto the scene every day only to disappear in a flash. The It Gets Better Project is the exception to the rule. Now well into its ninth year, what started as a grassroots, social media-driven movement keeps growing and expanding its reach, empowering LGBTQ+ youth around the world through uplifting stories of acceptance.

We recently caught up with Brett M. Peters, the project’s veteran Director of Media and Strategic Partnerships, to chat about his journey with It Gets Better, the project’s ambitious mission, and the stories he finds the most moving.

How did you find your way to It Gets Better?

The It Gets Better Project was launched during my senior year of college. I had studied motion pictures and sociology, so I was very interested in what they were doing and how they were using media to help effect social change.

I moved out to Los Angeles soon after I graduated and found a volunteer position with the organization. At first it was only once a week; every week I would come in and be blown away by the impact they were able to make in such a short period of time. So I asked for more days.

One week a coordinator had to travel and I was asked to step in. I thought: this is my opportunity, this is my moment to really prove myself! By the end of the week, Brian Pines, an It Gets Better Project Board Member, said he wasn’t going to let me not be full time.

So I started off as a volunteer, and worked my way up to coordinator, to being the Director of Media and Strategic Partnerships for the last seven and a half years. I’ve been with the project almost since its inception — the project started in September 2010 and I joined in June 2011.

What is the need or gap It Gets Better aims to address?

Up until the launch of the It Gets Better Project, conversations between the elder and younger LGBTQ+ generations were almost nonexistent.

But it became crystal-clear that queer youth needed to see what their futures could look like. They needed to see that there was light at the end of the tunnel, and without access to queer adults it made a lot of the younger people feel hopeless and alone.

When the White House called and said that Barack Obama wanted to make a video — that was definitely a sign that something big was happening.
Brett M. Peters

So we found a way to communicate with queer youth directly through YouTube and through social media. We can tell them our stories. We show them how we’ve been through what they’re going through right now and that we’ve come on the other side of it — and we’re here to say that it gets better.

It started with one video by co-founder Dan Savage and his now-husband, Terry Miller. They thought that maybe 100 other videos would be made but there have been over 60,000, viewed over 75 million times. It shows how necessary this message is and how using storytelling to make an impact was a successful way to go about that.

When, in the early days, did you realize you were on to something powerful?

When the White House called and said that Barack Obama wanted to make a video — that was definitely a sign that something big was happening.

We had to build the entire thing backwards. Most nonprofits think: “We have a mission, how are we going to complete it? What is our vision, and how are we going to make this vision come to life?” There was none of that — we had the brand affinity, we had the audience, we were making an impact, now, how do we build an organization to be sustainable and make sure that it continues to thrive?

Has your mission evolved over the past eight years of work?

We went through an intensive strategic planning process in 2016. We added some new board members and got them involved with the process, and then we refined our mission to uplifting, empowering, and connecting LGBTQ+ youth around the globe. We wanted to make sure that anyone who saw our mission had a crystal-clear understanding of our purpose. We also adopted a vision of a world where all LGBTQ+ youth are free to live equally and know their worthiness and power as individuals.

Has your own perspective changed during your long tenure with It Gets Better?

I truly believe that media is the most influential tool that we have in order to make an impact. And we have a unique model that other organizations, companies, and brands now nod to when they think about how they can reach out to their community. We were at the forefront of that.

What keeps me going is knowing that we have this really powerful tool to effect change. It’s just about making sure that we’re consistently putting ourselves in spaces where young LGBTQ+ people are make sure our message continues to resonate.

We wanted to make sure that anyone who saw our mission had a crystal-clear understanding of our purpose.
Brett M. Peters

What kinds of It Gets Better stories do you find the most powerful?

I don’t have a particular favorite story, but I do have a favorite moment where videos started coming in not just from individuals talking to the camera, but from an individual and their best friend talking about their relationship. Usually the best friend was a straight ally encouraging and uplifting them — they made them feel like it was okay to be who they are.

Seeing those dynamics happen on screen… I still think about those videos today. Not just hearing about someone talking about finding community, but actually seeing that community playing out between two friends, two family members, or between people in the same community group.

These videos are a proof of concept. It’s not just a person telling you that you can have an amazing life and you just have to trust them —  it’s “look, I actually have these people in my life that love me, respect me, and celebrate me for who I am.” And to hear the allies talk about why they love that person so much, it’s a really special moment.

How does your website play into the way you spread your message?

Our website is super-important to us. It has been since day one. Even though we play heavily in the social space, it’s still so important for us to have a website because we see how people are able to find us through search terms. We see that people are questioning their identity and their orientation, and wondering if it does get better. They’re looking for stories and for people who acknowledge their existence when they are on Google.

And we’re seeing that traffic coming in — those people coming to our website and spending time there. That’s because they find this incredible collection of stories, and hopefully at least one they can relate to. They can see someone who looks like them, who sounds like them, who’s been through what they’re going through.

Our website is super-important to us. It has been since day one.
Brett M. Peters

There is such a need for a designated place — like our Get Help section — for queer youth to go to when they’re looking for specific resources in their area, and it just wasn’t available online. Since the project first started we’ve wanted to find ways to highlight the work that all these other amazing organizations have been doing for decades.

It Gets Better has been part of the online landscape for such a long time — what kinds of challenges are you still working to overcome?

There have been multiple challenging moments in the last eight years. We are a global organization now. We have affiliate chapters in 20 countries around the globe. Building out that program and getting the information out there has been challenging due to everything from language barriers to cultural differences.

But the work that we’re doing globally is exciting — and it’s work that isn’t being done by any other organization.

We also realized that this project is bigger than the people behind the scenes; it’s actually about this quilt of stories. It’s everybody. We’re just trying to use our platform to shed light on diverse and impactful storytelling.

Visit the It Gets Better Project WordPress.com-powered site to learn more about the organization’s work, and watch Brett’s video above to hear what keeps him going after almost eight years on the job.

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