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WATCH: It Gets Better Project launches “Out in Front,” a docu-series highlighting LGBTQ youth activism

LGBTQ nonprofit is also celebrating its 10-year anniversary by revisiting the videos of its earliest contributors

it gets better project

Andrea Gonzales-Mereles – Photo: It Gets Better Project

The It Gets Better Project, the leading nonprofit organization that focuses on uplifting LGBTQ youth and combating the loneliness and depression that can lead to suicide, has launched a five-episode docu-series highlighting the work of five LGBTQ youth activists involved in some of the most pressing societal issues.

The digital series, titled “Out in Front: Queer Youth Changing the World,” will stream on the It Gets Better Project’s YouTube Channel, with new episodes releasing on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 a.m. PT until Oct. 29.

“‘Out in Front’ profiles young LGBTQ activists who are advocating for a variety of causes that they’re passionate about, from gun control legislation to immigration to racial justice and uplifting black voices,” says Ross von Metzke, the director of communications and public relations for the It Gets Better Project, told Metro Weekly in an interview.

“I feel like so often in the queer community, when we profile queer people, it’s very focused on their queer identity and that story and that journey,” von Metzke added. “And we don’t frequently go outside of that story. This is a chance to shine a light on some really extraordinary young people who are advocating for things that their queer identity certainly informs, but maybe don’t have a lot to do with being LGBTQ.”

The first episode, launching on Oct. 15, will feature Andrea Gonzales-Mereles, a Staten Island teen who, shortly after the Parkland shooting, became aware of the “white-washing” of the gun violence epidemic in the United States.

Gonzales-Mereles works with an organization called Youth Over Guns, a New York City-based advocacy group that seeks to raise awareness and propose solutions to gun violence that impacts people of color.

“Marginalized identities are the ones most impacted by gun violence, and by violence in general… that’s why we created Youth Over Guns, that’s why it exists,” she says in the video. “We saw a void in the conversation that we were being ignored and isolated, and pushed under the rug. We’ve now taken over the space and we work in coalition with other black and brown young people to make sure we have an even bigger voice in this country in terms of creating solutions to gun violence prevention, and just ending gun violence in general.”

Other activists whose work will highlighted as part of the series include Jude, the trans activist behind Colorado’s “Jude’s Law,” which made it easier for transgender people to change the name and gender marker on their birth certificate; Stephon Bradberry, a former congressional staffer and nonbinary anti-racism activist who founded We Too, Are America, a nonprofit uplifting Black voice and propelling Black liberation; Victor Romero, a queer undocumented American with United We Dream who has advocated for medical care for queer undocumented residents, and started a program to provide HIV testing services in New Mexico; and Cynthia Garcia, also of United We Dream, who in engaged in helping queer undocumented residents avoid deportation.

von Metzke says that the series, paid for in part due to a generous grant from footwear giant Converse, could have included many more activist were it not due to financial constraints, but the It Gets Better Project knew it wanted to highlight certain causes or movements and, as a result, sought out youth activists with experience in those spaces.

See also: Spirit Day: 2020 Democrats tell LGBTQ youth “it does get better” and they’re “not alone”

The It Gets Better Project also recently celebrated its 10 year anniversary on Sept. 21. To commemorate that milestone, the nonprofit has begun revisiting some of videos posted by some of its earliest contributors, launching a series called “Ten Years Better,” which kicked off with a video featuring Gigi Gorgeous, a transgender YouTuber and social media influencer. 

“One of the things that we thought would be neat to do is go back into the archives and take a look at some of the earliest videos and reconnect with those people, have them watch their initial “It Gets Better” video on Zoom with a host, who’s named Emile Ennis Jr., and basically talk through the video as we watch it, and ask them if they would give any new advice today, and update us on what’s happening with their lives since then,” von Metzke said. 

“We kicked it off with Gigi, who hadn’t even transitioned yet when she did her first video,” he noted. “And so there’s been a huge journey for Gigi over the last 10 years.”

Other figures who will be featured as part of the monthly series include NASA Johnson Space Center Deputy Chief Steve Riley and Joel Burns, a former Fort Worth city councilman in Texas who spoke about his experiences as an LGBTQ person, and the importance of the It Gets Better Project, during a speech at a council meeting, gaining national attention with an appearance on The Ellen Show. December’s guest has not been identified, with von Metzke teasing that it is a “surprise.”

Gigi Gorgeous – Photo: It Gets Better Project, via YouTube

For now, there are only four videos scheduled to release, von Metzke said, although there isn’t a specific number of issues, and he imagines that other former contributors will add their names to the list of participants.

“I would love it to last all year,” he said. “We haven’t decided yet. I do think a lot of things are uncertain with COVID. I will say this is a fairly easy series to do digitally. It’s not something we necessarily need to do in person. So we are leaning into that. But right now we have through the end of December planned.”

von Metzke marvels at the growth of the It Gets Better Project, which has since expanded to include affiliates in 17 different countries focusing on regional issues that are specific to LGBTQ youth, and now creates educational guides and resources to help educators learn how to broach LGBTQ topics.

“The mission of the It Gets Better Project hasn’t necessarily evolved, but our scope of work and the number of ways we’re able to get in front of young people has grown exponentially,” he said. “When [founder] Dan [Savage] and Terry [Miller] posted the first video, nobody expected that to go viral. They just hoped young LGBT people would see that video, that the message would resonate, and they’d feel a little bit less alone, like somebody out there saw them and that they can relate to that story.

“It was the early days of YouTube, and viral videos and viral video campaigns weren’t what they are today,” he added. “And I think that message just resonated for some older LGBTQ people, for allies, for people who saw young people in some very dark places and who were looking for a way to reach them. And the video and YouTube really opened the door, and it spiraled from there.”

Watch the first episode of “Out in Front: Queer Youth Changing the World,” featuring Andrea Gonzales-Mereles, below:

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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