For Billy: It Gets Better
When gay Los Angeles writer Michael Anthony created his It Gets
Better video, he didn’t think much would come from it — until he
received an anonymous letter in the mail. With no return address and
signed simply “Billy,” it was a cry for help detailing
one boy’s painful struggle with his sexuality and the unimaginable high
school bullying he regularly endured in Wheeling, Ill. — a suburb of
Chicago and also Michael Anthony’s hometown. For Billy
documents Michael Anthony’s return to Illinois to explore LGBTQ bullying
in the Midwest and to combat homophobia through art and activism —
while attempting to rectify a painful mistake he made 10 years ago.
I have been home sweet home for eight days and have (literally) gained eight pounds. Chicago-style pizza and subzero can’t-cardio temperatures rarely have a way of making for six-pack abs. But my crew and I are work 18+ hour days while filming this documentary, and craft services is the only way I can express my gratitude. So I say thank you a lot, and then we eat a lot.
I have gone to bed crying each and every night. Why? Because I am being berated and “gay-bashed” on Facebook by a few of the local high school students; it’s not a pitchfork-wielding mob, mind you, but it’s a few bad apples with snarky control-alt-delete-key fingers. Most of it is just the occasional underhandedcyber cutting. They continue to call me a “YOB.” I have no idea what this means, but students have alluded to the fact that it’s a northwest suburban slang for “faggot.”
However, there is one student in particular who’s gone for my homosexual jugular. He continually professes that it has nothing to do with me being gay, but that “Michael Anthony, as a person, is the problem.”
You see, I am a writer-comedian-activist-actor-artist. For four years I served as creative director of alternative programming at Celebration Theatre (the country’s longest consistently producing gay and lesbian theater) and currently cohost my own show (The Village Variety Pack with Dennis Hensley and Michael Anthony) at the the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. Plainly put, we’re a really good gay ol’ time; sketch, comedy, dance, music, and everything in between — even the occasional drag dance number, which I usually (and painfully tongue-in-cheekishly) front.
This anti–Michael Anthony Facebook-bashing student has researched me, YouTubed me, read me, watched me, and is now sharing each and every wig-wearing, tap-dancing, bawdy-bellowing clip he finds with the city via the Net — and people (perhaps only slightly rightfully so) are apprehensive about trusting me now. His ultimate point: “Trannies like this have no place in our town and should not be allowed around children.” And people who have little exposure to homosexual culture perhaps (not so slightly rightfully so) agree.
First, I am far from a transsexual. I have not shaved my 5 o’clock
shadow in years. Second, every transsexual should be allowed around
children — unless he/she chooses not to be. Kids could learn a lot from a
good man in high heels. Thirdly, he is right — I was, in essence, not
welcome in my hometown, and it is happening again. Perhaps I have no
place here. I am making this doc to discover if I am welcome here
Fourth, I am insanely proud of myself and the face I
have put forth in the world. I have made people laugh, think,
contemplate, rage, come to life. I have changed a few hearts and minds,
and I have also helped raise nearly $200K for civil rights and youth
advocacy causes. Fifth, why is this kid so obsessed with me, my
accomplishments, and my art? Why does he care so much?
is exactly the kind of teen I am trying to reach. I will not rebut him,
insult him, or try to embarrass him, as he has tried to do to me. But I will
continually put it out to the world — this project and I are here
to lend an ear and offer participation, especially for those like this
young YOB-hating man. (Anyone and everyone are welcome to call the
production office at 323-87-0849 with questions or concerns. I will put
down my deep-dish pizza and answer anything.)
Last week I made this basement YouTube video — my personal plea to the students of
Wheeling and the surrounding suburbs. Hopefully this will quell some
fear. I’ve laid my heart and soul on the line, and now let’s see if any
of them decide to salmon-swim up against the raging waves of cultural
normalcy and join the For Billy project.
The For Billy crew and I
have done eight major interviews thus far. I have cried in seven of them and
walked out of one of them. Have I really become such a "heart-on-my-sleeve
emotional L.A. artist?" No, I don’t think so. The stories people are
sharing with me have hit a deep nerve. We met with the local PFLAG
chapter, so beautiful and moving in their loving conviction for their
friends and family LGBTQers. We were welcomed into the home of a man
whose partner died in a recent and tragic accident. We had coffee with a
recent student who did not complete high school due to daily
physical assaulting and verbal taunting. And these people have not held
back; they look into my eyes and answer each question, and I really see
them. How can that not move one to tears? Without sounding cliché, I now
“know” these people, and I am excited to share them with you in 2012
when For Billy is finished.
They are beautiful; they are worthy of equality and love ... as am I.
large-scale art installation (“BE: the exhibit”) goes up for one night only this Friday (March 18) at the European
Crystal in Arlington Heights, Ill. Please share the invitation with your
Chicago-based friends, fans, and family. I think (maybe thought) we’d
have 551 people; now I am not so sure. My brother thinks we’ll have 20.
My mother projects 75 — and the crew has agreed on “15 or so.” But even
if the numbers stay in the low teens, I know it will be a moving,
changing, extremely unsuburban night.
Professional Chicago-based artists have taken anonymous student letters
about their personal bullying experiences and created original works of
art — paintings, photography, sculpture — to be shown and auctioned off
for charity. There will also be a live stage show at 7:45 p.m., featuring
music, dance and spoken word from some of Chicago’s most talented gay,
lesbian, and supportive straight artists and activists — all created from
the secret thoughts of bullied teens.
“BE” is also an interactive
exhibit. Guests will have the opportunity to write their own anonymous
letters about their fears, create original art that will be auctioned
off for charity, share their personal stories with our “5 Question
Confessional Cam,” participate in our stage show, and meet other
Chicagoland teens, families, and activists — all with the same aim: to
combat homophobia and teen bullying through art and activism.
DATE: Friday, March 18, 2011
TIME: Doors open at 6:30 p.m./Show at 7:45 p.m. LOCATION: European Crystal Banquet and Conference Center
519 W. Algonquin Rd.
Arlington Heights, IL
COST: FREE — Donations Accepted/Charity Auction
are welcome — All ages, all races, all religions, all orientations,
everyone! I hope you join us; please come. Show your support for the
LGBTQ antibullying cause ... and even your love for young, scared Facebook
This project is no longer about “helping us”; it is about “saving them.”