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It Gets Better: For Billy

It Gets Better: For Billy

Anthony_4

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 simply signed "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 personal and painful mistake he made 10 years ago that ended with the suicide of a former best friend.

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As the weeks go by, the scope and aim of ourFor Billy documentary continues to morph. It started as a personal diary, me reflecting on my teenage experiences as the victim of LGBTQ bullying and the loss of a former best friend to suicide. But over the past two weeks, this film has grown into something much more universal; it is now the story of a small Midwestern town at large -- its unique struggles and the struggles of everyone in it, as it relates to bullying and prejudices.

Last Thursday night I had a pre-interview with my mother. Yes, yes; I realize how formal that sounds. "Pre-interview" and "mother" rarely fall in the same sentence. But she is just loving the idea of being in a "real movie," and she now asks for the "full-on talent treatment." In our conversation she recounted a story I'd long forgotten: myself in first grade, beaten up by a gang of second graders, them stripping me of my snowsuit, burying it in a snowdrift, and making me stand barely clothed in the subzero temperatures of a Chicago winter.

My mother saw this from our house's window and, of course, immediately launched into the Democratic version of a "Mama Grizzly." She stormed outside and began screaming at the bullies, but then she burst into tears, not from anger or pain, but from confusion: "What makes you children so mean?! Where did you learn to how to be so mean at such a young age?!"

And this confused query got me thinking. You can't possibly learn how to be a snowsuit-stripping bully in the time frame of a year and a half. It's not school that breeds bullying; school is merely a social petri dish, and there are too many kids and not enough adults to politically and/or correctly police them. Bullying (otherwise known as thinly veiled hate and fear) is birthed somewhere else and at a much younger age.

It starts at home and in the "it takes a village" community. Economic status, race, sexual orientation, culture, personal prejudices -- they all play an important part in fostering bullying. However, in my conversations with Wheeling townspeople, one common thread has consistent reared its controversial head while discussing the "gay agenda" portion of the teenage bullying phenomenon: religion. A good portion of my pre-interviews with some of the movers and shakers of the city has been punctuated with the age-old adage: "Because the Bible tells me so!"

At first I found myself offering rebuttals and raging against the religious right: "Gay is good! Gay is normal! Gay is love!" But now I've learned to merely take notes and stay silent. As one LGBTQ-supportive priest in the area told me, "You cannot change minds until hearts are open, and many hearts have yet to be opened."

That is evident in an e-mail I received recently. (Note: I have not altered the punctuation or spelling.) "micheal anthony, now you've really done it. contacting high schools in the name of suicide and bullying is one thing. i get it. it's your 'in.' you're way of manipalating the current system with media hot buttons. but now contacting churches. churches?????? CHURCHES!!!!!! what kind of sick and twisted satanic 'ARTIST' r you??????!?! have you recieved any calls back from these 'churcheS.' i highly doubt it. highly doubt it. for those of us that have a DIRECT LINE TO GOD we know what is right and wrong. save the children. save the children. stop the bullying yessssssss. but not through lies and all that is against salvation. i see u have made fun of me on your website. cute, cute. real christian like! (hahaha, as if or if only!) post this email too please. your only giving me 'a voice and a stage' like your bio says you do. FOR ALL MEMBERS of the community. our community. not yours. ours. peace!"

Quite obviously, this e-mailer's heart is not open and his spell check is not on!

Of course, general production problems continue to flood my life, both literally and metaphorically -- namely the flooding of my office and my taking up business-related residence at the "gay" Starbucks on West Hollywood's Santa Monica Boulevard. (If you see me, please stop by and say hi! Surely I'll be having an overwhelming afternoon and will much welcome the distraction.) But such is the making of a feature documentary ... and I'm loving it!

Our filming begins in the city of Wheeling in t minus 34 days, a realization my production team and I find both daunting and inspiring in equal and opposing manners. If you care to learn more about the project, please view our preview and donations page -- any advice or tax-deductible financial support are appreciated more than you know.

"You cannot change minds until hearts are open, and many hearts have yet to be opened." That statement is haunting; it wrenches the heart -- and yet it's the tried-and-true truth in the quest to overcome teen LGBTQ bullying and homophobia at large. But "because the Bible tells me so!" is not a valid enough reason to hate me, to discount me -- to hate and discount us.

And that's why I barrel forth with an open heart, a couple of Canon 5D cameras, and a brand-new snowsuit -- ready to change a few moving-and-shaking Midwestern minds.
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