One year ago today, Billy (William) Lucas, a 15-year-old from Greensburg, Ind., was was found dead in a barn at his grandmother’s home — he had hanged himself.
While Billy never self-identified as gay, friends said he was tormented for years because other kids thought he was gay.
Billy took his own life just hours after fellow students told him he didn’t deserve to live.
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“He was threatened to get beat up every day,” friend and classmate Nick Hughes said. “Sometimes in classes, kids would act like they were going to punch him and stuff and push him.”
“Some people at school called him names,” Hughes said, saying most of those names questioned Lucas’ sexual orientation, and that Lucas, for the most part, did little to defend himself.
“He would try to but people would just try to break him down with words and stuff and just pick on him,” Hughes said.
Five months later, Billy’s mother told the story of his life, and his death:
Billy’s death was the first widely reported teen suicide in September of 2010, but followed another high profile teen suicide in Minnesota just two months earlier — that of gay teen Justin Aaberg, also 15.
Within weeks, America and the world would come to know the names of at least six more gay, or perceived gay, teens — each who would take their own life to escape the physical and emotional torture inflicted upon them by bullies.
But on learning the news of Billy’s death, nationally syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller, both victims of bullying during their youth, decided they had to do something.
“I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes,” Savage wrote, following Billy’s death.
“I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.”
And with that one simple message, Savage and Miller recorded a YouTube video to inspire LGBT youth, and deliver a message of hope — “it gets better.”
Within two months, the “It Gets Better Project” evolved into a worldwide movement, inspiring nearly 10,000 user-created videos and over 30 million views. Sadly, at least 10 more gay, or perceived gay, teens would never hear the message that “it gets better,” as the spate teen suicides continued into October and early November.
In the months and year that followed, visibility to anti-gay bullying and sentiment has prompted a a National Summit on Bullying and the first ever White House conference on bullying prevention.
And today, one year after the death of Billy Lucas, more than 25,000 people have created similar videos, giving LGBT youth a glimpse of what their lives might be like as openly gay adults — and the hope that it does get better.