It’s Getting Better in the Silicon Valley/ Bay Area

by Karin McKie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday September 23, 2012

From outreach programs at San Francisco General Hospital to the "It Gets Better" campaign embraced by Silicon Valley tech companies like Apple and Hitachi, from the Bay Area/ San Jos, California is showing its love for the LGBT community.

In the Bay Area, the "It Gets Better" campaign gained momentum in September, just in time for Suicide Prevention Month. This video initiative launched in September 2010 by columnist Dan Savage is a message of hope for young LGBTQ people in response to a series of bullying-induced suicides.

At San Francisco General Hospital, an "It Gets Better" video has been produced and distributed by their Family Acceptance Project, and shared with the community via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

"We regularly see teens that have been harmed simply because of who they are, so it was important to send a message that San Francisco General is a safe place where LGBT people will receive quality health care with compassion and respect," said ER Nurse Manager Kathryn Fowler, who initiated the video project.

PR Director Tristan Cook said that their goal is to reach teenagers via social networks and their pediatrics department. SFGH showed the piece to their entire staff in August, and will show it during a Transgender Awareness Month cultural event in November at their new Community Wellness Center.

The Family Acceptance Project reports that teens rejected by their families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide, and that LGBT youth in accepting situations are healthier. adds that nine out of ten LGBT students reporting bullying in school in the past year. SFGH consulted with staff in pediatrics, psychology, emergency and HIV/AIDS units to create a piece appropriate for their target audience.

The 11-minute video was shot in May, and features interviews with nurses, executives and administrators, psychiatric and social workers, physicians and other services providers who offer personal stories and messages of acceptance and hope.

It Gets Better in Silicon Valley

In addition to other videos by personalities from President Barack Obama to Sarah Silverman, reports that Silicon Valley tech and social media firms like Facebook are joining in, making and posting videos to support troubled teens.

"Our company has always been supportive, so when the LGBT employees said we wanted to do make an 'It Gets Better' video, our senior vice presidents quickly responded 'yes,'" said Rob Watson from San Jos's Hitachi Data Systems, who is planning a video shoot for the end of this month. "In the corporate world, when even getting a parking pass is hard, we were affirmed that our request flew through the system."

A single father of two sons, Watson has blogged about bullying for the Huffington Post, and adds that the video planning experience has opened up the in-house LGBT community.

"It feels more like family now," he said. "We know we're not alone, and we have a mutual awareness of each other, which wasn't around before."

Apple's offering can be seen below. Pixar Animation in Emeryville even offers words of encouragement from Woody of "Toy Story." All "It Gets Better," videos lead viewers to information about The Trevor Project, the nation's leading provider of suicide prevention and crisis intervention programs and resources for LGBT youth populations. Their hotline number is 866-488-7386.

San José’s Billy DeFrank Center Helps Gay Youth Stay Safe

San Jos is the home of the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center, which offers a variety of programs for youth to seniors (whom they call "vintage"), from yoga classes to Crystal Meth Anonymous. They are also one of only two non-clinical HIV testing centers in Santa Clara County, offering the 20-minute rapid test.

"The DeFrank Center is a safe and welcoming environment, one that's familiar and safe to reduce risk, educate and inform our population of LGBT, homeless and immigrant clients," said Program Coordinator Nori Herras-Castaneda, a transgender person and an area native.

Named in 1981 for deceased Bay Area AIDS activist, fundraiser and drag queen Billy DeFrank, the Center draws people from all over California, from nearby Oakland and San Francisco, to Reno, Fresno, Modesto and even Los Angeles.

"Sometimes HIV test-takers want distance to feel safer, more confidential, and we welcome them here" said Herras-Castaneda, who also suggests reading "From Closet to Community: A Quest for Gay & Lesbian Liberation in San Jose and Santa Clara County," a collection of interviews, history and photos from 1969-2001.

When asked how Billy DeFrank died, Herras-Castaneda said, "What we heard was that 'his heart gave out.'" Yet his spirit lives on in the heart of Silicon Valley.

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Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at