UCSF's LGBTQ Community Assures Teens That 'It Gets Better'

University Contributes to Web Video Series Giving Hope to At-Risk Youth

“Coming out” is an uncertain rite of passage for members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning) community.

To increase awareness about this often-difficult process, members of UCSF’s LGBTQ community created an “It Gets Better” video to commemorate UCSF's Diversity Week and National Coming Out Day on October 11.

Barbara J. French

Barbara J. French

Started in 1988 as a way to remember the October 1987 National March on Washington, D.C., for Lesbian and Gay Rights, National Coming Out Day has grown into an annual celebration of coming out and an opportunity to raise awareness of the LGBTQ community and civil rights movement.

Although there are no national data regarding suicide rates among the LGBT population (because sexual orientation is not included in death certificates), researchers found that LGBT teens and young adults have one of the highest rates of suicide attempts, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

“When you’re young, you really look outward for approval from your parents, your friends and your teachers,” said Barbara J. French, vice chancellor for UCSF Strategic Communications and University Relations, and the highest-ranking University leader who is openly gay. “Being gay, bisexual or transgender at that stage of life can be especially difficult because you can feel like you’re just not good enough.”

Persevering Through Difficult Times

UCSF’s four-minute video features more than 30 ethnically and culturally diverse UCSF faculty, staff, students and trainees – ranging in ages from 20s to 60s – who give resources and messages of hope to at-risk youth. It pays homage to the first “It Gets Better” video by focusing on a singular message told by a group of people: persevere through the difficult times because it truly does get better.

UCSF Medical Center a Leader in LGBT-Inclusive Care

UCSF Medical Center is the only institution in the United States to receive a perfect score on the national LGBT Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) for five consecutive years. The HEI annually invites health care facilities nationwide to rate themselves on providing equitable, inclusive care for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) patients and their families. The criteria call for health care facilities to have LGBT nondiscrimination policies that cover patients and employees, to provide equal hospital visitation access for same-sex partners and parents, and to offer LGBT health education for staff.

UCSF's LGBT-inclusive policies, practices, and training long predate the HEI. In 2004, for example, UCSF Medical Center implemented a groundbreaking Inclusive Language Policy that is featured in the prestigious Health Care Innovations Exchange of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. UCSF Medical Center also has long provided equal visitation rights for patients' same-sex partners.

“We’re honored to join the family of ‘It Gets Better’ supporters with one more resource for the community,” said French, who in June 2012 was named by UC President Mark G. Yudof to co-lead a task force to examine and implement strategies for creating more welcoming and inclusive campus environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, faculty and staff.

UCSF has many diverse services, including the LGBT Resource Center, one of the first LGBT offices in higher education. It falls under the jurisdiction of Renee Navarro, PharmD, MD, the University’s first vice chancellor of Diversity and Outreach.

Other LGBT-friendly services and groups at UCSF include the Lesbian Health Resource Center, the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on GLBT Issues, the Center for Transgender Health, the Gay Straight Dentistry Alliance, LGBTQ Student Association, the Committee on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion and Outlist, which contains more than 300 faculty, staff, students and trainees listed as resources for the community.

“UCSF has worked diligently and is committed to providing a safe, inclusive and supportive environment for the LGBTQ community,” Navarro said. “Much progress has been made; however, we recognize that more work needs to be done because coming out can still be a very difficult process.”

The original “It Gets Better” video, created by columnist Dan Savage for Google Chrome, became a YouTube viral video, logging more than 2.3 million views and spawning the It Gets Better Project in 2010. Since then, more than 30,000 people, including celebrities, elected officials and community groups, have uploaded videos that have received more than 40 million views.

UCSF joins other Bay Area leaders in creating an “It Gets Better” video, including the San Francisco Giants, the San Francisco 49ers, Facebook, Pixar and San Francisco General Hospital & Trauma Center.

“Your feelings are natural and they’re beautiful and they come from a place of love,” said French. "The most important thing is to continue to believe in yourself and don’t listen to what other people tell you because they don’t realize how beautiful you are. Just believe in yourself.”

Photo by Susan Merrell