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Vanakkam, I am Sarav and I live in Boston. But I was born and brought up in Coimbatore, " says the young man clad in a grey T-shirt. In the YouTube video, he goes on to talk about his early life, the realisation that he is gay and his suicide attempt at the age of 16.
"I survived and though nobody asked me why I hurt myself, I realised what I had done was wrong. I will never attempt to take my life again, " says Sarav Chidambaram in Tamil. His message to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) youth is clear - life may be tough but you can handle it. Today, San Francisco-based Chidambaram is a successful software professional, a Bharatanatyam dancer, and an adult comfortable with his own sexuality.
His video is one of many that have been made as part of the 'It Gets Better' (IGB) project that was kicked off in the US in 2010. That year, many instances of LGBT youth who had committed suicide were widely reported in the media. To give hope to young people facing harassment, columnist and author Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller made a YouTube video.
Today, IGB has become a worldwide movement. More than 50, 000 videos have since been created and viewed more than 50 million times. In Chennai, inspired by the project, members of Orinam. net, a bilingual LGBT resource website, decided to create and put up IGB videos. "We have about 380 people on our mailing list, who are based in and out of Chennai, " says L Ramakrishnan, from the health and human rights NGO Saathii, who volunteers as co-editor of the Orinam site. "We are always trying to reach out to LGBT youth and see how we can empower them with information and also let them know they are not alone. "
The idea is to share personal stories, issues and struggles, show how individuals overcame them and how life did get better for them. "The LGBT community in India has very few physical spaces such as community centres or clubs. The internet has been a great platform for collaboration for more than a decade, " says Shridhar Sadasivan, a software engineer who lives in New Jersey. Writer and co-editor of Orinam. net, he moved to the US from Chennai five years ago. "The IGB project is a logical extension of using that platform to reach out, " he says. In fact, Savage came up with the idea of IGB as it reaches out to a large audience. "Many of the suicides were a result of the intense bullying kids face not just on the playground but on Facebook, Twitter and through text messages, " says Seth D Levy, board member of IGB. "So, Savage thought of using social media in a positive way. "
Since many of the videos are in English, Orinam. net wanted to create Tamil videos that would also speak to the cultural context. "We wanted it to be in Tamil, so it could reach non-English speaking people, " says Sadasivan. "We have plans to add English and other regional language subtitles to the videos we make. "
Chidambaram's video was the first to go online early this year. "We have also linked IGB videos made by other groups and individuals, " says Sadasivan, who is working on a video based on his own experience. "I grew up in a small town in Tamil Nadu and have experienced bullying first hand, " he says. "I have been called names and harassed physically and verbally during my school days. So, personally I find these videos very helpful. "
However, making these videos can take an emotional toll as it brings up painful memories. "I was depressed for a week after I made it, " says Chidambaram. Sadasivan hopes to have his video ready by fall. "Bullying is a very emotional subject for me as it brings back dark memories from my school days, " he says.
However, the feedback keeps them going. "Many people who watched my video said they had faced similar situations, " says Chidambaram. "Sometimes I cried when I went through my mail as there are so many children out there who are suffering and have nowhere to go. " Orinam. net hopes to have more videos online soon. "A lot of footage has been shot in Chennai and is being made into videos, " says Ramakrishnan.
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