Racine's Shaun Aukland wears a red Wisconsin sweatshirt in the video.
Growing up gay is not easy, but now there's an online video project assuring gay teens that "It gets better."
The project has many supporters: One is President Barack Obama.
Another is Racine native Shaun Aukland.
Obama issued a video from the White House on Friday reassuring gay teens, and joining a long list of celebrities who have made videos telling gay, lesbian and trans-gender youth that the isolation and bullying they experience in high school will end, and give way to a fulfilling adult life.
The President said, "We’ve got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage. I don’t know what it’s like to be picked up for being gay but I do know what it’s like to grow up feeling like you don’t belong. What I want to say is this: You are not alone. You didn’t do anything wrong…There are people out there who love you and care about you just the way you are."
Aukland, who attended West Ridge Elementary, Starbuck Middle School and Case High School before graduating from the University of Wisconsin in May, is part of a video made by his fellow Google employees in California. Growing up as a gay person in the closet in Racine "wasn't easy," he said. Especially since he had four brothers, and was "terrified" that someday he'd have to tell them he was gay. "In the schools, it becomes clear very early that it's not good for a student to be 'different.' I never faced harassment for being gay, because I wasn't out at the time, but saw other people struggle with it."
Google employees made their video after seeing the recent news of gay youth committing suicide. "I think it contains a great message, and has gotten a lot of attention recently (viewed over 200,000 times over 48 hours; it's now over 300,000). It might also be nice for young people to see someone from Racine contributing to the It Gets Better campaign," Aukland said.
Here's more of what Aukland told us:
I would say that in both middle and high school, I found my niche working on special projects for the school, and was really given the room to explore and see what I was capable of. At Starbuck this was fixing computers, DJing school dances, and planning others events. At Case, I was able to lead the technical aspects of the theatre for a few years, and also worked on the school yearbook... and I loved it!
Once I got to University of Wisconsin, I continued this and worked for University Housing, or the residence halls, for four years. I started out working in the computer labs, and was soon managing a staff of 20 and eight different locations. At the same time, I became part of the Wisconsin Alumni Association and began planning events on campus. Overall, I think that these experiences really made me confident that I was ready for more challenges. There are ways to take leadership and learn your strengths, and I'm really thankful that Racine's teachers let me do that.
At Google, I'm now an account manager for their online sales business. Basically, I work with lots of businesses that advertise through Google and make sure they have a great experience working with the company. I'm so lucky to have gotten a great job right out of school, and it is no secret that Google takes care of its employees. They offer us free meals everyday, a free shuttle to and from work, and even an on-site doctor. Other amenities that we have at work include a gym, haircuts, massage therapy, and fitness classes. Most of all, though, it is positive place to be and I'm surrounded by some really smart people that I'm always learning from.
Growing up in Racine as a gay person in the closet wasn't very easy. In the schools, it becomes clear very early that it's not good for a student to be "different." I never faced harassment for being gay, because I wasn't out at the time, but saw other people struggle with it. There are some pretty terrible things said to other students.
I think what is more impacting, even after I left, was seeing a story that ran on the Journal Times website, about the Day of Silence for Racine's new LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin, and then watching the vitriol that began to unravel in the comments. That stuff sends a message that "you people aren't welcome here." I'm very thankful that we now have the LGBT Center there now.
I also want to reiterate, as we said in the video, to any young person who is worried about coming out or just being accepted as a gay person... it gets better! You don't have to leave Wisconsin for that to happen, either. There are lots of really happy, successful LGBT people at home, and things really do improve as you grow up. Even if that seems a little far away now, it isn't!