The San Francisco Police Department debuted a video Friday reassuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth that they are not alone in their struggles for acceptance.
The video is part of the national It Gets Better Project, which, according to its website, "was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach — if they can just get through their teen years."
According to Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr, Friday's release marks the first time a law enforcement agency has made a video for the project.
The mayor and police chief unveiled the video in the City Hall press room, as many officers and members of the media watched, some in tears.
The police department's video features more than a dozen gay and lesbian officers and a 911 operator talking about when they realized they were homosexual, their struggles with their self-esteem and thought of suicide, the difficulties they had coming out to their families, and the confidence, love, and acceptance they feel now.
One gay officer tells a story about an apology he received from his father after he came out: "I'm so sorry if I ever said fag."
Another explains that he "would have missed the joy and jubilation of life" if he stayed in the closet.
A lesbian officer looks straight at the camera simply says, "You're completely normal."
The video begins with Police Chief Greg Suhr, who tells viewers, "I can't imagine what it's like growing up as an LGBT youth today."
And he promises: "We here in the San Francisco Police Department are going to stick up for you."
The idea for the video came from Department Commander Lea Militello, who pitched it to Chief Suhr shortly after he took office. Suhr quickly jumped on board and soon Militello met director Shawn Northcutt, who directed a similar project for Apple.
Northcutt, who is gay, said the It Gets Better Project is particularly important to him. When he was 17, Northcutt said, he tried to kill himself, because he was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and shame.
"If someone had been there for me, decades of my life would have been different."
Militello stressed that the video could have an impact on parents as well as kids.
"The message it sends is you can be anything you want to be," she said. "You can be a police officer or a firefighter, it doesn't matter."
Gang Task Force Inspector Len Broberg, who choked up while he watched the video, grew up in rural Wisconsin where, he said, he was often called a "homo" and "fag."
Things got better for Broeerg when he moved to San Francisco.
"When I go to work, it's sort of like I'm not the gay police officer; I'm the police officer who happens to be gay," Broeerg said.
"When I was growing up, I thought I was the only one," he added. "So what I would hope is that the youth would see this and at some point reach out and talk to someone before they do the unthinkable."
Mayor Lee said he was proud of the entire department for embracing a campaign that "has to be done" to help prevent LGBT teens from killing themselves.
"It is hard for people to come out and say where they've been," Lee said.
San Francisco Board of Education Commissioner Hydra Mendoza said that the bullying of LGBT students has been an ongoing — and difficult — problem to solve in the city's school district. She cited national statistics that show nine out of 10 LGBT students are bullied and one third skip a day of school owing to safety concerns.
"On a personal note, my brother came out when he was 22 and I was the first person that he told," Mendoza said, fighting back tears. "And I can't even imagine what he went through."
"I wish he had folks like you to support him the way that our youth are going to be supported," she said.
Since its inception in 2010, the It Gets Better Project has collaborated with hundreds of politicians, celebrities, athletes, and religious leaders to create videos meant to empower gay, lesbian, and transgender teens. The videos have correlated with a 50% increase in calls to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention hotline aimed at LGBT youth, according to the organization's web site.