Raymond Lee entered Northwestern in 2000 as a young man unsure of his academic interests and struggling with his sexuality.
“I didn’t think I would be a theater major at all,” Lee said. “I was a science kid.”
After realizing pre-med wasn’t for him, he transferred from Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences to the School of Communication. As a Radio-TV-Film major, Lee was introduced to individuals that were comfortably “out” for the first time.
“I distanced myself from them,” he said. “I still thought I could conquer it. I thought it was a disease. I thought all of those things.”
Lee’s history of depression inspired him to use his career on Broadway to reach out to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens. He and Broadway talent agent Chris Nichols created “It Gets Better Broadway” to spread their message.
The website and YouTube channel are part of the “It Gets Better” movement, a series of video profiles meant to reach out to LGBT teens who are affected by bullying and depression.
Brutal anti-gay attacks in New York City and the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi have sparked a national discussion about LGBT issues. University President Morton Schapiro and Vice President for Student Affairs Bill Banis issued a statement Oct. 13 condemning harassment and strongly supporting NU’s LGBT community.
The issue is personal for Lee. Only a few years before entering college, Lee’s struggle with his sexuality left him feeling lonely and hopeless. His depression led to a suicide attempt at age 16.
“If I could go back in time and tell my fifteen year-old self that I would be with a guy, and that I’d be able to tell my parents about it and that they’d be fine with it, I would not have believed it,” Lee said.
The former cast member of “Mamma Mia!” now lives happily with his partner, Robbi Kearns.
Lee contacted Broadway Impact, a group dedicated to fighting for LGBT rights, and was connected to Nichols.
“I could see immediately that Ray was just as passionate and just as excited about this project,” Nichols said. “We had never met before, but we clicked immediately.”
“It Gets Better Broadway” filmed more than 40 testimonials from performance groups all over the country, including the casts of “Billy Elliot” and “South Pacific.”
“There was an enormous response from the community,” he said.
The men agree the most rewarding aspect of the project is hearing from those who have been affected positively by the videos. A thirteen-year-old girl from California contacted the group to say the videos helped her cope with being teased for having lesbian parents. A 50-year old housewife told the group the videos had convinced her to become a “straight ally.”
Still, the news of another young teen committing suicide comes all too often, Nichols said.
“We heard of another young teen who took their life today, ” Nichols said Thursday. “It’s frustrating because we’re doing all this work, and we’re trying to reach these kids.”
Lee recommends teens who are feeling depressed or suicidal contact The Trevor Project, a national hotline devoted specifically to gay and questioning youth.
“Anyone out there feeling suicidal, hang in there,” Lee said. “You might think it’s the end of the world. Take it from me: Life gets so much better. If I had passed in high school, I would not have experienced what I consider now to be my dream life.”