When the Straz Center for the Performing Arts booked It Gets Better, an international performing arts sensation inspired by journalist Dan Savage’s It Gets Better movement to advocate for LGBTQ youth, the United Services Automobile Association (USAA) jumped on board to support the event.

In 2010, a string of high profile, horrifying, bullying-related LGBTQ teen suicide reports fell across the desk of syndicated columnist Dan Savage. He and his partner Terry Miller decided to carry a very important, very vital message to the next generation of young people toughing it out in the often cruel, heteronormative ball of confusion that is middle school and high school: it gets better.

They created a simple video talking about their experiences and their successful adult lives, posted it on YouTube, and it went viral instantly. The It Gets Better Project was born. Adults around the world saw their chance to step up and offer hope to LGBTQ kids. The list of celebrity testimonies grew, as did the corporations who valued diversity, creativity and inclusivity: Apple, Google, Pearson Education, Pixar, Facebook and NASA all taped videos for the It Gets Better Project, as did the Fire Department of New York, the Austin Police Department and Lt. James “ Jim” Young of Orlando PD.

In time, It Gets Better developed a performing arts component and went on tour, stopping in cities around the country for week-long residencies with local LGBTQ youth to create a concert based on the unique experiences of those young people. Georgiana Young, chief programming officer at The Straz, saw an opportunity for Tampa Bay’s performing arts center to step up (literally) to the mic for the LGBTQ community.

“ The performing arts in America have historically provided refuge for LGBTQ citizens and a platform for that unique voice. In return, the arts in this country are what they are because of the infinite creativity and resilience of the LGBTQ community, who continues, generation after generation, to shape, challenge and define our nation’s cultural achievement,” says Young. “ As the performing arts center for the Tampa Bay area, the Straz Center’s mission is to make sure we are the place where everyone belongs, where everyone can dream and achieve. Part of that is making our space available for conscientious conversations and not shying away from tough topics that affect our community. We can be a place that champions the human spirit.”

As part of the tour, the It Gets Better company members offer to facilitate community conversations and engagement about LGBTQ issues specific to the areas t hey tour. The Straz and USAA, both active partners with the Florida Diversity Council, hosted one of these events, the “ World Café,” on March 22 in Maestro’s Restaurant at The Straz.

Several stakeholders from the Tampa Bay region, including Metro Wellness and Tampa Pride, took a seat at the table to broach the often difficult-to-talk-about issues endemic to LGBTQ youth. The idea was not to just discuss problems but to use that information to being the process of finding solutions.

“ It was phenomenal,” says Straz Center Director of Community Engagement and Audience Development Jennifer Gonzalez, who organized the event. “ The idea was to use the global facilitation model of appreciative inquiry. The artists from It Gets Better guided us through this model as a way to talk about our understanding—and what we didn’t understand—of the local climate for our LGBTQ youth.”

“ USAA is proud to help bring It Gets Betterand theWorld Caféto our Tampa community,” says Tampa Vice President and General Manager of USAA Yvette Segura. “ Diversity and inclusion are engrained throughout our USAA Standard – our north star that guides how we serve our members and each other. We recognize and celebrate the value in bringing diverse perspectives together to deliver superior results. This only happens if people feel comfortable sharing their authentic thoughts in the conversation. The World Café embraces this approach by driving open conversations among our local community members, so our partnership is a natural fit.”

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“ We hope to keep the conversation going,” says Gonzalez. “ The World Café was a start, and we look forward to working with our partners to move what we discovered forward.”

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