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Obama anti-bullying message called 'symbolic'

By Ric Ward, CNN
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President Obama: 'It gets better'
  • NEW: Dan Savage: "match these words with action"
  • NEW: Savage hopes the message serves as "wake-up call" to bullies
  • The message is posted on the website
  • Bullying is not a "normal rite of passage," Obama says

Washington (CNN) -- An anti-bullying video message from President Barack Obama is symbolic, the founder of the "It Gets Better" project said Friday, but the president "has the power to do more."

"The administration does say all the right things, but we don't see the action to back up these words," Dan Savage told CNN's "American Morning."

Obama taped the message in the wake of several recent suicides by young people who were being bullied or taunted for being gay. The White House released the video, which appears on the website, late Thursday night.

"We've got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage, that it's some inevitable part of growing up. It's not," Obama says.

Savage, who's also a nationally syndicated columnist, said he hopes the message "serves as a wake-up call" to bullies.

"We finally have a reckoning about the hate rhetoric that sloshes around the culture directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender adults and children," Savage added.

"You are not alone," the president says in the taped message. "You did not do anything wrong. You didn't do anything to deserve being bullied and there is a whole world waiting for you filled with possibilities. If you ever feel like, because of bullying, because of what people are saying that you're getting down on yourself, you've got to make sure to reach out to people you trust -- whether it's your parents, teachers, people who you know care about you just the way you are, you've got to reach out to them. Don't feel like you're in this by yourself. Things will get better and more than that -- in time you're going to see that your differences are a source of pride and a source of strength.

"As a nation, we're founded on the belief that all of us are equal and each of us deserves the freedom to pursue our own version of happiness," Obama says in the three-minute video.

While praising the symbolic importance of the president's message, Savage also called for the Obama administration to stop appealing court rulings against the "don't ask, don't tell" rule that does not allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

He said Obama should honor the promises he made to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community when he ran for president.

Obama's message comes less than a month after 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after a surreptitiously taped encounter between him and another man was posted on the internet.

Savage said he was grateful for the president's support, particularly at this time.

"Letting them know there is nothing wrong with them, that there is something wrong with the bulliers, is highly powerful," Savage said.

Savage founded the "It Gets Better Project" in September as a nationwide suicide prevention and anti-bullying effort. According to the group's website, the project is a way for supporters to tell youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, known commonly as LGBT, that "it gets better."

The website contains video messages submitted by adults telling about growing up gay and telling gay youth that "it gets better." There are now some 2,000 videos on the site as well as on YouTube. The project announced this week it has received 10 million views.

According to the website, nine of 10 LGBT students have experienced harassment at school and more than a third have attempted suicide.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also recently taped a video for the campaign.

Clinton says on the tape she was "terribly saddened" by the suicides of young people who were bullied because they were gay or thought to be gay.

"I have a message for you," she says. "First of all, hang in there and ask for help. Your life is so important to your family, your friends and to your country. And there's so much waiting for you, both personally and professionally. There are so many opportunities to develop your talents and make your contributions."

Clinton has been in the forefront of the Obama administration's efforts to expand rights for gay and lesbian government employees. She instituted equal benefits for same-sex partners of State Department employees, a move that encouraged Obama to authorize such benefits for gay men and lesbians throughout the federal government.

The State Department also has made it easier for transgendered people to change their passports and, for the first time, the agency's "equal opportunity statement" includes gender identity and sexual preference.