Dan Savage: Every time a gay youth commits suicide, our enemies celebrate

Posted on 08 Feb 2012 at 11:44am

Dan Savage speaks at the University of North Texas on Tuesday. (Patrick Hoffman)

DANIEL VILLARREAL  |  Contributing Writer

DENTON — “Every time LGBT bullying kills a kid, Tony Perkins gets up from his desk and dances a jig,” sex-advice-columnist-turned-LGBT youth advocate Dan Savage said of the anti-gay Family Research Council president during Savage’s keynote speech at the 12th Annual University of North Texas Equity and Diversity Conference on Tuesday.

“Every LGBT youth suicide for them is a victory, a rhetorical and moral victory,” Savage added.

When some LGBT teenagers come out to their parents, Savage said, the parents do “what the Christian right tells them to do”— cut them off financially and emotionally, disown them, turn them out into the streets or send them to camps meant to “turn them straight,” often repeating the lies spread by so-called Christian groups like the Family Research Council — which say that LGBT people are child-molesting sexual predators whose mere existence threatens families and the very survival of the planet (a line uttered by the Pope just this last month).

Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, hoped to counteract the lethal effect of such anti-LGBT attitudes when they started the It Gets Better (IGB) video campaign in September 2010. They thought that user-created videos encouraging LGBT youth to keep living might stem the epidemic of bullying-related LGBT suicides that killed 10 teenage boys that month alone.

As the number of user-uploaded videos for IGB quickly rose from 200 in the first week to the current count of more than 30,000 videos (viewed more than 40 million times internationally), Savage came to realize that IGB had effectively placed an LGBT youth support group in the pocket of every teenager with a cell phone — no matter their geographic location or their family’s prejudices.

But while applauding the program’s success in potentially saving lives and giving children hope that their parents might one day accept them as other parents in IGB videos have, Savage admitted to the crowd made up mostly of students that the It Gets Better project can’t end bullying.

“[However, that] does not excuse or preclude us from doing more …” Savage continued, “from confronting bullies, from holding schools and teachers and preachers and parents responsible for what they do or don’t do or fail to do for LGBT kids in pain.”

That’s why Savage’s project has supported Sen. Al Franken’s Student Non-Discrimination Act as well as the efforts of groups like the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, the Trevor Project and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“[The Trevor Project] is there to talk kids off the ledge,” Savage said, “GLSEN is there to make sure there are fewer kids in our schools climbing out onto that ledge and the ACLU is there sue the crap out of schools that push kids onto that ledge.”

Citing studies from the University of Illinois and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Savage said rates of teenage suicide (LGBT and straight) and sexual violence against girls is much higher in schools where anti-LGBT bullying is tolerated — in short, that anti-LGBT bullying makes schools unsafe for everyone. And yet the religious right continues to oppose campaigns against anti-LGBT bullying as “indoctrination.”

Quoting Johann Hari, a writer with UK-based The Independent, Savage said:

Being subjected to bullying and violence as children and teenagers makes gay people unusually vulnerable to depression and despair. The homophobes then use that depression and despair to claim that homosexuality is inherently a miserable state – and we shouldn’t do anything that might “encourage” it.

However, Savage asserts that he isn’t hostile to religion, citing his good relationship with his Catholic father and the fact that his last act of love for his mother as she lay dying in an Arizona hospital bed was to find a priest to initiate her last rites.

But instead of letting kids act out the violence of their adult role-models who bash gays at the pulpit and the ballot box, Savage called on school members to actively oppose anti-LGBT bullying and on liberal and more progressive Christians to stop “the complicit silence … aiding them and abetting [the religious right] in their crimes.”

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