Dan Savage: It’s ‘never been worse’ for LGBT youth

Founder of It Gets Better Project says higher visibility combined with anti-gay forces can make growing up gay as hard as ever

SAVAGE  LOVE | Dan Savage, shown here at an appearance at the Kessler Theater last year, will appear at UNT on Feb. 7. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Sex-advice columnist Dan Savage, known for his It Gets Better Project, will keynote the University of North Texas Equity and Diversity Conference next week.

“I’ll talk about how it’s gotten worse in some ways,” Savage said.

He said that kids can’t fly under the radar anymore like when he came out in 1981.

“Everyone is hyper-aware in a way they weren’t before,” he said.

He called that a result of the Reagan Revolution, when anti-gay rhetoric became organized.

“Mom and Dad beat up on gay people at the ballot box so it became OK for kids to beat up on gay kids at school,” he said.

This week, Savage said he received a letter from a father whose 13-year-old son recently came out.

“How do I know I’m parenting him correctly?” the dad wanted to know.

As a father with a 13-year-old son himself, Savage gets aggressively protective. He tells parents to make sure there’s a Gay Straight Alliance in school. If the school has anti-bullying policies in place, make sure they’re being enforced and let the principal know you’re watching and “you’ll create holy hell.” And make sure the child has gay role models and friends.

GETTING  BETTER AND BETTER | Dan Savage, right, and his husband Terry Miller started the It Gets Better Project to help LGBT youth. Their original goal was 100 videos but they have more than 50,000 that have gotten 50 million views. (Photo courtesy of Dan Savage)

He advises that when the young teen’s straight friends start dating and they have no other out friends in school, reassure them that their time will come. And don’t be afraid to give an LGBT child the same advice you’d give a straight child. That’s not homophobia, he said. It’s parenting.

But Savage called this “the best of times and the worst of times” for LGBT youth to grow up.

“If you grow up in a rural area, go to a Christian school, are bullied from the pulpit and there’s no GSA, it’s never been worse,” he said.

Savage said that when he began the It Gets Better Project, he and husband Terry Miller hoped for 100 videos. A day after posting that first one, he had topped that number and within a few days had 100 more. He said that at last count there were more than 50,000 It Gets Better videos that have been viewed more than 50 million times. That includes one of the most popular — the City Council speech made by Joel Burns that has been seen more than 2.7 million times.

Two of Savage’s favorite pieces that were included in the book It Gets Better, which will be released in paperback in March, were contributed by A.Y. Daring and Gabrielle Rivera. Daring, who identifies herself as black and queer, grew up in rural Canada. Her simple story tells of moving to a bigger city and entering a university with the oldest LGBT support group in the country. Rivera, a gay Latina from the Bronx, tells youth that, “It doesn’t get better.” But she says that you get stronger.

It Gets Better has been incorporated as a nonprofit organization. Savage said as soon as the videos took off, they trademarked and copyrighted the slogan and “people started throwing money at us.”

“We created a brand,” he said.

He said they’ve had to protect that brand and were able to shut down an anti-gay group that tried to co-opt the phrase.

That money raised has been redirected to GLSEN, the Trevor Project and the ACLU LGBT project. And he would like to see It Gets Better merged into another organization rather than continue as a standalone. Talks with other groups are ongoing.

Savage commented on the presidential campaign and the image of one of the candidates he helped create.

In 2003, in response to an interview in which Sen. Rick Santorum’s called gay sex a deviant behavior, Savage wrote, “There’s no better way to memorialize the Santorum scandal than by attaching his name to a sex act that would make his big, white teeth fall out of his big, empty head.”

As a result, the definition of Santorum that pops up first in an online search of the name has been dubbed the candidate’s “Google problem.”

Savage dismisses Santorum’s campaign, however.

“He’s not running for president,” he said. “He’s running for a Fox News contract just like [Mike] Huckabee.”

On Rick Perry, he wonders how Texans feel about the general impression that Perry’s not smart enough to be president.

“He’s just dumb enough to be governor?” Savage wonders. “I love that Barack Obama is now more popular in Texas than Rick Perry.”

After the George “Rentboy” Rekers scandal, Savage helped popularize the term “lift the luggage” to mean supplying your partner with sexual pleasure. He said studies have shown that homophobic men are turned on by gay pornography.

“Every time a [Ted] Haggard or Rekers comes along, it makes homophobia look gay,” he said. “So we celebrate when they come tumbling out of the closet.”

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Savage at UNT

The Equity & Diversity Conference at University of North Texas University Union, 1155 Union Circle, Denton. Feb. 7 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. 940-565-2711. Dan Savage will speak at 10 a.m. in the Silver Eagle Suit.

Registration is free for UNT students, $100 for UNT faculty, staff and alumni, $150 for non-UNT students and $275 for others. Onsite registration, available the day of the conference is $350.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Gay wedding (the other kind)

A wedding spins out of control in the insightful musical ‘A Catered Affair’

Stage

FATHER OF THE BRIDE | A penny-pinching cabbie (Sonny Franks) argues with his wife (Sally Soldo) over the cost of their daughter’s reception in Theatre 3’s charmer ‘A Catered Affair.’

 

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Not every marriage-minded gal is a bridezilla — not that anyone will believe it. Jane Hurley has simple tastes: A civil ceremony at the courthouse, followed by a quick honeymoon getaway driving a car cross-country for a friend. No place cards, no guest list, no nosegay — just a license, a vow and groom, with mom and dad watching.

Only who would buy that? Jane’s mom, Aggie (Sally Soldo) does, as does her dad (Sonny Franks), who’s happy not to exhaust his bankbook throwing a party for someone else. But the groom’s parents don’t like it, and the gossipy neighbors suspect such a quickie wedding bespeaks of a pregnant bride.

A Catered Affair is based on a 1956 movie (and an earlier teleplay) starring Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine, but while the original was a schmaltzy comedy along the lines of Father of the Bride, the musical — adapted by Harvey Fierstein, with a score by composer John Bucchino — is something else entirely.

There are broad comic moments, most dealing with dad’s penny-pinching, but the core of the story is deeper, more meaningful. (The “dad’s a cheapskate” angle has been played out too many times to count, and takes a backseat here.) Jane has lived in the shadow of her brother, who was killed in Korea; her Uncle Winston (Chris Wagley) is profoundly wounded that he isn’t invited to the ceremony attributing it to Jane’s disguised embarrassment over having a gay relative. And the tension between her parents churns up long-standing resentments that threaten their marriage.

Bucchino has composed a nice chamber musical with Sondheim-esque sensibilities (an asymmetrical rhyme scheme strung on staccato motifs that are occasionally lovely but defiantly unhummable). He’s more concerned with telling a story and revealing character than creating earworms for the drive home.

Fierstein’s script expands on the gay content, making Uncle Win simultaneously flamboyant, coy, brittle and defensive. In fact, the book explores issues of social convention (who wants the wedding and why) with unexpected insight.

Director Jac Alder paces the show well, and strikes a tricky tone. This isn’t Death of a Salesman: The Musical. It shouldn’t be dour and heavy, even as it frankly addresses issues about war and child rearing and the ends of marriage.

This is Soldo’s best work. Her hair snapped into a tight, graying bun, clad in a frumpy housedress, she exudes a working class ma from the Bronx, boiling hambones to stretch her food dollar. It’s not a glamorous role, but she gives it not just authenticity, but weightiness, especially on “Our Only Daughter.”

Soldo is matched by Franks, who looks so unlike what you’d expect a musical comedy performer to look like, he’s one of the best there is. Their pairing works even as the script toggles between comic fable and serious social document. They are the heart and soul of A Catered Affair, and certainly make it worth an RSVP.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Living in an electronic world

Way back in 1995, Sandra Bullock starred in a movie called “The Net.” I watched it back then, and will still watch it again whenever it comes on TV. I am like that with Sandra Bullock movies.

Anyway, it’s about a woman, Angela Bennett, who lives practically without any personal, face-to-face interaction with anyone, other than her mother who has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t ever remember who her daugter is. She works from home via her computer and the Internet, so her co-workers don’t even know what she looks like. So when she accidentally and unknowingly ends up with a floppy disk (remember those?) that contains information about an evil plan to take over the government, it’s easy for the bad guys to steal her life — just by manipulating information on the Internet.

I enjoyed the movie (that whole Sandra Bullock thing again), but back then I thought the premise was really far-fetched. Now? well, not so much.

Now, I keep up with family and friends that live in distant cities through Facebook. Even my mom and dad, both in their 70s now, are in Facebook. Hell, I even keep up with my closest friends who live in the same neighborhood through Facebook.

And texting has become almost the primary form of communication, even with the people who live in the same house with me. My two best friends (who live within 5 miles of me) and I “watch” “Ghost Hunters” together each Wednesday via text. My partner and I talk via text throughout the day. We can be sitting in the same room and will hold a conversation via text if we don’t want the children to hear what we’re talking about.

It’s kind of frightening, really, when you think about how “social media” and electronic communication have replaced actual, human interaction in so much of our lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting we go back to the Dark Ages when Facebook and Twitter and texting and so on didn’t exist. But maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea, if every now and then, we made the effort to step away from the computer (or the cell phone or the iPad or whatever) and took time to have real, live, face-to-face conversations with people. Hell, we might even reach out and actually, physically HUG someone!

After all, we don’t want to end up like Angela Bennett now, do we?

If you are wondering what got me started on this little semi-rant, then watch this video from YouTube about the omnipresence of social media in our lives today:

—  admin