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

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.”

—  John Wright

Dan Savage, Rick Santorum to make back-to-back appearances in North Texas

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Rick Santorum

The stars have truly aligned this time. As we mentioned last week, sex advice columnist and It Gets Better Project creator Dan Savage will speak at the University of North Texas on Tuesday. Savage is famous for, among other things, bestowing upon GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum a “Google problem.” Well, guess what? Just a day after Savage’s appearance, the “frothy mix” himself will be in North Texas. From Santorum’s campaign website:

Wednesday, February 8:

9:30am CT: Senator Santorum will host a forum with area pastors in McKinney, TX.

Location
Bella Donna Chapel Adriatica
401 Adriatica Parkway
McKinney, TX

5:00pm CT: Senator Santorum will meet with local Tea Party Activists in Allen, TX.

Location:
Courtyard by Marriott
210 East Stacy Road
Allen, TX

7:00pm CT:
Senator Santorum will hold a campaign rally, with special guest radio host Mark Davis, in Plano, TX.

Location:
Fairview Farms
Corral Barn
3314 North Central Expressway #100
Plano, TX

—  John Wright

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.”

……………………….

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