Founder of It Gets Better Project says higher visibility combined with anti-gay forces can make growing up gay as hard as ever
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
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.
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.