Dan Savage | It Gets Better

“We kicked down the door,” Savage said about the impact of the campaign. “You can’t stop us from talking to these kids anymore."

 

 

He’s witty. He’s honest. He’s Dan Savage. From his raunchy, hilarious weekly Savage Love sex column syndicated around the world, to the launch of his inspiring “It Gets Better” campaign, Savage has earned a loyal following. A full house of college students and community members turned out to Webster University’s Loretto-Hilton Theater to hear Savage, live and in the flesh, speak about his project and its message.

“Since you’re not persecuting anymore, can we get in on that action?” Savage said as he addressed the Catholic Church and its denouncement of homosexuality. After the recent suicides of many young men, all within a few months of one another, Savage was inspired, especially by Billy Lucas’s suicide, to do something. “If it hadn’t been for my husband in Canada/boyfriend in America, the ‘It Gets Better’ project would not have happened,” he said. He and his husband Terry discussed ways they could talk to high school-aged kids about being gay, but they knew it would be impossible to get parents’ permission to speak to teens at their schools.

But this is the era of YouTube, they realized, so they didn’t need anyone’s permission—just a camera, time, and something to say. Savage called videographer Kelly O. and recorded himself and Terry talking; first for about one minute about the joys of homosexuality, and then for six minutes about the terrible things they have endured as a result of others’ hate and ignorance. It was the complete opposite of the positive video he had intended for teens to see. So they went to the bar and had a drink. “That’s one of the ways it gets better,” Savage said, as laughter erupted throughout the theater. He and his husband went back and reshot a more encouraging video.

The “It Gets Better” video was posted that night, and within 36 hours they had reached 100 video responses. He and Terry watched them all. In five days, they were at the maximum of 650 videos; luckily, they received an email from a Google executive who backdated their account to 2004 (the longer you’ve existed on YouTube, the more videos you can post). They received responses from all over the world—in addition to America, they received hits from Africa, Australia, Great Britain, Latin America, and Ireland—a true sign that the movement was international and monumental.

Four weeks after the first video, President Barack Obama posted a video response, telling teens of the LGBTQ community, “There is nothing wrong with you.” For Savage, this was the highlight, because it was the first time in history that a president was sticking up for LGBTQ youth and acknowledging their existence—very unlike the atmosphere when Savage was growing up in the 80s.

The overwhelming response showed the world that being gay is not something kids “do” because they’re mad at their parents. “How mad do you have to be at your parents to a suck a dude off?” Savage asked. “You’re mad? Prove it, suck my dick.” Again, he had the audience doubled over with laughter.

The “It Gets Better” project has helped to save lives, build community, and provide a safety net for LGBTQ kids. For a long time, Savage said, LGBTQ teens have to suffer the torture of their parents’ judgments and rules. But only until they turn 18, then they’re free to do whatever they want. And God forbid you try to talk to the kids being tortured, he pointed out, because then you’re labeled a pedophile or one who’s recruiting them to the gay/lesbian lifestyle.

“There’s never been a better time to be a gay teen than now, if you have the right support,” Savage said. “On the other hand, if you’re from an extremely conservative family, there’s never been a worse time.” And that’s where the “It Gets Better” campaign comes in, especially for those who are being ridiculed, bullied, and pressured into thinking there is something wrong with them.

Savage said religion, especially the Catholic Church, views gay people as an attack on the family. “I’m not hostile to religion or people of faith,” Savage said, “but we must ignore the bullshit the Bible says about gay people, just as we ignore the bullshit about adulterers, slavery, women, and lobster.”

These religious teachings encourage parents to withhold support and love from their kids, which creates further misery for kids struggling with being rejected because of their homosexual identities. But now kids have an outlet in which they can connect and get support without needing permission from their parents.

“We kicked down the door,” Savage said about the impact of the campaign. “You can’t stop us from talking to these kids anymore. We’ve broken down the doors, we have. We’re in that girl’s bed. We’re under her covers.”

The “It Gets Better” campaign stems from Ian Forrester’s belief that school hindered him from enjoying the greatness of life; he knew that better times were coming, because, well, life gets better. To the bullies, Savage sends this message: “What you’re doing now, you better stop because right now you can get away with it, in middle school, but you’re not going to do it in college, or on the job, and adult women don’t like it, either. Homophobia is the twin sister of misogyny. A guy who hates gay people hates women.”

The “It Gets Better” campaign has raised not only awareness, but money, too; funds have been donated to organizations that aid the LGBTQ community, including The Trevor Project, GLSEN, and ACLU. Savage addressed the within-LGBTQ bullying of bisexuals and said, “We must confront it when we see it. We’re never going to live in a world without haters. You can’t take it to heart; just shrug it off.”

Bullying crosses over the lines of sexuality into ethnicity and gender, too, and Savage stresses that it is important if you’re a friend to someone who is being bullied to be just that: a friend.  “To be a friend is 98 percent. Stop discriminating against them, and when you see it happening, speak out, because it’s not cool and everyone is not doing it.”

Regardless of your sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or any other box you check to identify yourself, know that the persecution you may endure now is only temporary; tomorrow is a new beginning, a better day—because, yes, it does get better.  | Ashley White

 

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