Dan Savage, a popular sex columnist and memoir writer, spoke at Statler Hall Monday about the struggle of high school for LGBTQ youth, conveying a message that after high school, life gets better.
“Life involves heartbreak and struggle and ultimately pain, disease and death. It’s still better than high school,” Savage said.
Savage started the “It Gets Better” project, where LGBTQ adults share videos about their lives after high school to encourage struggling LGBTQ teens.
The “It Gets Better” project was generated in September 2010 in a phone call Savage made to his husband, Terry, after two teen suicides.
“I could record a video, look into a camera, talk to a Billy Lucas before he kills himself and tell him that it gets better,” Savage said. “When a 13- or 14-year-old kills himself, what he’s saying is that he can’t imagine a future better than the pain he’s in now. I wanted us to break down the inhibition that we have around talking to kids.”
Despite referring to himself as “a jerk who writes a sex advice column,” the “It Gets Better” project currently has more than 10,000 videos, according to Savage.
Savage told the story of a 15-year-old lesbian in an evangelical Christian family who watched the It Gets Better videos under her covers at night to help her cope with her home environment.
“Literally, the project has saved lives. We’ve heard from scores of LGBT kids all over the country … and we’re talking to these kids now, whether their parents want us to or not,” Savage said.
The site originally featured “dyke dairy farmers and gay doctors,” Savge said. “We wanted them to see LGBTQ adults who they’d never heard of talking about their lives,” he said.
Savage said that the project had positive political consequences as well. After New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg posted a video for the project, visitors to the site pointed out the contrast between his on-camera support and his lack of financial support for LGBTQ youth. Bloomberg then decided to reinstate funding for the Ali Forney Center in NYC, a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth, Savage said.
Savage said that the website has grown to include videos from popular entertainers, who assist greatly in encouraging LGBTQ youth.
“It can really help a queer kid to know that Ke$ha’s on his side and not on the side of the bullies who are dancing to her music, too,” Savage said.
Savage said that the religious right in America plays a large role in teen suicides.
“Every dead gay kid is a rhetorical and moral victory for their side,” Savage said. “They do everything they can to make sure the gay teen suicide rate stays exactly where it is by opposing gay-straight student alliances [and] encouraging parents to reject their gay children.”
Savage said that “progressive, liberal and moderate Christians need to be loud about their tolerance and love for queer people” to counter hateful messages sent by pastors and other religious figures in the lives of LGBTQ youth and hateful messages in the public discourse.
Throughout the Savage speech, the audience moved between rapt silence and raucous laughter, a juxtaposition also found in many of the YouTube videos.
“I’ve been reading Dan Savage’s column for three years,” Kris Kooi ’11 said.
“He spreads a message of sanity which is sorely lacking in relationships among people our age especially.”
The event was organized by the Cornell University Program Board and co-sponsored by Cornell Minds Matter and Haven: the LGBTQ Student Union.
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