|17 Minutes with Dan Savage|
|Written by Douglas Bridges-O'Connor, Daily Vidette Reporter|
|Wednesday, 14 September 2011 21:51|
Dan Savage is the syndicated author of the sex advice column “Savage Love” and the editorial director of “The Stranger,” a weekly Seattle newspaper.
In September 2010, Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, founded the “It Gets Better” project and posted the first “It Gets Better” video to YouTube after a trend of suicides among gay youth. The project asks individuals to make and upload short, positive messages about their experiences with the LGBT community and has gained participation from notable names like Barack Obama and Lady Gaga.
Prior to his appearance at ISU, Savage generously accepted a telephone interview with the Daily Vidette to talk about the next chapter of the “It Gets Better” project, the battle for marriage equality, politics and the outspoken politician he loves to hate.
Daily Vidette: The “It Gets Better” project has led to its own website, thousands of videos and now a book by the same name in less than a year. What does the future hold for “It Gets Better”?
Dan Savage: We’re in the process of trying to sort all these videos, [we have] more than 35,000 now. We need to sort them and create playlists so that when kids come to the website and want to find a particular video that might speak to them in their particular circumstance, they can do a search to find it by a playlist, say, Trans kids who are Mormons. There are videos from Trans Mormon folks, but it’s going to take a while to show that on the website and how to find them. Also, we’ve relied on a lot of free media in the last year to get the word out about the website. We’ve reached tons and tons of kids thanks to that free media. There are kids who are nine years old now who will be 14 in five years and would benefit from watching these videos, getting the message but also a lot of practical advice about how to ‘make it better’, how to change your circumstances if you’re in a particularly harrowing place. We’re not going to be able to reach all those kids with free media. So looking down the road, we’re going to need to do enough fundraising to do a media push ourselves so that they can find out about the site and find their way to it.
DS: Well, it’s not just transcripts of videos. Creators of the videos were given transcripts of the videos and re-worked them into stand-alone essays so that they would work well on the page. There’s also a lot of new material by writers who haven’t made videos, so there are pieces by writers like Michael Cunningham, Kate Clinton, Urvashi Vaid and David Sedaris that you won’t find on the website or YouTube. And, of course, there’s an intro and outro by me and Terry about the project and its genesis.
DS: I think it’s brilliant. Gay people don’t have a right to live in a world without bigots any more than anybody else does. If a teacher were saying things that were racist or comparably hateful, they would be fired and no one would come to that person’s defense. We just haven’t reached that point yet on LGBT issues. We’re getting there. We’re reaching a tipping point where people won’t be able to make anti-gay statements like that and be accepted. While we can’t get people like Buell out of schools yet, that day is coming. In the meantime, it would be wonderful if folks at that school took a stand and exercised their own free speech rights to counter this man’s bigotry. It’s very important for students who are in the path of this jackass teacher to know that not everyone at school agrees with him.
DV: Being a Chicago native, what are your thoughts on Illinois’ decision to recognize civil unions?
DS: It’s a big step in the right direction. As we saw in Vermont, which got civil unions and then 10 years later decided to upgrade everyone to full equality, it’s often a step that a state can take that will convince everyone to recognize the rights of same-sex couples and also the responsibilities of gay and lesbian people who are in relationships have to one another. You know, marriage isn’t just a package of benefits. It’s also a package of mutual responsibilities. Same-sex marriage doesn’t negatively impact anyone. It doesn’t take anything away from straight couples. The sky won’t fall. Straight people continue to marry, have babies and make commitments. As soon as people realize same-sex marriage is not a threat and the lies that religious conservatives are peddling are exactly that, lies, then the prospect of full equality is less scary. Since Illinois approved same-sex civil unions, I’m proud of your new governor. I hope he doesn’t end up in jail with the rest of your governors.
DS: He wants to ban gay marriage. He wants to reinstate DADT. He wants gay sex to be felony and thinks people who are gay or lesbian should be thrown in jail for consensual, adult sexual activity. He wants to prevent gay and lesbian people from adopting, having or keeping their own children. He wants to make sure that gay people can’t go to their partner’s bedsides during medical emergencies. What else does he want to do? Nothing nice. And this little douchebag has the nerve to turn around and say that gay people are waging jihad on him? No. All gay people want is for Santorum not to be president or in any position where he can do us harm…and we want to make jokes at his expense. He’s a bully that got punched back. He’s somebody who thought he could just keep punching us in the face and we turned around and punched him right in the nose. He’s shocked and traumatized by that experience. He’s a whiner and a baby. He has no idea what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a jihad.
DS: It’s a huge leap for equality. There really are two enormous ways that federal government discriminates against LGBT people and that’s marriage and military service. In so doing, it legitimizes the [points of view] of people like that douchebag social studies teacher from Florida. The repeal is tremendous progress and I’m elated.
DS: I think we have to judge Obama by his actions and not his words. With LGBT issues he has been slow to move, but once the LGBT community made it clear that they weren’t going to be satisfied by speeches and cocktail parties, they moved. They moved on DADT, they moved on the DOMA appeal, they moved on Bi-national Gay Couples. They’ve moved and moved and it’s been heartening. It didn’t happen in a vacuum and it didn’t happen the day after he was sworn in. We had to hold his feet to the fire, but apparently we learned there were nerve endings in his feet. He felt the heat and he delivered for us, but we had to play our part in that process. Gay people got their voices heard. They stopped donating to Democrats and the percentage of the gay vote for Democrats fell by a third in the 2010 midterms. Democrats saw that we were playing hardball and then suddenly the White House and Congress delivered. So, on one hand I want to say I’m very happy with the progress we’ve seen, but on the other I don’t want people to think that it was handed to us. Barack Obama is our ally and he’s on our side, but we have to constantly communicate to our allies that they will pay a steeper price if they don’t deliver on our issues than if they do and Democrats get that now because we started to play hardball. I’m really thrilled with the actions of the Obama administration over the last year. Not so much the first two years, but I’m going to vote for the guy, I’m going to write him a check and I hope he wins in 2012. I think he’s earned the support of LGBT voters. We should have no delusions about why he delivered for us. He delivered to us because we made demands. There’s got to be payback when your political allies deliver for you and we need to pay Obama back. After we get him reelected, we should hold him to the rest of his promises to the LGBT community.