It Gets Better: Dan Savage gets serious about halting anti-gay bullying during talk at EMU
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Sex advice columnist Dan Savage has received a lot of attention in the three weeks since starting a YouTube project, "It Gets Better," after last month's suicide of Billy Lucas in Greensburg, Indiana.
Lucas was the victim of anti-gay bullying. Since then, there have been several other bullying-related suicides. Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi leapt from the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, three days after his roommate secretly broadcasted his sexual encounter over the Internet.
"We wanted to make a video not about bullying because they all know about being bullied, but about our lives now," he said. "The kid who commits suicide is saying, 'I can't imagine having a life.'"
Several thousand gay men and woman from all walks of life have posted their own YouTube testimonials to share their stories and reassure gay teens there is a good life waiting for them.
"The deal was for us that they're yours to torture until they're 18, then it's over. That's not the deal anymore," Savage said Wednesday to a packed ballroom at Eastern Michigan University. "What I love about the campaign is how subversive it is. We're not going to wait for your permission."
Known for his irreverent and bawdy "Savage Love" advice column in Seattle, Savage was already scheduled to come to EMU by Campus Life and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
"Someone this week at LGBT said it was the best-worst time to have him here," said Mary Larkin, who was helping with the event.
He didn't disappoint, even sickened by the flu. He spent more than two hours answering questions — written on cards and asked live — from gay and straight audience members. Topics ranged from advice to a third wheel in a "poly" relationship to which first-time vibrator he recommends for women. (By the way, it's the Hitachi Magic Wand.)
To a woman who asked why her husband initiates sex in his sleep, which she doesn't mind, Savage said, "If you're OK with it, then why ask why?"
Research shows some people initiate sex in their sleep without their knowledge, he said.
"It's a real phenomenon," he said. "It doesn't mean they're rapists, but should probably be properly restrained on camping trips."
Yet Savage several times broke into tears when asked about the YouTube testimonials and anti-gay bullying. And he teed off on those who call homosexuality a choice.
"I'm sure 13-year-old Asher Brown could have chosen to be straight, but it's so much easier to put a bullet in your head," said Savage, himself the target of anti-gay bullying growing up.
A clergyman asked how Christian clergy can support gays and lesbians. Savage answered, "Speak the (expletive) up."
"We need moderate, liberal Christian organizations that are well-founded and loud," he said.
Savage said he's sick of telling conservative Christians like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council that not all Christians are anti-gay.
"I'm getting tired of saying it for you," he said.
Anti-gay rhetoric directly leads to anti-gay bullying, he said. When gay kids are bullied at school, they often don't feel like they can come to their parents. They're bullied at home, then they're bullied at church, he said.
"Parents are bullying their gay kids because they think it will keep them from coming out," he said. "If the choice is a gay kid or a dead kid, you have to be some kind of a monster to want that."
Savage said he knew he would never get permission to speak at middle schools and high schools about anti-bullying policies, even though gay teens are four to six times more likely to commit suicide than straight kids.
"A straight kid has a shoulder to cry on," he said. "He's not bullied by his preacher for being a nerd."
"Five girls committed suicide in Minnesota this year, but an effort to bring an anti-bullying program in the schools ground to a halt because it addressed anti-gay bullying," he said.
The Saline school board this week voted against a measure to add "sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression" to its non-discrimination policy.
"Suicides are getting worse in places where we haven't been paying attention to," he said. "We're reaching a point in our culture where you've got to take sides and stand up because people are dying."
A woman wrote to him after hearing about his project on the radio. She was in the car with her son, who got quiet when Savage was talking about the YouTube project.
"She had suspicions he was gay," Savage said, his voice cracking. "And just generally in the car, she said, 'If I had a child who is gay, I would hope he could come to me.' And he just burst into tears, sobbing deeply in a way she had never heard."
He was being bullied at school, Savage said.
Ned Randolph is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.