The Internet Can Save Lives
Dan Savage writes the internationally syndicated relationship and sex advice column "Savage Love." Savage has been outspoken in his support for gay rights and his hostility for social conservatives. In 2010 he and his husband Terry launched the "It Get Better Project" in response to a rash of suicides among LGBT teenagers. The project encourages gay LGBT adults to record videos for victims of bullying with the simple message that life gets better after high school. Savage is also the author of several books including "The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family."
Question: Why is it so important for gay teenagers to hear stories from gay adults?
Dan Savage: LGBT teenagers are lied to about what it is to be a gay or lesbian or bi or trans adult. They’re misinformed. They’re not just bullied at school by their peers, they’re bullied at home by their parents all too often—and all too often then dragged off to churches on Sunday for more bullying from the pulpit. And it’s important then for gay and lesbian adults to reach out to these kids and share our stories, so that they can picture futures for themselves that are happy, that are worth sticking around for. When a 13 year-old kills himself because he is gay, what is he saying is: "I can’t picture a future for myself with enough joy in it to compensate for the pain I'm in now." And gay and lesbian and bi and trans adults, we need to share our stories with these kids so that they can picture those futures, not one future. That is why there's thousands of videos up on the website from all different kinds of gay and lesbian, and bi and trans people or picture a future for themselves, that is happy, where they’re reconciled to the families even if their families are homophobic now and will compensate for the pain that they’re in now. And historically, up to this moment, gay and lesbian adults didn’t feel comfortable talking to LGBT teenagers about our realities because we didn’t want to be accused of being pedophiles, accused of recruiting. And it wasn’t really until YouTube came along and this kind of social media that we could talk to them directly, reach them in their own homes without being accused of recruiting, really, or trying to touch them in inappropriate ways. We’re just trying to touch their hearts.
I've said in the past when I've talked about coming out, I've talked about enduring high school, enduring middle school, homophobic families... that for gay men and lesbians and bi and trans folks, the coming out process is really our hero’s journey. And it often is the only thing that is common across all classes, races, sexual orientations. Well, that doesn’t make any sense. It’s the one unifying experience in the LGBT life. We’re not all from the same religious backgrounds, racial backgrounds, economic backgrounds; but we all share this experience of suffering, really, almost invariably. And coming out and healing and to see these stories even as a gay adult is really touching, and for gay kids to see these stories when they’re in the midst of their hero’s journey really—when they’re being persecuted, when they’re suffering—to see people who emerged on the other side and are happy and are healthy and are you know have rewarding careers, which does not mean necessarily financially rewarding careers. They’re doing things they love, they have people in their lives that they love, is wonderful and gay people are really just waiting for permission to share these stories.
I felt forever that I’d hear about a gay kid committing suicide and I’d think I wish I could have talked that kid for five minutes. I would have been able to tell him it gets better, but I couldn’t talk to those kids. I couldn’t talk to kids in Greensburg, Indiana or small towns in Texas and small towns in California. I didn’t have permission. Their schools, their parents, their churches aren’t going to bring in openly gay adults to talk to bullied gay kids about our lives and that it is wonderful to be an openly gay adult. And what is happening now is gay and lesbian and bi and trans people all over the world woke up and realized we didn’t need anyone’s permission anymore to talk to these kids, that we could make videos. We can get on YouTube. We can use Twitter and Facebook and speak to them directly, and, if need be, really go over the heads of their parents, go over the heads of their teachers and school administrators and go over the heads of their preachers and reach out to them directly and save their lives.
Question: Which videos have you found most touching?
Dan Savage: There are so many videos, and I've watched all of them that we’ve posted, that have touched me. I've been sitting in restaurants reviewing them with my laptop and my headphones and I just started to cry watching some of these videos. The Texas... Fort Worth, Texas city council member’s video that went totally viral on its own moved people all over the country. My friend Jake Shears made one that really touched me. I think one of the things that... and Tim Gunn’s video where he talked about a suicide attempt that no one knew about, that he had never discussed publically before. I think one of the things that for gay adults what we’re getting out of these videos, watching these videos is permission to really address this pain. You know, we got out of high school. We got out of middle school. We get away from the bullies and we stuff all these painful memories down the hole, down inside, and we don’t think about them anymore. And there are friends of mine who put up videos where they’re talking about what they suffered and they had never told me. I had no idea what they had survived.
Recorded on October 18, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
The "It Gets Better Project," started by Savage and his husband Terry in response to recent LGBT teen suicides, has become such a success that even President Obama has made a video.
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