As students filed into Jones Auditorium and anxiously awaited the first speaker of the 2013 University Lectureship Series, backstage sex advice columnist Dan Savage sat in the theater’s Green Room and prepared for his soon to be provocative remarks.
Before the lecture, titled “Savage Love Live,” Savage spoke about his other accomplishments while visiting with members of the university’s student media.
Apart from being a columnist, Savage’s work as an activist made him widely known. In Sept. 2010 when he launched the “It Gets Better” project, an anti-bullying campaign brought on by the rising number of suicides among gay youth.
“We didn’t expect [the project to] take off the way that it did, unfortunately it took off in part because there were so many suicides, so we weren’t delighted,” Savage said. “I would be delighted if there were no need for the project and we could pull it all down tomorrow.”
Of the 100,000 “It Gets Better” videos uploaded, Savage said, approximately 300 are celebrity and politicians, and even though those are the ones that garner the most attention, it wasn’t his initial intention.
“We certainly welcome celebrities and politicians, but if you go back to the column and the pod cast, where I asked my readers to participate, it wasn’t celebrity based or we didn’t ask politicians to participate, “ Savage said. “We asked everyday LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Trans-Sexual) individuals to make videos and talk about their lives.”
But Savage does see the opportunity that presents itself in having celebrities like Lady Gaga endorse the project.
“I think it’s really great if a queer kid who’s being bullied can say to his peers, ‘You can’t like Katy Perry or Lady Gaga and hate me because they’re on my side;’ that has power,” Savage said. “For my money what’s more important is that
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queer kid to see that you don’t have to know Lady Gaga or Katy Perry, you don’t have to be Ellen or Neil Patrick Harris to be happy and successful and in love because look at all these average ordinary queer people who made these videos who are happy to be alive and happy to be queer.”
Out of the thousands of videos, Savage says the one that stands out most in his mind is Gabrielle Rivera, a lesbian poet from the Bronx, NY.
“I can quote it from memory [she says], ‘I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t get better, what happens is that you get stronger,’” Savage said.
To those who find it hard to believe that it truly does get better, Savage is living proof that it does.
Having grown up in with Republican parents who agreed with the views of anti-gay commentators, Savage said he had to leave his hometown of Chicago to come out and be himself, and despite comments he’s made in the past about Republicans, Savage said he is tolerant of them.
“I’m the model of tolerance; tolerate means endure and put up with, it doesn’t mean love and throw confetti at,” Savage said. “Gay people aren’t trying to outlaw straight marriage but there are some straight people trying to ban gay marriage. We’re intolerant of the status quo, we aren’t intolerant of the people who would want to ban gay marriage.”
Despite Savage not having a “gay-agenda,” as he put it, going into his lecture, there were still some students who voiced their opposition to having him invited to campus.
“They have a right to not want me here, if I was a liberal or democrat student at my college and Anne Coulter or Maggie Gallagher came to town I would not be happy about that,” Savage said. “So I can certainly appreciate that they would not be thrilled about my being here and they have a right to, just as I would if Maggie Gallagher was invited to speak at my college.”
Savage answered student-submitted questions during his two-hour presentation, giving provocative and often funny advice to a filled Jones Auditorium.
As for what’s next. Savage replied, “A book tour, sabbatical, and a vacation.”