Given his focus on the adverse effects of religious institutions on LGBT youth, the Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel seemed an ironic setting for Dan Savage’s April 29 lecture.
“We have got to learn to ignore what the Bible says about gay people – the same way we have learned to ignore what the Bible says about clams, and figs, and crayfish and facial hair,” said Savage.
The advice columnist and LGBT activist visited Elmhurst College to talk about the “It Gets Better” campaign, an anti-bullying Youtube channel he co-founded with his partner Terry Miller in 2010.
Aiming to prevent LGBT suicide, the campaign has received over 50,000 video submissions—including entries from Neil Patrick Harris, Lady GaGa and Barack Obama, among many other public figures.
Though no picket signs waved in front of the chapel, a few audience members protested Savage’s message during the Q and A session. After Peter LaBarbera, member of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, raised issues with Savage’s Santorum redefinition campaign, spreadingsantorum.com, a fellow audience member threw his coat and notebook on the floor and refused to let him back to his seat.
“That’s not tolerant, what she just did,” said LaBarbera. “We see a lot of reverse hate coming our way.”
While senior Kristen King agreed with Savage’s message, she felt that audience reactions to LaBarbera were inappropriate.
“Even if you’re passionate about what’s happening, you’re here for the anti-bullying part. You shouldn’t go against what our speaker is talking about and actually throw [the offender’s] stuff on the ground.”
“Rick Santorum would destroy my family and my life. We told a dirty joke. And I’m the asshole?” Savage said in response to LaBarbera’s accusations. “I am intolerant of intolerance and I reserve the right to despise people who despise me.”
While Savage objects bullying in all forms, he distinguishes LGBT bullying from other forms of harassment, saying, “[Other kids can] go home to parents of the same class and race, but when I was bullied I couldn’t talk to my parents about what was happening to me because I wasn’t ready to have a conversation with my parents about my sexuality.”
In the end, Savage’s Catholic parents accepted his orientation, but he recognizes that bullying can extend into the home. “Coming out is not always the solution to your problems, it can be the creation of a whole new set,” said Savage.
He furthered his message with some startling statistics—LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide, and LGBT youth with hostile parents double that likelihood to eight.
He sees the “It Gets Better” campaign as an opportunity for activists to reach out to kids who may not have access to other means of support.
“There was always a middle finger involved with the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign,” Savage said. “We’re gonna go online, reach into your home, and talk to your kids whether you like it or not.”
Alumna Virginia Dallman was happy to see Savage’s name on this semester’s invited speakers. “I was actually surprised, because he was getting a lot of shit from the conservatives – he’s seriously controversial. I guess it just shows how supportive the college really is, so kudos to Elmhurst,” she said.
Though Savage has been surprised by the success of “It Gets Better,” he stressed the need to find more permanent solutions. “I was suicidal as a kid because I thought it would be easier for my parents to bury their son than to have a gay son,” said Savage. “Hope will save some lives, but hope won’t save every life. We need to change the culture – we need to do more.”