Dyke. Homo. Faggot.
The sharp stings of each single word resonate to create deep emotional scars that can dictate a lifetime.
In an effort to ease the pain of homophobic bullying, Dan Savage, an openly gay LGBT activist and journalist, has shone a hopeful light to the darkness that plagues student across the nation.
Savage, along with husband Terry Miller, visited SF State March 25 for a lecture and book signing where many in attendance – both gay and straight – embraced Savage’s philosophy.
“It’s good to know there’s something out there like this at the high school level,” said communications graduate student Miranda Olzman, 29. “People were always calling me ‘dyke’ and ‘faggot.’ Insulting someone for their sexuality is standard at that level.”
Though the stories are painful, their words prove that victims of bullying are not alone.
“The stories of these kids are powerful,” Olzman said. “It’s really sobering to hear what they are going through.”
The “It Gets Better” website, which launched in September, aims to prevent suicide among LGBT youth by offering a beacon of hope during trying times. Thousands of adults have shared their stories through video messages with the theme that no matter how bad things are, they will inevitably get better.
The website has been a resounding success, attracting more than 10,000 video postings and millions of views. The website’s popularity prompted publication of Savage’s book, which serves as a collection of essays and short stories from celebrities and ordinary people telling their stories.
Olzman asserted that Savage’s efforts have been influential on LGBT youth.
“We’d have a lot more dead teenagers if he didn’t speak about this,” Olzman said.
Savage said that though “It Gets Better” has had a good start, much more needs to be done still.
“Throwing a bunch of videos on the website doesn’t end it,” Savage said. “That can’t solve all problems. The point of all this is to give hope to disparaged LGBT youth.”
Savage said the recent rash of troubling behavior among LGBT youth, namely 13-year-old Seth Walsh, a Tehachapi, Calif., student who hung himself last year after years of being bullied because of his sexuality, prompted him to create the project.
Walsh’s death led to the introduction of Assembly Bill 9 in the California State Legislature. AB 9, which is also known as “Seth’s Law,” is an anti-bullying measure designed to create a safe school environment for all students, especially LGBT youth. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano introduced the bill Dec. 6, and after being amended March 21, it has now been re-referred to committee.
Like those he hopes to reach through his project, Savage’s sexual orientation forced him to deal with numerous issues growing up.
“I was bullied when people perceived me to be gay,” said Savage, who came out when he was 13 years old. “My parents were both involved in the church and it took a while for them to fully accept who I was.”
Savage said that the problem is not confined to the schoolyard and that LGBT-related bullying can often be the result of parental influence.
“Does it get easier for these kids?” Savage asked. “No. But you can handle anything this messed up world throws at you.”
Various celebrities and media outlets throughout the world have openly praised Savage’s concept. The issue of bullying has even captured the attention of prominent government figures with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outwardly supporting the campaign.
“We want to bring down the old order,” Savage said. “We’re going to speak to (LGBT youth) whether their parents want it or not.”
Savage, who also writes the syndicated newspaper column “Savage Love,” has generated controversy in the past for his comments about public figures who have condemned homosexuality – such as Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Evangelical Christian pastor Rick Warren – yet he is continuing on his quest to make homosexuality more socially acceptable.
Savage has been warmly welcomed at many high schools and colleges throughout the country.
John Wranovics, 19, an English major and LGBT ally, said friends came out to him in high school and has been a Savage fan.
“I find his campaign fascinating and inspirational,” Wranovics said. “When my friends came out, I found it easy to accept. What (Savage is) doing now is incredible.”
The book went on sale at the SF State bookstore March 22 and has sold fairly well, according to Ken White, manager of the SF State Bookstore General Books Department.
“Getting this message out in books and YouTube, in ways that people who are not in supportive communities can access, represents such a huge, amazing step,” White said. “Messages like the one Dan and Terry are putting out can really resonate with a broader spectrum of caring, supportive people than it would have even just 15 years ago.”
All the proceeds from Savage’s book will be donated to LGBT youth charities.