Seven Lessons on Activism from Dan Savage

Do things get better? Dan Savage—Savage Love” columnist, inventor of the word “monogamish” and boundary-pushing media personality—wanted LGBTQ youth to know that, yes, it does get better.  Started in 2010, his It Gets Better Project features personal videos from LGBTQ adults and is aimed specifically at queer youth experiencing bullying and isolation within their families. The message of the It Gets Better Project is crucial to hear, and Savage brought anger, humor, hope and compassion to his 2013 CIW talk, “Things Get Better.” Here are some of our favorite moments.

1. Don’t ask for permission.

“It occurred to me kind of in a flash on the train to JFK that in the Twitter, Facebook [and] YouTube era, I was waiting for permission I no longer goddamn needed or required. I could make a video. I could speak to LGBT kids. I could upload that to the Internet. I could use my column and my podcast and my other media opportunities to encourage other LGBT adults to do the same, and we could bring the queer support group to the kid who doesn’t have one or isn’t allowed to go to one.”

2. Don’t lose sight of your anger.

“Sometimes because so many celebrities and politicians have made videos the It Gets Better campaign can feel like this safe thing; this ooey gooey, up with people, feel-good movement. And what people lose sight of is that there is an upraised middle finger at the heart of the It Gets Better. There has to be. I created it.”

3. Internet videos can save lives.

“We know of one case where somebody who created a video was interacting via e-mail with somebody who had responded to his video. The queer kid confessed to this person that he was having an e-mail dialogue with that he had taken some pills…. The person on the other end called the police, tracked the kid down, got the paramedics to his apartment and saved his life in real time.”

4. Look for the practical actions in your activism.

“Let’s identify the doable thing. We’re the activists, let’s think deeply about this, let’s examine the issue, and then let’s go to people and say, ‘Here’s the doable thing.’  Do this. Show up at this time. We will hand you a placard. You can do this. It’ll take an hour.”

5. Technology breaks down boundaries of communication.

“I know this letter by heart: ‘I’m watching the It Gets Better videos on my phone, in my bed, under the covers in my bedroom in my parents house in the middle of the night.’ That’s what we did. She has parents who will not let her attend the gay kids support group, who will not love her, and we kicked down her parents door and we marched up the stairs, all 150,000 plus of us.”

6. Let your vision change and grow.

“I try not to say anymore, ‘We’re going to talk to your kids whether you want us to or not.’ I try to say, ‘We’re going to talk to your queer kids right now whether you realize you want us to or not. You want us to. You just don’t know it yet. One day you’ll thank us for loving your kid at a time when you couldn’t.’”

7. Sometimes even the Chicago Cubs can surprise you.

“There are now, at the It Gets Better Project, over 150,000 videos created by LGBT adults all over the world. A handful [of videos] are by celebrities and politicians, some corporations including the Chicago Cubs. If you told me the Chicago Cubs would be reaching out to queer kids when my dad was dragging me to games against my will when I was 7 years old—I wanted to see A Chorus Line and we’re at the Cubs game?—I wouldn’t have believed it.”

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