Friday, April 01, 2011

Dan Savage and Husband Terry Miller at SF State University: The Climactic It Gets Better Anti-Bullying Event

Terry Miller and Dan Savage

Controversial sex advice columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller attracted a crowd of more than 300 enthusiastic students and curious visitors to the C├ęsar Chavez Student Center at San Francisco State University on March 25. It was unique in many ways. Savage is loved and hated for his sometimes black-and-white take on hot-button issues. He baits the far right whenever he can, but his appearance was to promote his new book "It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living."

Savage walked out onto the stage smiling and wearing his customary T-shirt and dark jeans. His charismatic personality and pumped-up arm muscles took over. He is a trouper since he has been on a grueling book tour while inflicted with influenza.

Savage told the audience how he was horrified by the surge of reported LGBT teen suicides last summer. Realizing that parents would not let him speak to middle school and high school students, he decided to use YouTube to contact at risk LGBT youth. He used an edgy tone of voice and grinned when he said that some parents wanted to keep him away from their daughters, but the young women could check out the videos under their bed covers on their iPads.

The first It Gets Better video was posted on Sept. 2010. It was a message from Savage and Miller telling queer and questioning youth that things will get better, that they should be patient and, if possible, move to a larger, more liberal locale. Numerous youth have messaged that the videos have given them hope and deterred their suicides. The campaign has become a huge phenomenon with more than 10,000 videos reaching over 15 million viewers.

The campaign has been profiled in Time Magazine ("10 Questions for Dan Savage"), on TV’s Nightline ("Savage Love"), in the New York Times ("Campaign Offers Help to Gay Youths"), on CNN ("Gays targeted for hate crimes"), and on NPR ("For Gay Teens, Life 'Gets Better'").

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tim Gunn, as well as diverse individuals, groups, schools, businesses and non-profits have all produced It Gets Better videos.

Terry Miller, Savage’s rarely seen partner, was a revelation with biblical blond good looks that rival idealized actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar during his period of flowing golden locks. Miller wore a plaid shirt and a whimsical bow tie surprisingly matched with a hunky physique inside tight, worn, fantasy-inducing jeans. Miller had a strong command of the serious nature of the project. There was low-level guttural murmuring about him and some appreciative growling later during the book signing.

The agreement between Savage and Miller was that Miller be kept out of Savage’s career, but Miller made an exception for the It Gets Better campaign. They were married in Canada, but since they live in Seattle there is noticeable resentment throughout Savage’s nationally syndicated column Savage Love that he cannot marry in the State of Washington.

Savage is increasingly relentless in his disgust for people who continue to say that they “Love gays but hate their sin.” The columnist says that such an attitude is a source of potential suicides. He is widely known for linking the messy residue of a sex act with rabidly homophobic former senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and it is believed to have helped defeat the bigot at the ballot box.

The production of a book version of the It Gets Better campaign is important since some reactionary parents place the family computer in the living room and monitor it closely. And like some schools, some parents block YouTube videos. Savage said that students could do what he did in the library when he secretly looked at gay books by hiding them inside another book.

A video produced at SF State was shown, and then Equality California (EQCA) Executive Director Geoff Kors spoke eloquently about three anti-bullying bills being placed before the California state legislature by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, State Senator Mark Leno, and the EQCA. Kors also announced two lobbying days in Sacramento. The one on April 4 traditionally draws a huge turnout of high-energy queer youth who eagerly walk the Capitol corridors and offices.

Then contributors to the It Gets Better book read from their portions. Anthony Antoine flew in from Atlanta, and Taylor Bailey, Joe Mastro, Kristen Rivers, and Tamsyn Waterhouse also read and spoke about how they became involved in the campaign to save lives. The profits from the book go to the Trevor Project, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and the ACLU's LGBT Rights | Youth & Schools project.

A potential flash point occurred at the beginning of the Q&A when a sarcastic voice yelled out the common criticisms of Savage’s sometimes outrageous column, led by his alleged bi-phobia. The columnist acknowledged the accusation and said that he thought that he was a bisexual before he accepted his homosexuality after a few years. He thought that other men who say that they are bisexual will eventually accept their gayness just as he did. It was mentioned later that Savage could spend some time in San Francisco and meet some happy bisexual men who have alternated in their dating between the genders for decades.

And it was repeated that Savage could spend some time in therapy in the Bay Area to overcome his Catholic guilt and need for punishment, which he spoke about. But this need for punishment wonderfully demolishes any pleasure his critics could seek when they've attacked him with hate mail over the course of his 20-year career. And his critics are ferocious because he can criticize them in his column and it can involve their sex lives.

Young people can be seen around town on Wednesdays reading the latest column of Savage Love in the SF Weekly aloud to friends and laughing, gagging, or staring at each other in amazement depending on the subject.

Savage is despised for announcing that if men want oral sex, then their female partners should receive equal oral sex. The reported increasing need of men to try anal sex with women not only has Savage suggesting that the men be equally penetrated with dildos, but also with strap-on dildos, as seen in Good Vibrations’ iconic hit film Bend Over Boyfriend. Messages seething with anxiety pour in to the columnist from men begging him to say that such acts will not make them gay.

One of Savage's most admirable messages is to his straight readers warning them that the authoritarian far right not only opposes queer sex, but also alternative non-queer sex. Savage has even fearlessly taken on possibly the most fanatical group in our culture — the anti-circumcision crew who threatened his life when he said that maybe his son would be circumcised since there is a perceived “ick” factor from many people who are prejudiced against foreskins.

Savage is a sexual liberationist in the tradition of gay rights founder Harry Hay and the 1970’s Gay Liberation Front, and he is carrying on a valuable tradition.

Links:
YouTube It Gets Better Project
It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living
Savage Love

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