Dan Savage, the author who helped propel the issues of homophobia and gay teen suicide to the national spotlight with the It Gets Better Project, spoke to students and community members at Claremont McKenna College on Wednesday evening.
Dressed in a Tulane T-shirt, the sex columnist touched on topics of bullying, sexuality, and of course, presidential candidate Rick Santorum. But the main focus of his 70-minute speech was the online project that has garnered approximately 50,000 YouTube testimonials based on the message that life for gay teens or victims of bullying "gets better" in time.
"The goal wasn't to create the biggest YouTube channel," Savage said at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum. "The goal was we wanted to save lives."
The project was founded following the suicide of Billy Lucas, a teenager who was bullied because he was perceived to be gay. Savage said he wanted the project to reach out to gay youth, particularly those from rural and conservative pockets of the country where they feel isolated.
Within the first four days of the project's launch in 2010, Savage said he and his partner sifted through 600 videos.
"We didn't eat or bathe," Savage said. "We just watched videos, posted videos and sobbed our eyes out."
Throughout the years, life has gotten better for the gay and lesbian community, Savage said. When he came out to his family in 1981, Savage said he was also telling them he would never marry, have children or be able to join the Marines.
Today, Savage and his husband Terry Miller have been married for 17 years and raising a son they adopted 14 years ago at birth.
"And now I can be a Marine," he said. "I don't want to be a Marine, but it's nice to know I can be a Marine. So in my lifetime, it has gotten better."
A frequent critic of the religious right, Savage said Americans should ignore the teachings of the Bible when it comes to homosexuality the same way most people ignore the Bible for its outdated attitudes toward women and slavery.
"We now ignore the Bible on slavery because the Bible got slavery wrong," Savage said. "We do not drag women to their father's doorsteps and stone them to death as Deuteronomy instructs us to on their wedding nights if they're not virtuous. If we were still doing that, Callista Gingrich would not be alive today."
Savage ended his speech quoting writer E.M. Forster, who once told a group of young students some 70 years ago, "School was the unhappiest time of my life and the worst trick it played on me was to pretend that it was the world in miniature. ... My last words to you are -- there's a better time coming."
"This knowledge that it gets better has been floating around," Savage said. "All that's different is we have the ability to take that message and put them into the phones of every LGBT kid, every straight kid in the country."
Savage received a standing ovation at the Athenaeum. The speech was also shown in an adjoining overflow room.
During a question and answer portion of the evening, Savage was asked to comment on Santorum's recent surge.
Savage has been a vocal critic of the Republican politician for many years, slamming Santorum for his views on gay rights, reproductive rights and other social issues.
The liberal pundit said he was worried that Santorum could succeed in his bid for the Republican presidential nominee.
"The American people re-elected George W. Bush," Savage said. "We are just dumb enough to elect a Rick Santorum."
Ric Tennenbaum, 17, came from Santa Monica to see Savage and stood in line after the speech to get the book "It Gets Better" signed.
"His anecdotes are very personal, very hilarious," Tennenbaum said.
Samantha Meyer, who works at Pomona College, said Savage is one of her idols.
"He's so sexually open and in the same breath, speaks about such major issues," she said.
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