Addressing a packed house of about 1,300 people, Chicago native, syndicated columnist and author Dan Savage spoke about the "It Gets Better" Project at Elmhurst College's Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel April 29.
Savage's appearance was met with opposition from people such as Wayne Lela, founder of Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment (H.O.M.E), who wrote a letter to the editor in the Elmhurst College student newspaper (only identifying himself as a resident of suburban Woodridge and not the founder of H.O.M.E in his letter) as well as Peter LaBarbera, founder of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, who asked Savage questions during the Q&A session.
When LaBarbera identified himself, Savage was eager to engage with him.
LaBarbera commented that Savage's message of anti-bullying runs counter to what he has done surrounding Rick Santorum's name, saying that Santorum's whole family has to deal with the fallout of having Santorum as a last name. Savage responded, "Rick Santorum would make it illegal for me to adopt, invalidate my marriage, re-instate 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' send people like me to prison for having private consensual sex and destroy my family and my lifeand I am the asshole?" Following their exchange, LaBarbera left the event.
Before Savage made his remarks, the president of Elmhurst College, S. Alan Ray, spoke about the college's outreach to the LGBT community and Emily Pochinskas, president of Elmhurst Queers and Allies (EQUAL), gave the audience some background information about Savage and his work.
Savage spoke about the history of the "It Gets Better" project and then answered questions from the audience. He said that the genesis of the project came after the suicide of Billy Lucas, who people perceived was gay. After Lucas' death, his family set up a Facebook memorial page. People who bullied Lucas while he was alive continued to do so online after his death, which Savage said enraged him.
Savage continued to read the comments and he saw one that stuck in his head. It read, "I wish I had known you Billy so I could tell you that things get better."
"That phrase'things get better'is true because things do get better and have gotten better," he continue. Savage then told his own story and how his life has gotten better over the years. "There are LGBT kids who do not know this because they are lied to every day by the adults in their lives about what it means to be LGBT," said Savage.
He said that many colleges and universities have brought him in to do a stand-up version of his sex advice column. "University health departments usually bring me in to undo years of abstinence-only educationwhich I do in two hours," said Savage.
Savage noted that that the YouTube channel began with a goal of 100 videos, exceeding that aim in the first week. Since then the channel has amassed more than 50,000 videosand then channel has been active for fewer than two years. Only about 500 of those videos are of famous people, Savage said, with the rest coming from everyday people from around the country.
He also addressed other issues, including the homophobia that exists in many Christian churches and how that reverberates into the home and creates a hostile environment for LGBT kids; the political landscape, including the Santorum controversy; and the work that GLSEN, the Trevor Project and the ACLU do.
Laughs and applause punctuated Savage's remarks the entire evening and at the end of his remarks, Savage received a standing ovation from the crowd. Before Savage left the stage to sign copies of his book Ally Vertigan, the 2011 recipient of the Human Rights Campaign Chicago LGBT College Student Award, presented Savage with a gift from the college.
Prior to Savage's talk, members of Hinsdale Central High School's Suicide Prevention Awareness Network (SPAN) groupincluding President Talia Just; members Melissa Mooney and Grayson Ricketts; and faculty co-sponsors Erin Fratella and Mike McMahonpresented a $300 check for the "It Gets Better" project. Although SPAN is not focused on the LGBT community, members appreciated the project's message and wanted to contribute to the organization. In accepting the donation, Savage said he will hand the money over to other LGBT organizations that service young people, like the Trevor Project.
Also, three studentsBekka Foust, Kristin Faleni and Hannah Mannochioalong with their printmaking class professor, Dustan Creech, presented Savage with a stencil drawing of the "It Gets Better" slogan.
See www.itgetsbetter.org and www.public.elmhurst.edu/about/lgbt for more information.