Dan Savage, co-creator of the "It Gets Better" project, engaged audience members in a post-show discussion about homophobia and anti-gay bullying following the March 9 production of fml: How Carson Mccullers saved my life at Steppenwolf.
Savage was joined onstage by brother Bill Savage, a Distinguished Senior Lecturer in English at Northwestern University, who shared his own perspective as a former victim of teen bullying. The event was organized by Steppenwolf for Young Adults' Artistic and Educational Director, Hallie Gordon.
Savage, a Chicago native, began the discussion by explaining the origins of the project, which seeks to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone, and that life will get better.
"I wrote about the suicide of Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old growing up in Greensburg, Ind., who was brutally bullied for being perceived to be gay," said Dan. After Dan posted the article on his blog, it received the comment, "I wish I had known you and been able to tell you that things get better. Rest in peace, Billy Lucas."
"And that phrase leapt out at me because it was so trueon the macro level for the LGBT community as a whole and at the individual level," Dan said. Soon after, Dan created the first "It Gets Better" video with his husband, Terry Miller, and posted it on YouTube.
Dan also responded directly to "fml," whose teen protagonist, Jo, is brutally attacked for being a lesbian. He stressed that coming out is rarely the cure-all for problems faced by LGBT teens, and that it can often be safer to wait.
Bill added, "Especially kids in rural schools or in situations like this [ in the play ] , which is contrary to the advice Jo gets from her friends and family and teacher. Maybe you do have to tone it down just to survive." When asked what he thought of a scene in which Jo questioned the actuality of a "better" future, Savage lauded the play for its honest representation of a perspective many LGBT teens might share.
"Billy Lucas' suicide made me realize that the last 15 years, as we've really gone from success to success, with occasional setbacks like Prop 8, it's actually gotten much, much worse for queer kids than it used to be," said Dan.
"You have all these kids going to school who have watched their parents beat up gay people abstractly with their checkbooks and their ballots, and then they [ their kids ] go to school on Monday morning and feel they have a right to beat up gay kids they encounter."
After taking several questions from Steppenwolf patrons, Dan ended the post-play discussion by illustrating what he saw as the essence of the "It Gets Better" project. "What people need to remember is that there really is an upraised middle finger at the heart of the project," he said.
"It is an aggressive act. We're talking to these bullied LGBT kids … the isolated ones who are cut off from support, perspective, and advice, whether their parents want us to or not. Whether their preachers want us to or not. … One day you'll [ the parents ] thank us. But we are kicking down doors. That's what the 'It Get's Better' project is."
fml: How Carson McCullers saved my life, by Sarah Gubbins, runs through March 18 at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. See www.steppenwolf.org .
Dan Savage's syndicated column, "Savage Love," can be found online at www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove.