#3: Dan Savage
“We can’t help them. That’s what makes gay adults despair and feel so helpless when we hear these stories. We can’t barge into these schools. I get to go to colleges and speak, but high schools don’t bring me in. … Because of technology, we don’t need to wait for an invitation anymore to speak to these kids. We can speak to them directly.”
Dan Savage’s career has been built on nasty words.
The Seattle Stranger editorial director and sex columnist has made a mark on alternative weeklies with his blunt, unflinching, vulgar, often scatological brand of activism. There would be no Santorum, saddlebacking, or pegging without Savage (or his readers).
He recognizes that words have real power—but often, in places like middle- and high-school hallways, words aren’t always used for good. “Fag,” “homo,” and “queer” have had remarkable staying power—which is why this year’s reports of gay teens committing suicide were, to Savage, not all that surprising. After 15-year-old Justin Aaberg killed himself in July, the media began reporting on a handful of other gay teen suicides.
Savage responded with a YouTube video. On film, speaking directly to the viewer, he and his partner, Terry, discuss the bullying they encountered as students in Christian high schools. They segue into the hope and happiness they’ve found as partners and as fathers of their 13-year-old son, D.J.
“There really is a place for us,” Savage says. “There really is a place for you.”
Terry adds: “Living well is the best revenge.”
The video went viral. Before long, other notable and highly visible straight and gay men and women chimed in. Tim Gunn, the Pixar staff, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama all popped up on friends’ Facebook walls and Twitter accounts, spreading the It Gets Better message.
The It Gets Better Project is a unique venture for Savage and the digital age. It’s a testament to the communicative power and breadth of social media—a power we’ve only just begun to harness for activism. Savage, however, saw his niche, and leveraged his cultural celebrity to create a movement bigger than himself.
The majority of faces that fill the It Gets Better Project website are those of ordinary GLBT people and their straight allies. The campaign has its critics, but the national conversation Savage sparked gives voice and a permanent resource to closeted and openly gay youth—and the people who care for them. Savage’s words may not always be tasteful. But he knows you only need a few to make a difference.
The Top 10 Good Men of 2010
10) Josh Hamilton
7) Mick Foley
5) Barack Obama
3) Dan Savage