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Dan Savage, speaking on campus, helps gay teens feel positive about their lives

The bullying and harassment of gay teenagers by their classmates, teachers and parents is a serious issues, said syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, author of the "Savage Love" column and co-creator of the It Gets Better project, speaking April 11 in Statler Auditorium.

Savage launched the It Gets Better project to reach out to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth dealing with their newly discovered sexuality. The project is a YouTube campaign that allows members and supporters of the LGBT community to upload videos encouraging gay teenagers, said Savage.

Part of the project's success lies in the fact that everyday LGBT adults contributed these videos, Savage said during an interview. Savage and his partner received so many submissions that within a few days of the project's initiation, Google expanded their YouTube account's limit from 650 to 5,000 videos. Most recently, Savage published the book "It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living."

The project became more widespread when such celebrities as Perez Hilton and singers Adam Lambert and Kesha got involved, Savage said: "It can really help a queer kid to know that Kesha's on his side."

The name It Gets Better came from a reader's comment on Savage's blog about the death of 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Indiana. Lucas was bullied at school because he was perceived to be gay, Savage said. His classmates encouraged Lucas to commit suicide, and one day, Lucas hanged himself.

"Rest in peace Billy Lucas. I wish I had known you because I could have told you that things get better," Savage quoted the commenter. These words inspired Savage to extend his audience beyond college students to middle and high school kids.

"I would never get an invitation" to speak at a middle school, Savage said. "I wish I could talk to queer kids whose parents are also bullying them, whose parents reject them because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation."

The YouTube era fixed this problem, he said, allowing Savage to "look into a camera and address a Billy Lucas before he killed himself." He added, "You can save someone's life with media."

Savage also shared a story about how, when a 15-year-old lesbian came out to her family, their pastor encouraged her parents to reject her. This prompted her to do "what many queer kids in that circumstance have done before" -- go back in the closet. She wrote to Savage telling him "she is watching It Gets Better videos on her phone in her bed under the covers at night."

Savage, who grew up in a Catholic household, said that he is not hostile to religion. He believes, however, "Religion writes the permission slip for bullies of whatever age.

"We have got to learn to ignore what the Bible says about homosexuality in the same way we learn to ignore what the Bible says about slavery," he said. Also, "Ninety percent of what the Bible got wrong we flip past on our way to the good stuff," he added. This "good stuff" Savage refers to is open-mindedness in accepting all individuals regardless of sexual orientation.

For more information on the It Gets Better project, visit http://www.itgetsbetter.org/.

The event was co-sponsored by the Cornell University Program Board (CUPB), Cornell Minds Matter and Cornell Gay Straight Alliance, in part by Haven (Cornell's LGBT support and outreach organization). All organizations are part of the Office of the Dean of Students.

Dorothy Chan '12 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

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Joe Schwartz