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The GoPride.com Interview

Dan Savage

by Mark Nagel
Comedian & columnist Dan Savage is the featured keynote speaker at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago Spring Luncheon. GRAB recently had a chance to speak with Mr. Savage to see if "it gets better".

MN: (Mark Nagel) You really grew up in Chicago?

DS: (Dan Savage) Yeah, I grew up in Rogers Park.??

MN: I did not realize that. Now you went to Quigley Prep and almost became a priest??

DS: I went to Quigley Seminary North, which is now a high school, for two years. And at that time I was thinking of becoming a priest – that is just a preparatory seminary.

MN: I am a Catholic boy from the south side, so that's why I am going ‘ok I get this.' Now you went to U of I to study theater and history. Can I assume with the one gay bar at U of I, since I went to Eastern, that's where you came out??

DS: No, I came out before I went to U of I. I'm a rarity a little bit for guys my generation that I came out in high school. I came out when I was 17.

MN: You sound like modern day gay students. Back in the early 80's, that must have been something.

DS: It's ironic that I was already out when I went to college. I was the only openly gay guy in the acting program. It was crazy.?

MN: Get out of dodge.?

DS: A lot of those people back in college came out after college. I was a little ahead of the curve.

MN: In 1981 you started your advice column. Does your family actually listen to your advice??

DS: (Laughs) My siblings – not so much they don't – no.

MN: What do they think about you giving advice??

DS: They think its fine. Sometimes they are too fine with it. They want me to give them advice on their sex life. I'm actually sexually repressed and I don't want to talk about sex with my siblings, aunts and uncles. My whole family loves what I do for a living and think it's hilarious…

MN: OK, you're coming to town for the "It Gets Better" luncheon. Now you and I are around the same age. I can assume like me, like every child in high school, you were bullied. We're still here. What do you think is different about what is going on today??

DS: Kids are coming out so much younger now. We grew up where queer kids were killing themselves and were just not out. No one suspected and they just offed themselves. Now when a gay kid kills themselves, they are out or have been outed and it is more likely to be reported – there is less shame. I think there are less suicides today than there were when we were kids. I also think the bulling is more intense now. I am old enough to remember a time when the default assumption – when you are a little weird is that you are gay. When I was a kid and didn't have a girlfriend and liked musicals and baking and reading and wanted to be a priest, my friends didn't think I was a fag. They just thought I was a mess. I didn't suffer an intense antigay bulling as I might today in the same circumstances because people didn't suspect. They didn't even think it was a possibility. Gay was something adults did and not something kids could be.??

MN: I have a niece who is twenty and several years back she was writing a Valentines Day article for her class from a straight-only perspective. I was a little upset by that because she was assuming everyone is straight and she might be talking to someone who is gay and not realize it. She said "No, I have gay friends and I know how they are," which shocked me at the time. They live in St. Charles and she was like "Yeah, I know gay people and what's the problem?" If the world can come this far, how can we still have bulling??

DS: I don't think we can put an end to it; I think it's a lofty goal. It's like putting an end to AIDS.

We have to address it, mitigate it, challenge it, and realize it is not a solvable problem, anymore than racism, sexism, or homophobia. Ultimately it is. There are always going to be racists and homophobes out there. The test for a culture is how we are going to respond to that kind of violence when we encounter it. Are we going to address it or take it on, or are we going to turn a blind eye and let it fester and let it get worse and grow and empower the bigots?

MN: With the kids today, do you think it is a gay thing or a bully thing?

DS: I think it is a gay thing. I think it has to do with how lousy our sex education is. I also think it is a religious thing. Our cultural "think". We have had twenty years of antigay rhetoric. These kids who are straight are also steeped in this antigay rhetoric. We have rural areas and they go to school on Mondays and there is a queer kid. Their parents are unlikely to encounter a queer adult in these places because they have all moved away.

But queer kids are trapped in these places.

If they witness their parents beating up gay people at the ballot box, they're going to feel like they have license to beat up the gay kids they encounter in school.

MN: If we can change one person's mind with this interview, what do you think we can say to stop the youth from bulling?

DS: It has to come from above. It has to come from the grownups in their lives. If the grown ups are Jeff Walsh in California, who are participating in the bullying, that just sends a terrible message.

MN: Any final comments you would like to make to help stop the bulling??

DS: What I would like to say to parents is if your kids are being bullied, there is a line in which verbal harassment is considered assault. At that time, you go to the police – you don't go to the school administrators at that time. Bullying is taken more seriously when bullies are taken away in handcuffs and they cross the line into physical assault. As a catholic, I always compare it to a parent whose kid was raped. They went to the bishop, and they should have gone to the god damn police. If your kid is physically assaulted, go to the police first and the school administrator second. A fifteen year old who beats up an old lady in a shopping mall goes to jail and gets arrested. A fifteen year old who beats up a thirteen year old queer kid in school doesn't even get suspended. Go to the police.

Interview by Mark Nagel for GRAB magazine
 
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