LGBT activist addresses student concerns

by: Sheldon Schenck Staff Writer – sschenck@unca.edu

Dan Savage, founder of the It Gets Better Project, answers students’ questions before his talk in the Justice Center on Sept. 13.

Dan Savage, an LGBT rights activist and sex columnist, spoke against those who use the Bible to oppress the queer community and against LGBT bullying in his speech on Thursday at UNC Asheville.

Savage is famous for starting the It Gets Better Project with his partner. The project was created to assure LGBT youth their futures are promising and they are not alone in their struggle, according to the project’s website.

Savage spent the entirety of his speech answering anonymous questions students submitted.

“I hope they really ask me what they’re curious about,” Savage said. “It often draws out shocking questions, but some people have shocking questions that they really need answered, that Google can’t answer.”

Students’ questions ranged anywhere from sex advice, to Savage’s opinion on the Bible and many conservative beliefs.

“It was interesting to see what the people at the university are concerned about and have questions about,” said Lou Murrey, a senior art student. “It did feel like a conversation more so than him speaking at us.”

Some students were concerned about Savage coming to speak at the university because of negative attitudes he has shown towards the transgender community and ethnic minority groups.

“The biggest issue I have with him is the fact that he’s really racist and really, really transphobic,” said Ed Davidson, junior and Internet coordinator of UNCA’s Alliance group. “I feel like he is generally seen as a representative of the entire LGBTQ umbrella, and so it’s really problematic for me to have him be this spokesperson for this entire group of people.”

Savage was most widely criticized for his use of the derogatory terms, “tranny” and “she-male.” In one of Savage’s columns, he responded to a parent who recently discovered their ex-partner is not a transwoman.

“The tranny activists are going to jump down my throat for this, but it seems to be that your ex could’ve put off the sex change until after his son was out of high school,” wrote Savage in his column.

This column upset Davidson.

“If you’re that big of a public figure it’s not OK to call people ‘trannies,’” Davidson said. “I think that’s just really rude, immature and irresponsible.”

Though Savage disregarded the question proposed to him about being transphobic during his talk, Savage did respond to attacks on his lifestyle based on what is written in the Bible.

“The Bible says there are witches, the Bible says the sun revolves around the earth, the Bible says you can own slaves and kill your children if they’re disrespectful,” Savage said. “There are untrue things in the Bible, and for the most part we ignore what the Bible says about slavery and all sorts of other things. It is not anti-Christian to point those inconsistencies out.”

“It was kinda shocking at first to be in a school setting and hear that, but in a good way,” Murrey said. “He has an opinion, and he says it. And I appreciate that.”

Savage said the LGBT community has been attacked for decades, and the only way for them to stop those attacks is to fight back in self-defense.

“I am not trying to make it illegal for Rick Santorum to marry or have children. Rick Santorum is trying to make it illegal for me to marry or have children,” Savage said. “I am willing to leave them alone. They are not willing to leave us alone, and so we are pushing back in self-defense. I want to secure my full civil equality and then be left alone.”

Savage said he wishes to not only make an impact, but to help save the lives of the youth who are bullied for their sexuality.

“I want to live in a world where 13-year-olds don’t put guns into their mouths and blow their brains out because of what is being done to them in their middle schools,” Savage said.

Savage said the bullying of LGBT children is different because it not only happens in their social circles at school, but it also happens when they get home from school, from their parents and other relatives.

“Forty percent of homeless teenagers are queer kids who were thrown out after they came out,” Savage said. “It’s irresponsible to tell all queer kids that the solution to all their troubles is coming out, when for many queer kids, that’s the beginning of new and worse troubles.”

Savage also spoke about LGBT kids being bullied in their schools. Dee Dee Allan, the counselor at Claxton Elementary in Asheville, said their school, along with every school in the district, has aggressive strategies when it comes to dealing with bullying among their students.

“Students are most likely to be bullied for being different in some way from what is considered the norm in a social group,” Allan said. “Teachers have weekly class meetings to talk about concerns and to reinforce the anti-bullying rules. The (anti-bullying) rules are posted throughout the school. We are really trying to educate the students to stand up for each other and themselves.”

Community members who attended the talk said they were pleased with Savage’s aggressive activism.

“It’s a little bit of crying, a little bit of cheering and everyone feels good at the end,” said Leah Quintal, an Asheville resident who attended Savage’s talk. “It really feels like we’re all doing something together. It’s a good conversation to have, and it’s really good that he’s doing it all over the place.”

Those who went to Savage’s speech said they appreciated his campaign and all he has done for the LGBT community.

“I think that the It Gets Better campaign is a really good thing,” Davidson said. “I just think that Dan Savage isn’t a good thing.”

Savage talked about how important it is to have control of your own body, and to not allow for anyone else to dictate how you should live your life.

“Who owns you? Do you own you? Or does that dipshit conservative who’s running for Senate own you?” Savage said.

At the end of his talk, Savage pleaded audience members to vote, and for them to encourage their non-conservative friends and family members to vote as well.

“I really liked his encouragement of voting practices,” Quintal said. “In Asheville in particular, people don’t realize how much of an impact our votes can have collectively. Everything we decide on here matters for the whole state, and ultimately for the whole country.”

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