'It Gets Better' Founder Dan Savage: The MTV-Logo Special, How Tim Gunn Surprised Him (Exclusive Video)
A lightning rod for controversy, the bawdy sex and relationship columnist is happy to have the focus placed on his campaign to help LGBT youth.
Some of us have learned more than we thought we’d ever want to know about sex and relationships from Dan Savage’s syndicated column, Savage Love. And even more people may know him as the man who redefined “Santorum” to the politician’s dismay. But, some people may not know that the bawdy writer and activist is the co-founder of the It Gets Better Project aimed at providing hope for LGBT youth.
While the project has already accumulated thousands of videos from everyday people to concerned celebrities including Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, and Adam Levine, it’s about to be introduced to potentially its biggest audience ever. MTV and Logo will jointly air an hour-long special anchored by Savage on Tuesday at 11 p.m. It will feature some of the project’s celebrity supporters, as well as feature three young people hitting a crossroads in their lives.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Savage about what he has been able to accomplish with the video project. Plus, watch an exclusive video preview from the special above.
What’s the significance of the MTV-Logo special for you?
Dan Savage: Well, we’re going to reach more people now that we’re at MTV than we have reached so far. That’s the power of television. We’re going to reach many millions of people in the age demographic where bullying is really a problem and LGBT issues. We’re really in this kind of crisis. We could have done this for PBS and grandparents could have watched it, but we wanted to do it at MTV so kids who are in middle school and high school could see it. Gay kids have a lot of tremendous insight and good advice, but also this will reach the kids who may not know gay kids, may not understand gay kids, or may actually be bullying the queer kids. As these stories are told, these kids are humanized. I think it will be really helpful. We’ve done a book, we’ve done the online campaign for It Gets Better being launched in other countries with our cooperation, and this was the natural next step to take it to television.
When you first came across this idea, did you imagine it would get as big as it has?
Savage: Oh God, no. The goal was a hundred videos. We crossed our fingers hoping we’d get a hundred videos so there would be this kind of small online resource where I can send LGBT kids who wrote to me and say, “Go here and watch these videos.” I never expected it to explode this way -- never in a million years.
Was there a moment when you realized it was just beyond really what you had imagined?
Savage: It was actually the first night. We created the YouTube channel, I used my own email address as the registration email, and that very first night before any other videos had come in there were sponsors, likes, friend requests, email comments were pouring in so fast that every time I tried to open up my computer or email my computer crashed. At that moment I was like, “Wow.” It kind of hit a nerve or struck a chord and the next day the videos started pouring in the next morning. We kind of knew right then that this was going to be something bigger than anything we expected.
How important to you were the celebrities who signed on?
Savage: In my estimation, the most valuable videos are the ones from the tens of thousands average queer people. What’s terrific about the celebrity contributions are the leverage they provide to queer people. A lot of gay kids look up to celebrities and so that’s valuable, but also with Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and Lady Gaga there are kids who are being bullied in schools by peers who listen to the music created by those artists. For those kids to be able to turn around and say, “You can’t love Katy Perry and hate me” is powerful. You know, for the culture to side with the queer kids is hugely powerful. It’s hugely important. As the cultural leaders like GaGa, Katy Perry, or Vinny [Guadagnino] from Jersey Shore to all speak up and side with the queer kids who are being bullied makes being a bully and a homophobe uncool and that helps. It really does help.
Is there a particular celebrity video that really surprised you?
Savage: Tim Gunn, because his video was really shattering. He talked about his suicide attempt which he never spoke about publicly before and you can just see in this hastily made, very low-production value video that he was just speaking from the heart and as quickly as he could to help. It was so touching and I think it really made a difference for a lot of kids. He’s so together -- that’s his thing on television -- and for him to say, “I was bullied and I attempted suicide,” that’s part of the idea behind the whole campaign… For them to hear from people like Tim Gunn, that it was hard for him too, so hard he attempted suicide too, really can make a difference and really can help.
It Gets Better airs Tuesday at 11 p.m. on both MTV and Logo.
Email: Jethro.Nededog@thr.com; Twitter: @TheRealJethro