National Coming Out Day with Ben Cohen and Dan Savage
by: Tony Soto
This has been a continued problem with young people for as long as any of us can remember. Bullying happens to many kids of all races, body types, and orientations and it hasn’t been till recently after the unnecessary suicides of many kids in the last few years, that people have started to talk about it.
Two voices that have been the loudest belong to Ben Cohen and Dan Savage. Regardless of your opinions with them as people or their politics, critics cannot deny the impact that their two separate endeavors (The Ben Cohen StandUP Foundation, It Gets Better) have had on young and old alike, bullied and bullies, LGBTQ and straight.
I was in New York last Thursday for National Coming Out Day, and I attended WICKED for a chance to speak with Ben and Dan. While at a cocktail reception before the show I asked Ben what his message was to other straight allies out there that want to help bullied youth. Ben said, “They need to be role models, and bystanders need to be up-standers. If they see bullying whether it be homophobic or race or any kind of bullying, to say ‘you know that’s just not right’ and become up-standers. We just want to educate say that bullying is wrong no matter what it is.”
Next up was Dan Savage, I have always loved the It Gets Better Project, but I wanted to know Dan’s personal message to bullied youth, what can they do to help things get better while they are still in school, how they can empower themselves. Dan said, “There are a lot of videos that were created by youth who are speaking to youth. All the videos have great advice, coping mechanisms, strategies for making it better. Most of the people talk about in the It Gets Better videos is how they made it better for themselves. There are videos created by young people, people looking back on their younger years who talk about how they are in an impossible situation so they got their GED and went straight to college and just skipped a year and a half. This kid who was 17 years old who is already in college saying, you don’t have to stay in high school and be a punching bag. You don’t want to make the bullies feel like they won, but you can pull the rip cord and get out. If you look at the videos, you will see that over and over again. You will see somebody sharing not just assurance that it will get better, but how they made it better, and how the kid that is watching can too.”
The event was pretty awesome! Watching WICKED with LGBTQ youth all over the audience was empowering in itself. Since Dan didn’t give me his personal advice to LGBTQ youth and other kids who may not identify as queer but are bullied for being queer, I would like to give my personal advice.
Stand up, speak out, and fight like hell! Not physically fight if you can avoid it, but like Dan said, you do NOT have to be a punching bag. You have allies around you. Find them. Embrace them. I’m not sure where I would be if it wasn’t for the strong willed girls I surrounded myself with while in high school. Get yourself an adult. Stuart Coone and D. Ann Jones were my rocks while in school. Stuart was the guidance counselor and D. Ann was my theatre director. They allowed me the opportunity to express myself and to talk out my angers and frustrations. You may feel desperately alone, you aren’t. The key is to stop thinking that nobody can understand how you feel. They are out there, and your life is worth the search.