In 2014 we started an event series called ‘The F Word Event’ held in Los Angeles in conjunction with Sarah Moshman, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker of The Empowerment Project. We teamed up to create a series of mini TED talk-like events that would feature speakers who are redefining feminism for the modern generation.
So far we have had Caitlin Crosby creator of The Giving Keys, Lisa D’Amato winner of America’s Next Top Model: All Stars, Politician Barbi Appelquist, Emily Greener co-founder of I Am That Girl, and Seth Matlins who spearheaded the Truth In Advertising Act.
At the most recent event held on May 21st in Culver City, we had the most diverse line-up yet. Since we are now in the second year of this series and it has become a sold-out event, we decided we need to share some of the incredible wisdom of these speakers.
Today we are sharing an interview with the super awesome Dannielle Owens-Reid who is the co-creator of Everyone Is Gay, which is an organization and movement designed to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer youth using three key methods: offering advice, talking to students across the country, and talking with parents of LGBTQ youth to help them gain an understanding of what their child may be going through.
The org was founded in 2010 by Dannielle and Kristin Russo who travel around the country visiting schools, and provide a much-needed safe space and empowered voice to youth who need an ally at a crucial time in their lives.
In a time when we are gearing up for the 2016 Presidential election, we all know that gay marriage and LGBTQ issues are already a hot ticket item. Away from the media, we as everyday people should be informed in the best way possible on issues relating to this community, and it starts with asking questions as well as empathy, a word which pops up a few times in our interview.
We feel lucky to have been able to talk to Dannielle who is a badass in more ways than one.
Tell us about your organization Everyone is Gay and how you started it?
We started in 2010 as a fairly simple Tumblr, giving written advice to LGBTQ youth and pretty quickly garnered a following. Our readers kind of inspired us to do much more, so within the past five years we’ve grown into a much larger organization. We make videos, we tour (middle schools, high schools, college campuses, and community centers), we also released a book last fall entitled ‘This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids‘, and we launched theparentsproject.com in April of 2014!
You also started a blog called Lesbians who look like Justin Bieber. First up that is badass! And second, has Justin himself ever responded?
Thank you! I think he said something on Chelsea Lately once but I don’t remember what. I just know a lot of people sent me gifs
OK so lets talk about what you do with Everyone Is Gay. Why is your content and curriculum so popular?
We don’t have a curriculum just yet, but it is a goal! I think our content speaks to so many people because we bring a very real light-heartedness to things. We are funny, we’re ridiculous, we’ve fucked up a ton and we’re down to talk about it. I think, more and more, people are in search of role models or internet friends that they identify with in a real way. They want advice, sure, but more so they want someone to be like ‘THIS IS TERRIBLE BUT IT’S ALSO FUNNY AND HERE IS HOW.’
In terms of how we speak to parents, though, I think they connect with us because we have the ability to say, “hey, it’s so dope that you’re asking questions, it makes sense that you’re confused, and here is how you can talk to your kid, be respectful, and be supportive.” We are just straight forward and kind. People are into it.
Even though its 2015 and the majority of US states have legalized gay marriage, there is still a huge undercurrent of discrimination in certain areas. How do you guys deal with this issue?
We tour in conservative parts of the country all the time. I think when you live in a city like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, etc., you kind of resign yourself to a tiny bubble. You don’t experience discrimination as much as you might somewhere else, so you kind of desensitize yourself.
AND THEN you go into the middle of South Carolina (where I grew up), you’re walking into a gas station, and you feel so unbelievably uncomfortable. Those moments are just a small snippet of what so many people experience every second of every day.
It’s a difficult to understand the reality, especially when you don’t directly deal with it everyday, but it’s much more prevalent than any of us would like to believe. One huge way we can all make progress is to continue fighting, continue sharing stories, continue to speak out when something upsets you. Sometimes living in a bubble stops people from doing those things, but it’s still so necessary.
The Supreme Court is set to announce its big ruling on gay marriage this summer. Aside from the result, what do you hope will come of this?
I think a lot of people assume this ruling is a shoe-in and there’s nothing to worry about, but it’s just not true. There is a pretty big chance things will not go in a positive direction and that’s scary to think about. I hope people continue to work toward equality, regardless of the ruling. Regardless of the ruling, the conversation isn’t over and there are still so many people who don’t even have a shot at equal rights.
The recent historical ruling on gay marriage in Ireland has set a precedent for the rest of the world. Do you think this will affect other countries on the same issue?
I hope so! The internet is certainly a helpful tool when it comes to spreading the word and sending positive messages, etc!
When we read the news almost every day there is a story about a school student being bullied or harassed for being gay or trans. In some sad and extreme cases we hear of suicide. What will it take to stop this?
I think there is a serious lack of empathy. There are people who think racism ended with slavery. There are people who think you can’t be fired for being gay. There are people who think feminism is unnecessary. All of these thoughts are based on two things (1) lack of education, (2) lack of empathy.
Our differences are not celebrated. The messages being broadcast on all forms of media are not in favor of all types of people. We all have to pitch in when it comes to educating to masses. We all have to raise our children to deeply feel for those around us. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s something we can all strive to do on a daily basis.
Just recently there was a news story from Colorado about a valedictorian student stripped of his rights to make a speech at his graduation because he planned on coming out. Instead the teachers called his parents and told them he was gay and accused him of having “bad character”. What is your message to parents of gay teens who read stuff like this?
Be the exception. Recognize the privilege that your child has to grow up in a home and a city that doesn’t treat them that way. Keep the dialogue in your home and in your community open and respectful. If you have the opportunity, help the schools in your community provide a safe space for its students!
There is a lot of hatred and intolerance in our society when it comes to LGBT issues, and for teens that is an added burden along with everything that comes with being in high school. What is your perspective on creating empathy and understanding away from fear?
The earlier you start, the better! Children’s books by Todd Parr are a great way to do this early on. Simply recognizing that differences should be celebrated, showing them that families aren’t just one thing. Answering them truthfully when they ask “why does uncle bob live with a man named jack?” Don’t try to hide things from your kids, it’s much better that they learn love and respect from you, rather than learning ‘being gay is gross and wrong’ from a few loud mouths on a playground.
How do you encourage parents to have conversations with gay or trans teens?
Put their feelings first. When someone comes out to you as an identity you don’t understand, ask them to explain further because you WANT to understand and be as respectful as possible. I also think it’s huge to leave the door open, to say, “hey, I want to be as supportive as possible, but I don’t have the experience, so if there are things you want me to read, or events you’d like me to attend, please let me know.”
You aren’t expected to be fully educated right away, but as a kid with parents, it means so much to me when I can see that my dad is trying and learning.
How do you encourage gay or trans teens to have a conversation with their family?
Be cool with not having all the answers. Your parents will ask you questions that will make you uncertain of your own identity, but it’s because they want to understand not because they’re testing you. Forgive yourself when you don’t know what to say, feel empowered to speak up once you do, and have patience with your parents.
What have been some of the biggest reactions from readers and followers of yours that have stuck with you even today?
We went on a 21 city book tour last fall and about three shows in a woman ran up to our signing table, held her daughter close, and said, “you saved our relationship.” She went on to explain that by simply saying “have patience with your parents, this is new info for them,” we gave her daughter the tools to hang back and give her parents the space to figure out how they really felt.
P.S. I immediately had to turn around so I could cry because of every feeling.
When people hear on the news that giving equal marriage rights to gay people is going to damage society and hurt religious groups, what is your response, or what do you teach through your program?
The only thing that is harmful to society is trying to make everyone else more like yourself.
Whether it’s religion, race, socioeconomic class, sexuality, whatever. If you’re goal is to make people live their lives exactly like you, you’re doing it wrong. Rights should not be a thing that we vote on. Freedom should not be up for discussion. We should be helping one another up, not holding one another down.
For those who are scared, confused, questioning and unsure of what life holds for them as an LGBTQ teen or youth, what is your advice?
Find someone you can talk to, anyone. Whether it’s a friend, family member, therapist, or maybe you just want to write in a journal. Get your feelings out in some way. Don’t feel obligated to come out, do it when you’re ready and because you WANT to. Remember that you are not alone, so many people are feeling exactly what you’re feeling right now and they are also searching for answers.
How important is a supportive community to those who are struggling with their identity and sexuality?
Very important. I’m so glad we live in a world where someone can go to Google, type in an identity, and find a group of people they can talk to, or read about, or watch videos of, or just read some tweets. It is so dope to have that ability. We are so lucky.
Finally, what makes you a powerful woman?
It’s only been within the past few years that I’ve been able to recognize my own privilege. It’s so unfortunate that we still live in a society that doesn’t value each person’s voice equally. I hope I can leverage my own platform to amplify those voices that tend to go unheard.