Interview Issue: Dan Savage, Jane Lynch on 'It Gets Better,' Gay Bullying, 'Glee'

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Sex-advice columnist Dan Savage and actor Jane Lynch in Los Angeles. Paolo Pellegrin / Magnum for Newsweek

Cheeky sex columnist meets fire-tongued cheerleading coach. Both were in Los Angeles to support the Trevor Project, a suicide-prevention organization for LGBT youth. We put them in a room together–and it's fair to say that neither held back. From parenthood to coming out to the sexual orientation of a certain (male) Supreme Court justice, Dan Savage and Jane Lynch gleefully tackled it all. They sat down with NEWSWEEK's Jessica Bennett. Excerpts:

It’s been a big year in gay rights: marriage, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” bullying. Are you surprised there are still so many battles?

Lynch: Yes, we thought the great hope of Obama was going to magically change all that, and it doesn’t seem to have…

Savage: …had the intended effect.

Lynch: He’s just nicely walking the middle.

Savage: And unfortunately, when you split the difference on gay and lesbian people, what you wind up with is no legislative progress. You get a lot of nice speeches, you get invited to cocktail parties, and we have s--t to show for it.

Which barrier will fall first?

Lynch: Oh, God, I have no idea. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” looks like it’s not going to happen, and John McCain wants 13 more hearings because he’s not sure yet.

[Editor’s note: the Senate had not scheduled a vote on DADT when this interview was conducted.]

Savage: F--k John McCain—put that in NEWSWEEK.

Lynch: Yeah, I say it too, to the second power.

Savage: Really, when it comes to gay rights, there’s two wars going on. The first war is political. But the culture war is over. Between Glee and Ellen and how integrated and accepted LGBT adults are, that’s done. So it’s very frustrating to be steeped in how culturally accepted we are and know that there’s all these legislative things that we just can’t seem to make any progress on.

How long until there’s an openly gay president or Supreme Court justice?

Savage: Scalia isn’t gay?!? I always think the biggest homophobe in the room is clearly a c--ksucker!

Lynch: Totally! The next religious person who tells you there’s something wrong with being a homosexual, start the countdown. It’s psychology 101—the people who are the loudest and hate it the most hate something in themselves.

Dan, what inspired the “It Gets Better” campaign?

Savage: It started after I read about Billy Lucas’s suicide in Greensburg, Ind., and after Justin Aaberg’s suicide in Minnesota last summer. I was just stewing and writing about them on my blog, and wishing I could have talked to these kids, to tell them it gets better. But I would never get permission to talk to these kids, because in places like Greensburg—where kids are bullied not just by peers but by parents and religious leaders—kids would never get permission to hear from an openly gay adult. And it just occurred to me that I was waiting for permission that in the YouTube era I didn’t need anymore.

One thing that struck me about the “It Gets Better” videos is how many straight people are willing to tell gay people it’s going to be OK.

Savage: When the first couple hundred videos came in and there were some from straight people, I got some angry emails saying, “No, take them down, this isn’t about straight people talking to gay people.” But that’s one of the ways it gets better. When you’re young and queer and closeted, you can end up in this place where you regard your straight peers as the enemy.

Lynch: As a gay person, I don’t want to be separate from the rest of the world. I remember I went to a lesbian event when I first moved here to Los Angeles, and this woman said to me, “Oh, it’s just for us.” I didn’t like that at all. I want to be in the human community. I don’t want to be separate.

Savage: And we can’t avoid it. Straight people are everywhere!

Jane, when did you come out?

Lynch: I had two coming outs. I came out when I was about 21, and then I came out to my family when I was 32. By the time I was 32 they were like, “Well, we knew there was something. We’re glad to know what it is, now let’s move on.” Had I told them when I was 18 it would have been a different story, because there was nobody openly homosexual. I thought it was a disease. I remember hearing the word “gay” and thinking, “Oh, my God, I have that.”

Even in a big city like Chicago, where you both grew up?

Savage: My dad was a homicide cop in the gay neighborhood in the city when gay neighborhoods were desperate, depressing, sad places run by the mob. The only gay people he’d met when I came out to him were corpses. But every once in a while I would see gay people. I have this distinct memory of being at the movies with my mother, and there were two gay guys in front of us holding hands. My mother was very upset, trying to turn her head away from these men, but I was thinking, “Oh, good, OK. They made it, they’re OK. I’ll be OK.”

Lynch: If I saw two guys walking down the street, I had the reaction that a lot of people who don’t have any self-knowledge have, which is hate that which you are. And so I had a really hard time with gay people until I came out.

What about kids who don’t have anybody to look up to?

Savage: There’s no promise that it’s going to be a birthday party for you thrown by your mother for all of your life. Bad things happen, and we all die eventually. But there’s enough space for you to create a life for yourself, to find friends, lovers, and a community.

How do you think kids coming out younger plays into teen bullying?

Savage: When we were growing up, it was easier to fly under the radar, because not every kid had this idea that there were gay people in the world. So if you didn’t have a girlfriend, the first line of attack wasn’t automatically “You must be gay.” I think the gay community does a disservice to a lot of gay kids when we beat the drum of “come out, come out, come out.”

Lynch: It can be really dangerous to come out to families and to school.

Savage: Forty percent of all homeless teenagers are LGBT kids who were thrown out by their parents when they came out or were outed. I’ve been a little alarmed by a lot of the videos for “It Gets Better” made by straight people saying, “Well, go to your parents.” Parents are often the biggest problem in these kids’ lives. So we have to not just glibly tell 12-year-olds that coming out is the solution to all your problems. Coming out can create a whole new set.

You wrote that you’re better off coming out to a friend, preferably a friend who watches Glee.

Savage: Which is what’s so great about the culture war—there are cultural markers now. If you have friends who are fans of Lady Gaga, you’re probably safe.

You both weighed in on a controversial NEWSWEEK story about gay actors playing straight. Isn’t there some validity to the point that Americans are unwilling to see an openly gay actor play a straight romantic role?

Savage: Cheyenne Jackson plays romantic leads on Broadway. Theatergoers have been over the gay thing forever.

Lynch: I do think it’s different in film, though. I can be gay as a character actor, but I don’t think Julia Roberts can be right now. I think when you’re projecting your hopes and dreams for romantic love onto an actor, knowing they’re gay…Well, you have to think there’s some chance this could actually happen.

Jane, how come Sue Sylvester has never had a love interest on Glee? Is she asexual?

Lynch: She’s a warrior. She does whatever she needs to get power.

Dan, you’re a father. Jane, you’re a new stepmother. What challenges have you had to face as parents?

Lynch: We have the same challenges straight families have.

Savage: There’s no gay way to change diapers.

Lynch: But I think there can be a responsibility to fold in other adults. I was looking around today, and we have three female cats, we have a female dog, and then we have the three of us. And I was like, we’ve gotta get a guy in here!

Savage: Or at least a testosterone-soaked air freshener.

Jessica Bennett is a NEWSWEEK senior writer covering society and culture. Find her on Twitter.

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