Everyone is Gay Empowers LGBTQ Youth
"We've found through our work that the problems and feelings we all have completely overlap. We are all human," by Dannielle Owens-Reid.
Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo initially co-founded the advice website Everyone is Gay (EIG) in response to a joke. What may have begun as a happy accident spawned the birth of a unique brand of advocacy to change the way people think.
Owens-Reid created the website Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber, which prompted an uproar from the young lesbian fans who followed it. Owens-Reid and Russo, who had just completed her Masters in gender studies, felt compelled to respond to the queries and criticisms prompted by the website.
"We started a Tumblr to address the questions, some very serious, but we literally just wanted to be funny and loud," said Owens-Reid. The website www.everyoneisgay.com morphed into a national presence. Soon their outreach extended beyond the LGBTQ community to instill the idea that we all have similar struggles.
"We've found through our work that the problems and feelings we all have completely overlap. We are all human," Owens-Reid told EDGE. She explained that the questions submitted to the website came from teens, adults, parents and allies all seeking information and affirmation.
Performing in perfect sync while dishing devilishly clever advice, Owens-Reid and Russo rely on frank dialogue and a vibrant online visibility. "We just want to feel that we're motivating people to take action," stated Owens-Reid.
"People think they’re not making change if they’re not marching in a parade, [but] that just isn’t true," she told EDGE. "They only think of change making on a larger scale, but if you simply decide to check out your employee discrimination policy, start voting locally, or donate $3 a month to an organization that means something to you, these are all simple ways to change the world."
Their message is well received. "Simple, direct, empathetic kindness is so rarely addressed as a powerful means of changing minds and shaping communities," said Maddy Bishop, a sophomore at Oberlin College, noting that "daily acts" are the best means of activism.
In 2010, Advocate magazine staffers chose EIG’s video submission to Dan Savage’s "It Gets Better" campaign as a favorite for its candor and lighthearted sincerity.
"We have thousands of questions from people just like you that are struggling," said a smiling, compassionate Russo in the video. Created in response to a rash of suicides among LGBTQ youth, "It Gets Better" reflected the need for change that paved the way for Everyone is Gay’s success.
While their message may be straightforward, their methods are unique. EIG’s webcasts address coming out, breaking up and confronting the prejudice of parents with straightforward solutions of empowerment. Through live food truck interviews and flash-mob style grooves, they remind viewers that if you can laugh, you can overcome. "You can’t get over something without going through it," Kristin tells viewers in webcast episode 74, a reminder that laughter heals and community comes in many forms.
Building a safe and attractive online presence was the first step to shaping a new forum for dialogue between LGBTQ youth, allies and advocates. On Mar. 27 EIG kicked off a national tour to high school and college campuses. The impetus for the tour emerged in response to the needs of their online readership. Their honesty, approachability and humor make them relatable to LGBT youth.
"Seeing Kristin and Dannielle’s presentation was hugely important for me," said Bishop. "Their message, that it is okay to be who we are and that we should engage one another with kindness and compassion, helped me to come out to my dad. Absolutely everyone can learn something from Everyone Is Gay."
While mostly touring colleges nationally, Russo and Owens-Reid recognize the necessity of supporting LGBT youth in secondary schools. According to GLSEN’s 2011 National School Climate Survey, "a safer school climate directly relates to the availability of LGBT school-based resources and support, including Gay-Straight Alliances, inclusive curriculum, and comprehensive anti-bullying policies."
Thus a direct correlation exists between increased on-campus support with decreased incidents of bias or discrimination. While the survey identified decreasing "levels of biased language and victimization," 81.9 percent of LGBTQ students reported verbal harassment, while 18.3 percent reported physical harassment in the past year.
"We think the need is higher at the high school level," stated Russo in an interview with Joe Donahue of WAMC Public Radio, "so focusing on the high school experience is crucial." They listened to what mattered most to their readers, "and cyberbullying kept coming up," said Owens-Reid.
EIG’s March 10 panel discussion at South by Southwest® (SXSW®), an interactive film and music festival and conference in Austin, Texas, addressed "responsibility and handling online attacks." It was "one of the smartest things we could have done because no one knows about cyberbullying better than the 16-to-25-year-old age bracket. The panel was a great success with a large crowd who were all super interested in the research we had gathered," resulting in increased awareness and sensitivity to the effects of cyberbullying and online harassment in educational curriculum.
Ultra intelligent, hyper funny Russo and Reid simultaneously achieve silly and inspirational without breaking a man-sized sweat. Dannielle is the Ellen to Kristin’s lip-syncing Oprah, rivaling the best comedic duos.
"We work well together because we each think the other human is the funniest on earth," said Owens-Reid. "Can we still be funny and also address the issues?" asked Russo. The answer is a resounding yes.
Everyone is Gay’s future projects include a book of advice for parents of recently out LGBTQ kids.
Visit the website for national tour dates and locations at www.everyoneisgay.com or call 785-955-9696 for their advice line.