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Dan Savage: To Protest or Not to Protest?

Dan Savage, Haverford’s featured speaker for the fall semester, was named 2013 Humanist of the Year, created an internationally-syndicated and award-winning sex column, Savage Love, that discusses queer relationships and sex positivity, and co-created the It Gets Better Project to help prevent suicide among LGBTQ+ youth.

Dan SavageHe is, one might assume, the perfect speaker to host during OutWeek, a week-long event organized by the student group Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) to raise awareness and increase visibility of LGBTQ+ issues on campus.

But as of September 26th, there have been plans forming to protest Savage’s visit on Friday.

“Dan Savage is gross…If you need to know more about why he’s gross: He’s repeatedly fatphobic, transphobic, racist, ace-phobic, ableist, among other things,” reads the Facebook event page for the protest, created by Bryn Mawr students Rhett Richardson ’15 and Serena Pierce ’15.

This antagonism certainly isn’t a new experience for Savage, whose visits to college campuses have often provoked protests and glitter-bombings.

The protest’s event page, which as of Tuesday had 45 confirm guests, has been a center for student discussion and a general airing of frustrations about both Savage and what some view as a privileging of certain voices within the Bi-Co.

“Speakers Committee understands your discomfort with Dan Savage and supports your right to voice your anger,” posted Hannah Zieve ’14, a member of Speakers Committee, offering an alternative perspective to the criticisms. “That said we also believe that he is an influential person who has positively affected many people, both within the LGBTQ+ community and without.”

Both Zieve and committee member Sophia Gant ’16 said they were aware of the controversy when selecting Savage and anticipated a protest.

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Click to enlarge

According to Director of Student Activities Lilly Lavner, when SAGA was told about Savage’s visit they agreed to plan Outweek to coincide with the event.

“As controversial as Dan Savage may be, they agreed that he is still a large voice in the LGBTQ community, and that they would thus be remiss not to acknowledge his visit,” wrote Lavner in an email.

One SAGA member, who asked to remain anonymous, wrote that many members of the group still feel strongly that Savage is an offensive figure to many in the LGBTQ+ community.

“Within SAGA, the conversation about hosting Dan Savage…stirred up a decent amount of conversation among the group…I would say the feeling in the room was pretty unanimous by the end of that night that we didn’t support backing his invitation ourselves, but that we would publicize the event,” the student said.

The SAGA co-heads declined to comment on Savage’s visit until after the event.

Currently, plans for the protest continue to develop on Facebook, including a statement of purpose and guidelines for conduct at the protest.

“We also are aware that Savage has been really great for some individuals, and we aren’t denying that or trying to take that away from them,” said Richardson in an email. “We hope to create dialogue within the community, hopefully change some ways that the community runs, and act in solidarity of the people that Savage has oppressed (which includes several of the communities we are in).”

Both Pierce and Richardson plan to attend Savage’s talk and hope the protest will be constructive.

“At first, I was just thinking it was going to be me and a couple of friends going in to challenge Dan Savage,” said Pierce. “I think that the Bi-Co can be sometimes politically aloof, so the amount of support and solidarity I’ve been seeing from other students…has been very encouraging.”

The Facebook page has also circulated widely among students in the Bi-Co.

In an email in response to the event page, Bryan Wang ’16 said, “Instead of getting brainwashed by quoting-without-context hate articles, go fucking read Savage Love where he offered tons of indiscriminate helpful advice to bi/trans community and women, and you will find him not your enemy but your ally, protesters.”

Criticism of Savage

Savage’s uncensored, often controversial brand of humor have garnered him significant attention from the media.

In a 2011 interview, Savage responded to criticism that he is trans- and bi-phobic by saying that his consciousness of trans* issues has increased significantly in the twenty years since he started Savage Love and acknowledged that some of his past statements were transphobic.

Savage has also responded to critics who accuse him of being bi-phobic with a column about his history with identifying as bisexual, expressing his belief that bisexuality is an entirely valid sexual orientation while also calling for more bisexual people to come out.

However, Savage has offered little to no response to the many other comments and columns that his critics say are fat-shaming and harmful to survivors of sexual assault.

“Dan Savage is not the president of GLAAD—he’s a sex columnist who started his column as a joke and values his snarky humor sometimes over his advice,” said Gant, in response to these criticisms. “[His] remarks may be characterized as hate speech…but I don’t believe that offensive words necessarily connote offensive thought or offensive actions.”

Criticism of Savage’s work has also extended to the It Gets Better Project.

“He [Savage] fails to recognize that the popularity of the campaign and its legitimacy depend on the very subtle exclusion of non-white and non-bourgeois bodies,” wrote Kirk Grisham in an article in The Feminist Wire.

Damon Motz-Storey ’16, a co-head of SAGA commenting on the visit in his personal capacity, hopes disagreements around Savage’s visit will spark a constructive conversation.

“My personal advice is this: Don’t like Dan Savage? Then do what he’s not doing and help fight for the rights of our marginalized friends in the queer community and beyond,” said Motz-Storey.

Terms used in this article: 

Bi-phobic: Bisexual phobic

Ace-phobic: Asexual phobic

Cisgender: Person who conforms to gender/sex based expectations of society

Trans*: refers to all identities on the gender identity spectrum (transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, etc.) as opposed to trans, which commonly refers to trans men or trans women

Gender: Socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people

Sex: Medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. Common terms are “male, “female” and “intersex.”

LGBTQIA: Refers to people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, intersex, and asexual

Intersex: People born with “sex chromosomes,” external genitalia, or internal reproductive systems that are not considered “standard” for either male or female

For more information: 

One Comment

  1. treetops October 17, 2013

    “Cisgender: Person who conforms to gender/sex based expectations of society”

    Actually, the way this definition is worded seems quite cis-phobic to me.
    And no, I’m not joking.

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