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Everyoneisgay.com uses videos to reach queer youth
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Steven Chaitman
2012-12-04

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It all started with a bunch of lesbians who look like Justin Bieber.

Dannielle Owens-Reid, who created that infamous Tumblr back in 2010, had just met Kristin Russo and told her all about some of the negative feedback targeted at her homage to the pop sensation and his lesbian dopplegangers, that it was stereotyping lesbians and making them look bad. Outraged to hear that response, Russo said she had something to say about it; within a week, the two created Everyoneisgay.com to continue that conversation.

It was supposed to be a humorous blog with a reach no wider their respective circles of friends, but today, Everyone is Gay has become the brand name behind the duo's humorous approach to LGBTQ youth outreach.

The name came from a GChat conversation between the two in which all manner of inappropriate names were suggested, and though it was initially intended solely to be funny, they have come to really own it over time as it relates to the questions they often field from youth.

"We sort of say, 'If everyone is gay, if everyone is trans, take that out of the equation and what are you left with?'" Russo said. "You're left with you're afraid of your parents not approving of what you do or you want your friends to understand you and those are things we can all identify with on some level regardless of our identity or who we're sleeping with."

Using the gamut of social media outlets from Tumblr to Facebook and Twitter to YouTube, Russo and Owens-Reid have connected with millions of people, mostly youth between 13 and 24 years old, and their success is built around the simple concept of honesty and laughter.

"Laughter, humor, all that is really the cornerstone of our entire business/organization/everything we do," Owens-Reid said. "It's partly just because that's how we get through life and partially because it works and that's what people respond to."

Russo points to the Everyone is Gay webcasts for a good example of their fusion of comedy and outreach. Each webcast features the two answering sincere questions their community poses; however, they each start, end and take a break halfway with the girls lip-syncing to pop songs.

"People are seeing us and they're seeing us laugh together and have a good time and I think that's really comforting for a lot of them," she said, "but we're also addressing issues that are usually addressed in a serious manner in a way that's fun and engaging and funny, so people just listen more."

As they began to engage more readers and in different ways, Russo and Owens-Reid discovered the growing request to establish a physical presence, so they launched their first fall tour last year, visiting college campuses and giving spirited high school assembles, thanks in large part to the donations of their readers.

The approach in person has stayed true to their online presence—such as opening an assembly dancing to the Black Eyed Peas—in hopes of meeting kids where they're at. Their presentations address serious statistics, information on suicides, the It Gets Better Project and "six ways you can change the world," but the focus is on the laughter and framing it in such a way that they're not talking down to the students.

"Within all of that you're laughing the whole time, which I don't think has been done before and which is why I think people respond to it so well," Owens-Reid said. "When you're telling young people how to live their lives they're not going to listen to you, but when you're just laughing with them and telling them some cool facts, they're down with it."

Russo said the core message of the tour is kindness, that just being kind to people is in and of itself a huge change-maker. This year, they spread that message on their second fall tour, which stopped at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign back in October.

The two have accrued quite a following a result of the site's success, and it has launched them quickly into role model status for teens and young adults. They are surrounded by questions after shows, even with the kind that requires the insight of a psychologist or a social worker rather than two women with bachelor degrees in theater.

Regardless, they attempt to be as empathetic as possible, describing what they'd do in that person's particular situation.

"I think that our honesty is what enables us to be role models because it's not just like 'oh those people, I could never be like them,' it's 'oh those people, my gosh, I'm just like them,'" Russo said.

Russo and Owens-Reid encourage youth interested in bringing Everyone is Gay to their school to contact them through their website at cometomyschool@everyoneisgay.com, where they'll help youth begin the oft-challenging process.

Their main goal at present is to continue reaching a wider audience, especially the schools that lack the funding to bring them in. They are looking for corporate sponsorships to help them bring in more resources such as personnel so that they can free up more of their time to be in the communities that need them.

"We hear stories all the time of people who are like 'this situation is happening at my school, we need you here' and we just can't do anything and it's the worst feeling in the entire world," Owens-Reid said.

Everyone Is Gay also offers internship opportunities for students. (Interested persons should contact Russo and Owens-Reid at info@everyoneisgay.com for more details).

Otherwise, the two encourage everyone to become part of the Everyone is Gay community, and their fans should keep a lookout for the new Everyone is Gay mobile app, which will feature, among other things, a "Magic G8 Ball."


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