Everyone is Gay and Jenny Owen Youngs Visit Smith

Everyone is Gay, a musical duo and LGBTQ activists, visit Smith with musical guest, Jenny Owen Youngs.  

Eliza Going '18 Contributing Writer

Everyone is Gay, a duo of “accidental” LGBTQ activists Kristin Russo and Dannielle Owens-Reid, performed at Smith on Oct. 2 with special musical guest Jenny Owen Youngs.

Lena Wilson ’16, chair of the Student Events Committee (SEC), Becca Damante ’17, vice chair of SEC, and Alison Tippett ’16 of the Peer Sexuality Educators (PSE) presented the event “LGBTQ Activism in the Digital Age.”

Russo and Owens-Reid spoke about the start of their Internet presence on YouTube and Tumblr, their book, “This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids,” and the overall effect they have on people who struggle with LGBTQ issues and come to them for support or answers to their questions.

The duo uses humor and “call-in,” as opposed to “call-out,” behavior as vehicles to promote inclusivity and acceptance in the LGBTQ community as well as other underrepresented and oppressed groups.

The pair answered questions they received online and that ranged from “Where can I find a nice flannel?” to “What should I say to my son who has just recently come out as gay?” Russo and Owens-Reid have been featured on CNN, MTV and HuffPost Live in addition to being approached by PBS to lead other documentary projects.

In 2011, they decided to start speaking at colleges and high schools to inform youth about LGBTQ issues. They changed up their routine for Smith, however, because we are collectively “ahead of the game,” according to Owens-Reid in a post-show interview. This time around, they focused on activism and using media as a platform to show support for underrepresented communities.

The musical part of the show started with an acoustic rendition of “Talk Dirty to Me” by Jason Derulo, with Youngs on guitar and vocals and with Russo contributing occasional harmonies. The trio then performed light choreography to “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas.

Next Russo and Owens-Reid read aloud their coming-out stories from their book. Russo spoke about her adolescent adoration of Liv Tyler, and Owens-Reid said that her mother’s response to her coming out was, “That’s okay.  Ellen is gay, and I love Ellen.” The media provided them with role models and crushes despite the lack of openly LGBTQ individuals in their personal lives.

The ubiquity of media kickstarted their careers as activists. After starting a Tumblr called “Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber,” Owens-Reid received negative feedback for stereotyping lesbians. When a wave of suicides committed by LGBTQ teens surfaced in 2010, they began to answer questions online in an effort to change the way people felt and spoke about these issues.

As part of their presentation, the duo compiled a “List of [the] Three Most Important Things You’ll Ever Have to Know About Accidentally Becoming an Internet Activist and Then Deciding You Actually Like it a Lot.” This list included talking about one’s own experience, listening to one’s audience and self care. Self care is important because, “No one can do this all the time,” Owens-Reid said, adding, “Three good hours at a computer is better than 12 stressed out ones.”

Kelly Anderson, a lecturer in Smith’s study of women and gender department, then sat down with the pair to ask them about the media’s impact on the queer community. Anderson asked how they feel about “slacktivism,” in which people show support for social justice issues by sharing posts on social media. Owens-Reid does not like the term. “Sharing my post is not lazy,” she said. “Retweeting things [is better than] doing nothing.”

When asked about the importance of coming out, Owens-Reid said that not everyone necessarily has to explicitly come out. She “came out” to her mom by telling her she was dating someone who happened to be a girl. If one does not feel like one needs to have a specific coming-out conversation, she said that she recommends not having it.

Youngs followed the audience Q&A with a mini concert, performing hit songs such as “Pirates” and “Last Person.” She told a brief story before each song, sharing personal anecdotes, such as experiencing unrequited love in junior high and having a friend whose girlfriend is “the worst.”

In the end, the pair stressed the importance of using the resources available to make change. “The Internet is a game changer because it’s not just reporters reporting. We are held accountable,” Russo said.

Owens-Reid added that to not say anything is “[to tear] away our own power as a human being with a voice. Regardless of whether or not you know how to get your thoughts down, say something.”