BY ALAINA LEARY
With a name like Everyone is Gay, you can expect that this advice blog is adamant about using wit to turn compulsory heterosexuality on its head. And that’s exactly what it does. With co-founders Kristin Russo and Dannielle Owens-Reid at the helm, EveryoneIsGay.com offers advice on LGBTQIA topics, whether the asker identifies as part of the community or not. Since its inception, the blog has expanded its reach and Kristin and Dannielle now run The Parents Project, aimed at educating parents and schools, and Kristin hosts First Person, a PBS YouTube series that showcases the voices of those within queer and trans communities. Dannielle and Kristin are also co-authors of This is a Book For Parents of Gay Kids. I’ve been a fan of Everyone Is Gay since its early days as a sassy Tumblr blog, so I spoke with co-founder Kristin Russo about the inspiration behind the blog, how it transformed into other projects, and how the projects affect queer youth, educators and parents alike.
Tell me about the beginning of EveryoneIsGay.com. Where did the inspiration come from? How did the website get its start?
In 2009 or 2010, Danielle started a website called Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber. We hung out one day and got to talking about the site. We decided to start an advice Tumblr, with the mission being kind of silly and sarcastic. We tried our hand at it, and the result was incredible. This was in April 2010 that we started the Tumblr. We did just written advice for about 6 months, and then we did videos. In Fall 2011, we started touring schools.
Tell me about how you two started touring schools, and why.
Around that time, a lot of suicides were being covered in the media. With all of that attention, we reached out to our readership about what else we could do. Our readers said, “Come to our schools.” We created a presentation that was essentially 6 ways to change the world that were really accessible. Since many students are led to believe that rallies and being a full-time activist are the only ways of making change, our presentation focused on really accessible ideas that everyone can do, like being kind, volunteering, and understanding your school policy on discrimination.
Does the dialogue change depending on the age group you’re talking to?
The way that we talk about using the Internet is different at a college campus where we have a mainly queer audience than it is at a middle school where we talk to the entire student body, but essentially it is the same message. It’s just packaged in different ways depending on the audience.
How did The Parents Project get its start? What was it inspired by?
The Parents Project came out of This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids. So many of the questions we heard at schools, and so many of our inbox messages were: “How can I come out to my parents and how can I get them to understand?” We looked and we found there weren't any books about this. The books that existed were either really clinical or really dark. We felt they were a really poor way to package the message… so we decided to write our own. In March of 2013, we started writing it. Toward the end of the writing process, when we got to the resources section, we came up nearly empty-handed. While incredible resources like PFLAG had existed for decades, there wasn't an online hub where parents could go to find ongoing answers to their specific questions.
The Parents Project was launched in April 2014, and the book came out that following September.
What does the book do differently from other resources on the subject?
The book encourages dialogue and discourages single understanding of identities. As a parent, they also have a coming out process. We encourage parents to have patience with that process for themselves. They feel like they should just “get it,” and be supportive from the jump. The biggest mission of the Parents Project is to start the conversation - really understanding their kid comes from talking to their kid.
Do you receive any positive feedback from queer youth or their parents?
We went on a 21-city book tour last November and December. A lot of families came out. We had several families come up to us and thank us, and explain their stories. They told us that our work was a huge help to them - it helped them better understand their kid, and learn a lot more about the community.
Were there any negative reactions to the book?
Not much, no. Some people wondered why we called it a book for ‘gay’ kids and didn’t use a more inclusive term. We had a lot of back and forth with our publisher about the title, and ultimately their argument that this book needed to get in the hands of parents (many who aren’t familiar with what LGBTQ means, or the use of the word queer), made a lot of sense to us. We wrote a whole introduction about our use of the word gay, and how nuanced identities are in the introduction of the book to explain it further!
Considering the controversy that LGBTQIA topics often get in media coverage, especially when it comes to kids and young adults, why do you think you got such little negative feedback?
It's mostly because, while we have a big audience, we don't have that big of an audience. We are talking to mainly LGBTQIA people and their families. Once it gets outside of that safety net, you're going to get negative feedback. Our space has, for the most part, remained a safe space.
How did you get involved with First Person? Did you come up with the idea?
First Person was not my idea in inception. I was contacted by PBS to audition for the role of the host. They hired me as a host and producer. We all had collaborative conversations about the title, the focus, and framing of things.
Do you enjoy working as the host of First Person? Why?
I love it. It's been an incredible experience. I'm glad I got to work in a space that showcased the voices of people who aren't typically showcased. First Person is so special because it isn't about me at all - it's about the stories of people who really need to be heard. Three out of the four producers were LGBTQ and a queer woman wrote the theme song. There was a real queer energy.
Will there be another season of First Person? Will it continue in some form?
First Person Season 1 was 20 episodes. Whether we will or will not have a second season isn't known at this point.
If there were to be a second season, what would you like to cover that wasn’t covered in the first season?
Topic-wise we tried to cast as wide a net as possible. I knew I wanted to do an episode on bisexuality, an episode on non-binary identities. Everyone brought things they thought were really important to add to the conversation. At least three episodes were focused on Second Opinions writers for Everyone Is Gay. Lauren Lubin and Tyler Ford both had episodes on non-binary identities.
I think an episode on mental health would be really, really amazing. Getting someone to speak to the specifics of mental health within queer and trans communities. We have a really powerful episode on religion and sexuality, but it's really focused on Christianity, so an episode centered on another religion would be really important.
We had a trans woman of color and a non-binary person of color, but we didn't really do an episode on the heightened risk that trans women of color walk around with every day. We also didn't do an episode on LGBTQ homelessness.
What has the reaction been from viewers of First Person?
Our very first episode was placed on the YouTube homepage and got hundreds of thousands of views. That was really incredible - that episode reached beyond the scope of the LGBTQ community. That was very impactful. There have been so many LGBTQ people who have said, “Wow I thought that I knew about _____.” We all need to know that we never know everything. Hosting First Person cracked my mind open on non-monogamy and disability in ways I hadn't thought about previously.
What do you and Danielle have going on as far as current and upcoming projects?
Down the pipeline, both of us are really focusing on other projects in addition to Everyone Is Gay. Something that I feel very strong about is that we work toward gathering a compendium of advice on the website - getting it to a place where it's more accessible to new people who come across it. Building out Second Opinions is also really important to me, and on The Parents Project, I’d also like to build out more resources for teachers.
How do you decide where to go with Everyone Is Gay and the other projects?
We listen to whatever the people are saying. Our readers kind of tell us what they like and what they need.
Tell me about your Second Opinions column. What kind of writers are involved?
We've had so many wonderful contributors. Kai Davis, a beautiful spoken word poet, wrote on intersections of race and sexuality. Brittany, who is non-monogamous, has written on nonmongamy and body positivity. All of those writers are volunteer writers. Our writers write because they care.