Reading the rainbow

Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo, founders of the lighthearted LGBTQ advice site “Everyone Is Gay,” are stopping in St. Paul to promote their new book, “This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids.”

This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids authors Dannielle Owens-Reid, left, and Kristin Russo, right.

“This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids” authors Dannielle Owens-Reid, left, and Kristin Russo, right.

Robert Larson

In 2010, Dannielle Owens-Reid founded the blog Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber for no special reason other than pure silliness. Some people weren’t so keen on the idea.

“I was getting all these negative comments from people within the community saying that I was contributing to a negative conversation surrounding lesbians, and that obviously wasn’t the point of the website,” Owens-Reid said.

Owens-Reid shared her site and its criticism with Kristin Russo one afternoon in New York City’s Union Square Park. The two had recently become acquainted at a New Year’s party through a mutual friend, and they immediately connected over their shared concern with LGBTQ issues.

“Kristin, who I had just met, just happened to start talking about [Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber] and said ‘I’d love to respond to some of these people,’” Owens-Reid said. “She was on her way to getting her master’s in gender studies so she had much smarter things to say than I did.”

That was the first conversation the two had. Within a few weeks, their talks led them to start an advice website called Everyone is Gay.

The duo’s comedic chemistry and thoughtful honesty soon gathered a following.

“We did just start to be sassy on the Internet. Then someone was like, ‘I want to come out to my parents, but I’m scared,’” Owens-Reid said. “We had to answer that, so we answered it in a much more lighthearted way than a lot of people do. I think that was refreshing to the very small audience that we had at the time.”

Owens-Reid and Russo use humor to broach sensitive issues about gender and sexuality.

“When you go through something difficult, it doesn’t mean you can’t laugh,” Russo said. “My mom was really sick 10 years ago, in intensive care. My aunt and I had a miscommunication about a button in the elevator that said ‘OR’ for operating room, but we thought it meant like, three ‘or’ four. And we laughed in a way that we wouldn’t have if we weren’t in intensive care, but we needed it. We needed to experience an emotion that wasn’t sadness.”

In response to the wave of suicides in LGBTQ youth in 2010, Owens-Reid and Russo asked their readers what they could do to address the problem of bullying of LGBTQ youth.

Overwhelmingly, they asked Owens-Reid and Russo to come talk at their schools.

“In the fall of 2011 we went on our first tour, and since then the work has taken over our lives,” Owens-Reid said. “I don’t think we could honestly be like, ‘We’re gonna stop helping now.’ We’re both very fortunate that it keeps working out.”

Three years later, Owens-Reid and Russo traveled the country several times over to speak at schools and to continue developing their message.

“Most of the work we do outside of [Everyone Is Gay] is about how to change the world without being a full-time activist,” Russo said. “When we paint the picture that either you can be a change-maker or not it’s intimidating to a lot of young people. But when you tell people that being kind to the person next to you is a monumental act of change, it really registers with them.”

Their newest project is called The Parents Project, which has culminated in their book “This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids.” Their book tour will take them to St. Paul’s Macalester College Tuesday night.

“The Parents Project has become somewhat of a hub for parents of LGBTQ youth to seek advice,” Owens-Reid said. “We don’t do a lot of the answering. We have experts and parents and youth answer.”

Since Owens-Reid and Russo have raised their public profile, they’ve faced criticism of their work from both sides of the issue.

“The worst thing that can happen is feeling like you shouldn’t talk anymore. Dannielle and I constantly remind ourselves that we have to keep trying,” Russo said. “People are going to get things wrong. If you’re not brave enough to stumble, trip and get back up again, you’re not going to make the changes you want to make.”

 

What: This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Macalester College, 1600 Grand Ave., St. Paul

 

Cost: Free