If you woke up this morning and the air felt a little chillier than usual, it might be because hell has just frozen over. Today, Perez Hilton will appear on Ellen DeGeneres's show to announce that he is changing his stripes and giving up attacking celebrities on his eponymous website, arguably the most infamous and popular entertainment blog on the Internet.
The change comes as a result of the recent wave of LGBT suicides caused by bullying in American high schools and colleges. These tragedies have deeply affected Hilton and moved him to become a driving force behind the It Gets Better viral video phenomenon. Furthermore, they've made him reevaluate his own actions, which have often been portrayed as their own kind of bullying.
We caught up with Perez as he took his dog for an early morning walk to chat about being bullied as a kid, his friendship with Lady Gaga, why he stands behind his decision to leak the Dustin Lance Black nude photos, and why even though he's losing the snark, he'll never abandon the sass.
Out: Were you bullied as a kid?
Perez Hilton: Of course I was bullied as a kid. And a lot of people ask if I began my website as a way to get revenge on those who bullied me but I don't think I was bullied any more than most kids are in middle school and high school. I was bullied just as much for being very overweight as I was for being gay and in the closet. But being bullied allowed me to find my core group of friends. Being bullied allowed me to seek out and surround myself with like-minded people. I joined the drama club. I joined the forensics team. Those were places where all the other closeted gays were hiding at the time. They didn't bully me and they didn't make me feel bad. So it wasn't all negative and it wasn't unbearable to the point where I was contemplating suicide. Although I have been that low in my life and I have suffered that kind of depression before.
Was there a specific moment from the last couple weeks that made you want make this change?
It was me not viewing myself as a bully and viewing myself as a blogger -- an entertainer -- someone who talked about adults that chose to be in the public eye and all these justifications that I kept making for myself. In trying to raise awareness and do everything I possibly could to help the issue of bullying and teen suicides, I saw that so many people were calling me a hypocrite and calling me a big bully myself. And sure, it's to be expected and OK that will be what some people think but it felt like that was what the majority of people were thinking. And if that's the case, I want to change that because that's not who I am or it's not who I want to be. So, I need to take the steps to do things differently. I can't be that which I'm criticizing in others. I can't be that which I'm denouncing in others. And there is going to be a lot of skepticism and that's OK because I deserve that. Time will tell and I've already begun this change. Like I said to Ellen -- I'm not trying to lobotomize myself. I'm still going to be sassy and critical but there's a different way I can do that. I don't have to call people names. I don't have to out people. I don't have to draw inappropriate things on them. I don't have to go for the cheap joke. I can still be critical and sassy and fun and funny and smarter and just do it in a different way that I can feel good about myself. Like I also said on Ellen -- I want to be able to go to the rallies and marches and events within our community -- like I have been and will continue to do -- but I don't want to feel like gay people are ashamed of me or embarrassed by me or thinking I'm hurting other gay people. That's not who I am. That's not my intention. I don't want to hurt other gay people. I don't want to hurt young gay kids.
One of the things that I appreciate about you is that you hold people accountable for things.
I'm still going to be critical. Absolutely.
When I think of you I think of sass or snark --
I wouldn't use the word "snark," but I'm definitely going to be sassy.
But I think that snark is a tool that gay men have developed over the years in order to put up with the terror they face. I think snark can be a tool to help gay men survive.
Maybe. But I can be that without being hurtful. I don't even think it's going to be a huge difference. Hopefully it'll be the same website. I made the change on Friday -- it's been a few days. Some people, before I made the announcement, caught on to it, but maybe a lot of people didn't even notice the change and that's a great thing. It should still feel like the same website but I'm making a concerted effort -- I'm trying. I'm doing everything I can like everyone else should be doing.
Tell me your thoughts on the It Gets Better movement.
I think it's amazing, because in situations like these you can feel so helpless. I think that that is one real tangible way to make a difference and to reach out to young kids. I lost about 200,000 followers on Twitter because I was encouraging celebrities to make videos for gay youth. They were upset that I flooded their inboxes. A week and a half ago I tweeted over 300 celebrities encouraging them to make videos. A lot of my followers on Twitter were probably following them as well so a lot of these people got close to 300 tweets from me, tweeting the same thing and that upset a lot of folks. That's OK. I would do it again because a lot of those celebrities made videos and a lot of those celebrities that I reached out to directly, who aren't even on Twitter, made videos. And if I lose traffic on my website, that's OK because it just feels right in my heart that I'm doing this.
I have a trans friend who put a status update on Facebook that said something like 'It doesn't get better unless we fight. Don't kill yourself -- kill the bullies.'
I don't believe in violence.
I don't think she really does either but I think she was trying to say something about It Gets Better not being enough and wanting to see a more militant kind of organizing in this country to help LGBT youth. Do you think there needs to be something bigger and more proactive?
Absolutely, but I think that it does get better and making a video and sending that message out to kids helps in so many ways. A young person might see that video and it might help them through difficult times. Also, it keeps the conversation going. I think that's the most important thing. Not just with young people -- talk to adults, talk to everyone about depression, bullying, being gay, being OK with being gay. The onus really is on adults and not just with each other but with children. If your son or daughter or neighbor or friend is possibly being bullied, you should talk to them about it. Because they may not call The Trevor Project. They may think that's embarrassing or lame and a lot of times these young kids just want to know they're being heard. They want to know that someone cares. And my message to them is "I care!" I care so much that I'm doing things different, because I don't want to send mixed messages. I've grown a lot as a person over the last three years. I've transformed my body -- I've lost 60 pounds -- I've moved my mom and my sister out here, and I've become a much happier person. And I've been thinking about this for a while. I've launched all these other websites, like my fashion website, CocoPerez, my fitness website, FitPerez, my animal rights activism website, TeddyHilton -- all of these websites are definitely far more positive and that was by design. And I was afraid of making that change on the main site because I have done things for so long a certain way. But this recent turn of events has forced me to make that change. I need to be the change that I want to see in others. I'm not trying to be a spokesperson for the gay community. I never will be a spokesperson for the gay community. I'm speaking out for myself and for what I think is right and for what I've done in the past.
Well, you have an incredible platform. I think that when you spoke about gay marriage at and after the Miss Universe pageant you really brought that issue to the forefront and gave it a kind of attention in the mainstream it didn't have before. Do you think of yourself as an activist?
I think of myself as someone who shines a light. I like to think of it in that way. I shine the light on celebrities behaving badly and I shine the light on those who get it right. I shine the light on causes and issues that are important to me. If that makes me an activist, then yes. But I think it's foolish to try and be a spokesperson because that will only set you up for failure. I'm not saying I'm perfect. Yes, I won't out celebrities anymore but if there's another situation like the Dustin Lance Black nude photos -- I will for sure report that. It's a different thing.
So you don't regret that at all.
Not at all. I got so much flak from the gay community for that and I found that very hypocritical. I'm not perfect and I might make mistakes and I'll probably say or do things that will upset gay people in the future. And that's OK, because I'm making a concerted effort to do things differently and be sincere about it and just be mindful of what I do and how I do it.
Talk to me a little more about outing.
Lance Bass -- I reported about his relationship with Reichen [Lehmkuhl] and was one of the first people to talk about that before he came out -- he could have committed suicide and left a suicide note and blamed me for that. Thankfully, that didn't happen. But I will continue to justify my actions. So many people from the gay community were telling me, 'That's wrong! That's wrong! That's wrong!' and I don't want to say that's wrong or right -- it's just what I'm not going to do anymore. And don't forget -- Out put Anderson Cooper and Jodie Foster on their cover.
We definitely did. And I think a huge part of the problem regarding queer kids not having role models has to do with celebrities refusing to come out.
I agree. I wholeheartedly agree. And like I said -- I'm still going to be sassy. Like, if I know someone is gay and in the closet I might just repeatedly say that person has a very pretty face [laughs]. I'm still going to be me. To me, that's still being playful and sassy. But I'm not forcing anyone to come out. I'm not outing anyone. And I don't even know that that's what I'm going to do. I'm not putting myself in a box or saying "This is what I'll do or won't do." It's all going to be case by case, post by post situation. I'm just trying to be more thoughtful.
I know that Lady Gaga is one of your best friends and she's been a huge mobilizing force for gay rights. What has she taught you?
We talked about this [move I'm making] a lot before I did it and she was a huge supporter of the decision and acknowledged how risky and big this change is for me. But she encouraged me and inspired me in so many ways. I think she and her music are saving lives. And I want to save lives, too.
What do you want to say to those who don't believe that you can make this change, that it's just some kind of publicity stunt?
Think what you want to think. Say what you want to say. I'm already making this change. I already feel relieved and inspired, and hopefully that's inspiring to other people.