When you think of Avan Jogia, you’re most likely going to picture him on the Nickelodeon series Victorious or the on the short-lived but much-beloved Battlestar Galactica spin-off Caprica. But there’s more to this Canadian heartthrob than meets the eye. Avan has been working hard to set up an initiative designed to provide support and resources for the friends of GLBT individuals – both family members and peers. The campaign, called Straight But Not Narrow, aims to deliver a message of tolerance and acceptance, and so far – thanks primarily to PSAs featuring Avan and his friends Josh Hutcherson (from The Kids Are Alright) and Matt Bennett (his Victorious co-star), it’s made quite an impact. Smart, funny and intensely passionate, Avan took some time to chat with us about this important initiative and what you can do to help.
Socialite Life: How did you get involved with Straight But Not Narrow?
Avan Jogia: Well, I came up with the idea – it was just kind of a concept for a charity – and I approached two of my friends, Andre (Pochon) & Heather (Wilk) (of Cause Creative Marketing) and they’ve worked with charities before and that’s what they’re good at – that’s what they’re great at – so I asked “How do I make this a reality?” And so we all started working together to make it a proper, national charity and it kind of just snowballed into this much larger thing than we intended – and it keeps growing and expanding every day.
Check out more from Avan – including his PSA – after the jump!
SL: How would you describe Straight But Not Narrow to the uninitiated?
Avan: For the uninitiated, I’d say this – I think that it’s a platform for straight people to talk about their relationships with their gay friends and family (members) – the people around them who they love and respect who are gay and how you can have people in your life who are gay who you respect and love just like everyone else. And there are people who, I guess, don’t understand that – which at first was kind of shocking to me because I grew up in a more accepting society. I grew up in Vancouver and there was a lot of gay culture and when I came here…I take that back, even in Vancouver, there were kids who were not as “on board”. But I think all over the world there’s just more acceptance. So I guess the platform (for SBNN) is a place for straight people to talk about their gay (friends and) family members because people have brothers and sisters and mothers and all kinds of people who are gay and need their support.
SL: You’re from Canada and I read that you were inspired by the Pink Shirt Day campaign in your native country. Do you think there’s more tolerance of the gay lifestyle in Canada?
Avan: I don’t know…I mean, maybe ratio-wise. We have less people than you, so it becomes easier to spread an idea. We have 30 million people in Canada and there are 32 million people in the state of California and 357 million or something in America – that’s ridiculous amounts of people. I think in the major cities for sure, but a lot of the people in Vancouver live in major cities. Most of the population of Canada live in the major cities. We have a lot of small towns, but there are maybe 1,000 people living there – (there are) not too many people in small towns. So, yeah, I think maybe there’s more (tolerance)…I can only speak exclusively of Montreal and Vancouver – I’ve never been to Toronto – but there’s a lot of tolerance in both of those cities.
SL: Would you like to see the Straight But Not Narrow campaign go international?
Avan: Actually, the funny thing about the whole thing is because it’s on the Internet, it is international. There are kids in Brazil and kids in Germany and kids in France who get these videos. In fact, kids from those three countries have watched the videos the most – and that’s really cool. Because of the technology that we have available to us, we can really spread our message to everyone.
SL: Are you happy to see the positive reaction to the campaign?
Avan: Yeah, actually…I’m not going to lie; I was actually kind of surprised, which was kind of sad for me because I wished that (when the SBNN campaign was launched) it was going to be like, “This is going to be all good. No one’s going to have anything negative to say about it.” and that’s actually what happened – which was great! I wasn’t expecting that and it’s been all positive responses and people have been really supportive. I do feel because the world is changing that we’re getting a more positive response.
SL: What’s the best thing that’s happened since you started SBNN?
Avan: Yes, totally. We’ve had some really incredible people reach out to us. We had these twins, which was a really cool thing. We’re hoping to do a video with them – they’re twins, identical twins, and one’s straight and one’s gay – and that’s just that. They could have been exactly the same person – and they are quite similar – but they just have two different orientations. I think that’s really great – and all of these cool people have reached out to us, people that I’ve kind of admired in the straight/gay support community, like (rugby player) Ben Cohen and (wrestling coach) Hudson Taylor who’s have reached out to us (read more about these “athletes with balls”). We’ve met some really cool people.
SL: So you haven’t found it difficult finding support from your friends in the entertainment industry?
Avan: No, I think that’s one of the coolest things, when you know you have something that makes sense to people is when it’s really easy to get support – and that’s how it’s been (with SBNN). None of us have been pulling teeth trying to get people to help us out. It’s been more like, “Why weren’t we helping you out earlier?”
SL: What are you hoping to achieve with this initiative?
Avan: This is going to be my overall statement about this – in 5 to 10 years, that Straight But Not Narrow is not going to be necessary. It seems ridiculous to have a gay support group, it’s folly. I used the word folly, didn’t I? (Laughs) It’s ridiculous because everyone supports their gay friends and it’s no big deal. But right now, hopefully getting into schools – it’s a big thing for us. We want to make sure we’re not just out there saying, “We suggest you do this”. We’re actually working with people in schools in order to make a difference directly and individually. (We’re) not just some celebrity campaign that’s running around being like “Yay! Videos! Problem. Pick it up, people!” That’s nice, that’s certainly a part of it because that’s an influential avenue and it is completely legitimate, but we want to make sure we work one-on-one with kids and make sure we’re working to create a better world for gay kids and the people who support them – because if you support your gay friends, you come under fire as well, which is an unfortunate reality.
SL: What is the “call to action” here? How can people best get involved and spread the word?
Avan: Well, there are a couple of things people can do. We always encourage kids to make videos. That’s really cool because they’re something functional that they can make to show their support and in doing that, the kids in their school will watch the video and then they can say, “I support this because (my friend) supports this and I think it’s a good idea.” I feel like celebrity is kind of pointless for many things, it’s kind of selfish for many reasons but the one thing that is a good thing about celebrity is the influence you have on changing the minds of younger people – and you can use that for good or bad. You can do stupid things and run around and be a menace or you can try to make sure you put some positivity into the world and these kids’ lives. So we encourage kids to make videos and to tell their friends about (SBNN). Word of mouth is a huge part of it. They can try to organize something in their school that involves Straight But Not Narrow. We’re just trying to get kids to be active in the community.
SL: What do you have planned in the immediate future as far as promoting Straight But Not Narrow – I know you were tied in with the “It Gets Indie” music festival…
Avan: Yeah, new things develop as we go along. That (festival) fell into our laps about week before we went out there. (The festival organizer, Noah Hornik) completely represents what we’re doing here – he’s 13-years-old, he’s a kid and he’s supporting his gay friends – it’s awesome. Things fall into our lap as we go along. It’s been easy to find support because it generally comes to us.
I think we’re also going to try to do some videos aimed at girls. I feel like (SBNN)’s been male-centric for a little bit but I feel like everyone wants to support their gay family members and friends and we were targeting boys because we thought it was the harder sell. They were the harder group of people to get behind us but everyone wants the opportunity to support their family and if we can give them the platform where they can do that, that’s awesome.
SL: How can supporters best get involved?
Avan: Through our website, we have a support page and a street team page – you can fill out the form and send it to us. You can also help follow us on Twitter (@WeAreSBNN) and just tweet about us to your friends. Things like this are so word-of-mouth, so that’s a very big, important part of it!