Seattle, Wash., Mar 12, 2015 / 01:31 am
Dan Savage coordinates an annual pornography festival. He has made obscene tirades about Pope Benedict XVI, denigrated the practice of monogamy, insulted high school students and publicly harassed politicians he opposes.
Now, dissenting Catholic group Dignity USA has invited the explicit sex columnist as a keynote speaker to its biennial convention in Seattle this June.
Dignity USA executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke called Savage “an important, provocative, and sometimes controversial figure in the LGBT community and the broader culture.” She told CNA that he would speak on how his Catholic roots have influenced his advocacy and his actions.
Savage is known for both his shock-factor style and outspoken criticism of the Catholic Church.
In a 2012 event at the chapel of the United Church of Christ-affiliated Elmhurst College near Chicago, he suggested Benedict XVI was secretly gay and claimed the Pope believed that legal recognition of same-sex “marriage” will make people forget how babies are conceived and cause humanity to go extinct.
Savage has claimed that expecting monogamy from men is a “mistake” and “a disaster for marriage.” In 2011, he told the New York Times Magazine that he practices a “monogamish” relationship with his male partner in a same-sex “marriage” that allows for infidelity.
The columnist berated Christian students who walked out on his speech at the National High School Journalist Conference in Seattle in April 2012. During his talk, he also attacked biblical condemnations of homosexual acts.
In a November 2013 appearance on an Australian television show dedicated to “dangerous ideas,” Savage proposed that population control has the greatest potential to change the world for the better. While professing “pro-choice” sympathies, he also said, “I think abortion should be mandatory for about 30 years…that’s a dangerous idea.”
Savage, who has described himself as an atheist and received an award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has shown a few positive responses to Catholicism. In November 2013, Savage appeared to be touched by Pope Francis' embrace of a severely disfigured man. He made the comment on Twitter “God, I love the Pope!”
Savage created the It Gets Better Project with the stated intention of reducing bullying of youth who identify as homosexual and transgendered. He has sometimes blamed Christian morality for causing teen suicide.
The Dignity USA conference website described Savage as “a writer, TV personality, and activist best known for his political and social commentary, as well as his honest approach to sex, love and relationships.” Dignity USA noted that Savage’s sex column is widely syndicated. It said Savage created his anti-bullying campaign “to inspire hope (for) young LGBT people facing harassment.”
He most recently made news for his reaction when political commentator Dr. Ben Carson stated that homosexuality is a choice and cited apparent changes in male prisoners' sexual orientation. Carson later backed away from his comments.
In response, Savage challenged Carson to prove his point by performing a homosexual act on him before a camera crew.
Savage has also drawn attention for attacks on political figures. He encouraged internet users to “google-bomb” Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s last name so that it would become associated with a graphic sexual term online.
During the 2000 Republican presidential primary campaign, Savage wrote column for The Stranger magazine describing his work posing as a volunteer for the Gary Bauer campaign while he suffered from the flu. He claimed that he went around the campaign’s Iowa office licking doorknobs, staplers, phones, computer keyboards, pens and the rims of clean coffee cups to attempt to “get as many of his people sick as I can” with the flu in revenge for Bauer’s criticism of “gay marriage.”
Duddy-Burke told CNA that Dignity USA has asked Savage “to address his views on marriage, relationships, and the impact of the It Gets Better Project.”
“We anticipate a spirited discussion with him in which diverse views will be expressed.”
The Dignity USA convention has two other keynote speakers: Father Paul Coutinho, S.J., an author and speaker who has served on the faculty of Missouri’s Saint Louis University; and Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a self-described social justice lobby.
Sr. Campbell has led the “Nuns on the Bus” advocacy campaign that has the support of the group Faith in Public Life and U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden. She also delivered a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Dignity USA rejects Church teaching on the immorality of homosexual acts and has campaigned in support of “gay marriage.” The group says that it is advocating for a change in Church teaching on homosexuality.
Dignity USA has been the beneficiary of several six-figure grants from the LGBT activist Arcus Foundation to support the Equally Blessed Coalition, which also includes the groups New Ways Ministry and Call to Action. A 2014 grant of $200,000 to the coalition through Dignity USA was intended “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates,” the foundation said on its website.
“The effort will build advocacy and visibility in connection with two special events, the Synod of the Family and World Youth Day,” the foundation explained.
The Arcus Foundation is engaged in a strategy of recruiting and promoting religious allies. Together with the Ford Foundation, it has spent at least $3 million in grants to counter efforts to preserve or expand religious liberty protections.
In a statement promoting the convention, Dignity USA's Duddy-Burke was critical of the U.S. bishops’ efforts to defend religious freedom and secure religious exemptions for Catholic charities, hospitals, and universities with conscientious objections to recognizing same-sex relationships.
Dignity USA said it would keep working to ensure that the voice of those who disagree with Church leaders “is carried to all the places it needs to be heard.”