Criticism mounts against Dan Savage address to teens

Dan Savage speaking at Illinois Wesleyan University, March 8, 2007. Credit: Erik Abderhalden (CC BY 2.0).
Dan Savage speaking at Illinois Wesleyan University, March 8, 2007. Credit: Erik Abderhalden (CC BY 2.0).

.- Gay activist and anti-bullying advocate Dan Savage continues to draw criticism despite backtracking from his insults launched against Christian students at a youth event.

“The first mistake was inviting a man who has a long history of making the most vile, disgusting and bigoted remarks. What did these people think he would do? Act civilly?” Catholic League President Bill Donohue asked May 1.

The National Scholastic Press Association and Journalism Education Association, who sponsored the “Journalism on the Edge” conference in Seattle, had invited Savage to talk to students about the power of social media as well the problem of bullying against gay young people.

Savage was one of two plenary keynote speakers at the April 13 national high school journalism conference.

“We can learn to ignore the bulls--t in the Bible about gay people – the same way we have learned to ignore the bulls--t in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation,” Savage told students.

More than 100 teens walked out of the auditorium as he continued to mock the Bible. Savage then taunted those who left, calling them “pansy-a--ed.”

In response, Donohue issued a statement Monday saying the incident reflects poorly on Savage and on the conference organizers.

“The only ones who acted admirably were the students who walked out in protest,” he said. “They showed a lot more ‘thoughtfulness’ than the adults who ran the conference.”

“Ironically, Savage’s bullying of Christian students was done in the name of protesting the bullying of homosexuals,” Donohue added. “When it comes to bullying, Savage has no peer.”

The conference sponsors initially gave no apology after complaints on Savage’s statements. They said they appreciate “the level of thoughtfulness and deliberation” on his remarks, claiming that those who objected to his talk “had simply reached their tolerance level for what they were willing to hear.”

The sponsors conceded, however, that Savage’s comments were “so strongly worded that they shook some of our audience members,” adding that they wished he had “stayed more on target” for teen journalists.

Savage initially apologized for hurting “anyone’s feelings” but claimed the right to “defend” himself and “point out the hypocrisy of people who justify anti-gay bigotry by pointing to the Bible,” Fox News reported.

But as media furor continues to grow over the incident, conference sponsors made a stronger apology on April 30, saying they consider Savage’s “harsh language and profanity” to be “inappropriate and offensive to many in attendance.”

“This is not what our organizations expected. In his attempt to denounce bullying, Mr. Savage belittled the faith of others – an action that we do not support. Ridicule of others’ faith has no place in our programs, any more than ridicule of the LGBT community would.”

The sponsors said Savage’s speech fell short of the standards of civil discourse. They also claimed that Savage had apologized for his “inappropriate language.”

On April 29, Savage said his use of the word “pansy-a--sed” was “name-calling” and “wrong,” but he also charged it was insulting to homosexuals for religious conservatives to say “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

He also reaffirmed his description of some biblical passages as “bulls--t” and his rejection of religious views against homosexuality.

Rick Tuttle, a teacher at Sutter Union High School in Southern California, told CNN that Savage’s speech “took a real dark, hostile turn.”

“It became very hostile toward Christianity, to the point that many students did walk out,” he said.

A father of one 17-year-old girl who walked out of the speech, himself a public school teacher, said that teachers have to guard their speech because students are captive audiences.

“If Dan Savage was a teacher, they’d suspend him without pay for this behavior,” he told the family advocacy organization CitizenLink.

“How many of the kids who didn’t walk out felt backed into a corner? To me, that’s bullying behavior. It has all the symptoms, as far as I’m concerned.”

Savage is the founder of the “It Gets Better” project which aims to help homosexual and transgendered youth against bullying. He has blamed Christian morality for causing teen suicide.

Many members of the Obama administration, including President Obama himself, made videos for Savage’s project.

Savage is also the author of a graphic sex advice column and led a “Google bomb” campaign to link former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum’s last name to an obscene phrase.

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