Editor’s note: This story contains graphic language.
A group of high school journalism students attending a conference called “Journalism on the Edge” in Seattle over the weekend felt they were pushed over the edge by syndicated sex advice columnist Dan Savage.
Savage, the creator of the two-year-old It Gets Better Project, which encourages teens struggling with same-sex attractions to embrace homosexuality, was invited to give a keynote address last Friday at the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention.
Students were expecting him to talk about bullying. But they also got an earful about birth control, sex, and Savage’s opinions on the Bible.
A 17-year-old from California who was attending with half a dozen other students from her high school yearbook staff, was one of several students to walk out in the middle of Savage’s speech.
“The first thing he told the audience was, ‘I hope you’re all using birth control!’ ” she recalled. Then “he said there are people using the Bible as an excuse for gay bullying, because it says in Leviticus and Romans that being gay is wrong. Right after that, he said we can ignore all the ‘B.S.’ in the Bible.
“I was thinking, ‘This is not going a good direction at all,’ Then he started going off about the Bible. He said somehow the Bible was pro-slavery. I’m really shy. I’m not really someone to, like, stir up anything. But all of a sudden I just blurted out, ‘That’s bull!’ ”
As she and several other students walked out of the auditorium, Savage noticed them leaving and called them “pansies.”
Though recordings of the keynote speech are unavailable, Savage has made similar comments in the past, which can be found on YouTube. Among them:
“Most people that you wind up arguing with about religion and homosexuality have not ever read the Bible without their, you know, moron glasses on.”
“If you believe it is the divinely inspired word of God, if you believe in the literal truth of the Bible, I challenge you to read the first five (expletive) pages. There are two creation myths in Genesis.”
“We ignore the (expletive) in the Bible about race, about slavery, and we’re going to have to get there for homosexuality.”
The student’s father is a public school teacher. Though he said Savage’s comments were inappropriate, he thinks the organizers of the conference are ultimately responsible.
“I’m well-versed in the rules of the game, the captive-audience ethic,” he said. “You have a bunch of kids. They’re required to go to school. They don’t have the option of walking out on you as a teacher, so you guard your speech.
“If Dan Savage was a teacher, they’d suspend him without pay for this behavior,” he added. “He didn’t take account of who his audience was. If he was doing this with a bunch of college journalism kids, that would be a different story — that’s more rough and tumble. 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.”
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