As many as 100 high school students walked out of a national journalism conference after an anti-bullying speaker began cursing, attacked the Bible and reportedly called those who refused to listen to his rant “pansy assed.”
The speaker was Dan Savage, founder of the “It Gets Better” project, an anti-bullying campaign that has reached more than 40 million viewers with contributors ranging from President Obama to Hollywood stars. Savage also writes a sex advice column called “Savage Love.”
Savage, and his husband, were also guests at the White House for President Obama’s 2011 LGBT Pride Month reception. He was also invited to a White House anti-bullying conference.
Savage was supposed to be delivering a speech about anti-bullying at the National High School Journalism Conference sponsored by the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association. But it turned into an episode of Christian-bashing.
Rick Tuttle, the journalism advisor for Sutter Union High School in California, was among several thousand people in the audience. He said they thought the speech was one thing – but it turned into something else.
“I thought this would be about anti-bullying,” Tuttle told Fox news. “It turned into a pointed attack on Christian beliefs.”
Tuttle said a number of his students were offended by Savage’s remarks – and some decided to leave the auditorium.
“It became hostile,” he said. “It felt hostile as we were sitting in the audience – especially towards Christians who espouse beliefs that he was literally taking on.”
Tuttle said the speech was laced with vulgarities and “sexual innuendo not appropriate for this age group.” At one point, he said Savage told the teenagers about how good his partner looked in a speedo.
The conservative website CitizenLink was the first to report about the controversy. They interviewed a 17-year-old girl who was one of students who walked out of the auditorium.
“The first thing he told the audience was, ‘I hope you’re all using birth control,’” she told CitizenLink. “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 (expletive deleted) in the Bible.”
As the teenagers were walking out, Tuttle said that Savage heckled them and called them pansy-assed.
“You can tell the Bible guys in the hall they can come back now because I’m done beating up the Bible,” Savage said as other students hollered and cheered. “It’s funny as someone who is on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible how pansy-assed people react when you push back.”
The executive director of the National Scholastic Press Association provided Fox News with joint statement from the Journalism Education Association that was sent to members – after a number of people complained about Savage’s remarks.
“We appreciate the level of thoughtfulness and deliberation regarding Dan Savage’s keynote address,” the NSPA wrote. “some audience members who felt hurt by his words and tone decided to leave in the middle of his speech, and to this, we want to make our point very clear: While as a journalist it’s important to be able to listen to speech that offends you, these students and advisers had simply reached their tolerance level for what they were willing to hear.”
The NSPA said they did not have a prior transcript of Savage’s speech and that wish “he had stayed more on target for the audience of teen journalists.” They also said it provided a “teachable moment” for students.
As for Savage’s attack on people of faith?
“While some of his earlier comments were so strongly worded that they shook some of our audience members, it is never the intent of JEA or NSPA to let students get hurt during their time at our conventions,” they wrote.
However, not once did the NSPA or the JEA offer any apologies to the students or faculty advisors or anyone else in attendance.
Savage did offer a sarcastic apology “if I hurt anyone’s feelings.”
“But I have a right to defend myself and to point out the hypocrisy of people who justify anti-gay bigotry by pointing to the Bible and insisting we must live by the code of Leviticus on this one issue and no other.”
Tuttle said that he “felt duped” by the event. “There were Christian schools who went to the conference. To have this happen was disappointing and shocking.”
The NSPA said they should have done a better job preparing schools for what to expect.
For his part, Tuttle said that he will definitely be more cautious about the speakers at future conventions.Tuttle related how Savage told students that for a number of years he was not allowed in schools. He told the students that because it’s gained national acceptance “he’s reveling in the fact that it’s basically a middle finger to all those teachers and administrators who wouldn’t let him have access to those students before.”
But for some of Tuttle’s students – they felt like the anti-bullying activist was in fact – the bully.