Congressman Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, was at Wasilla High School participating in a question-and-answer session. Young had spoken for 15 minutes, then was slated to take questions for 45 minutes. During that time, Young put his foot in his mouth more than once, leaving students and faculty alike stunned at his insensitive and crude remarks.
The whole thing initially went south when Young was asked a question about the high suicide and domestic violence rates in Alaska. A student at the high school had recently committed suicide, leaving the topic fresh and raw in students’ minds.
Young reportedly remarked that suicide is the result of a “lack of support from family” and friends.
“I felt the oxygen go out of the room, but I gasped as well,” school Principal Amy Spargo told Alaska Dispatch News. "It just isn't true in these situations. It’s just such a hurtful thing to say."
Students responded immediately, piping up to tell the congressman, “He had friends. He had support. ... It’s depression — you know, a mental illness."
Young responded by asking, “Well, what, do you just go to the doctor and get diagnosed with suicide?” He reportedly called one student who spoke up a “smartass.”
A spokesman for Young emailed a statement about his remarks.
“Congressman Young was very serious and forthright when discussing the issue of suicide, in part because of the high number of tragedies that affect Alaskan youth. He discussed what he believes are leading causes of youth suicide in our state and shared some suggestions for helping family members and friends who are dealing with suicidal thoughts. In no way did Congressman Young mean to upset anyone with his well-intentioned message. In light of the tragic events affecting the Wasilla High School community, he should have taken a much more sensitive approach.”
But the suicide remarks were not the only issue.
Alaska had banned same-sex marriage, but a court recently struck down the ban as unconstitutional. A student, Zachary Grier, stood to ask Congressman Young why he still opposed same-sex marriage. Young’s reply shocked those in attendance.
“What do you get when you have two bulls having sex?”, he asked Grier.
“I don’t know,’ Grier responded.
“A whole lot of bull,” Young punchlined.
At this point, Principal Spargo ended the session.
Zachary Grier spoke to Huffington Post about his exchange with Young at the session, as well as about the aforementioned suicide remarks.
“I was pretty upset,” Grier said. “I can understand having your own opinion, and that’s fine. But having your own opinion and coming into a room filled with high schoolers and telling them that same-sex marriage is the same as two bulls having sex — in my opinion, that’s wrong.”
Regarding the insensitive suicide remarks, Greir said, “To hear that it was because you weren’t a good friend, I mean that makes someone hurt more than just having that happen. To hear that it’s your fault after the fact is definitely a heavier blow.”
Young’s campaign sent an apology letter to Wasilla High School, but Young also said that he stood by his comments.