Alaska's lone congressman Don Young, the House of Representatives' longest serving Republican member, made comments recently at a Wasilla, Alaska high school that have been labeled 'hurtful' by the school's principal Amy Spargo. Alaska Dispatch News reports that many present at the assembly where Young spoke to students found Young's comments on suicide and gay marriage to be both offensive and disrespectful.
Young was asked by teacher Carl Swick about Alaska's high rates of suicide and domestic violence and what particularly he is doing to curb these trends. Young began talking about the role of alcohol and depression in these instances and then, according to witnesses, commented that suicide shows a lack of support from friends and family:
"When I heard 'a lack of support from family' and I heard 'a lack of support from friends,' I felt the oxygen go out of the room, but I gasped as well," Spargo said. "It just isn't true in these situations. It's just such a hurtful thing to say."
Both Spargo and Swick say a friend of the victim, moved by emotion, shouted at Young, “He had friends. He had support.”
“The kid said, ‘It’s depression — you know, a mental illness,' ” Spargo recalled. As she remembers, Young replied, “ ‘Well, what, do you just go to the doctor and get diagnosed with suicide?’ ”
At some point during the exchange, several school staffers say, the congressman also used either the words "—hole” or “smartass.”
Young’s office issued a statement about his conduct Tuesday evening in response to a request from Alaska Dispatch News.
“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,” spokesman Matt Shuckerow wrote in an email. “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.”
Later in the assembly, student Zachary Grier asked Young about his position on same-sex marriage:
“I asked why is it so bad in your eyes?” Grier said.
As Spargo described it, Young answered, “You can’t have marriage with two men. What do you get with two bulls?”
Witnesses say Young then said something about a lot of "bullshazzle" or some word resembling the more familiar obscenity.
“At that point I was heading for the microphone," the principal said. "It was time to be done.” The hour was up, she said, and the tone of the discussion was getting argumentative.
Afterwards, Young spoke with Spargo on his way out and, according to Spargo, said of the student who spoke up about their friend who had recently comitted suicide, "That boy needs to learn some respect."