Republican congressman Don Young made a series of bizarre and incendiary remarks at an Alaska high school on Tuesday, according to witness reports who called the representative's comments "hurtful." During the event, which was not taped, Young spoke for 15 minutes and then participated in a 45-minute question-and-answer session, when he made disparaging comments about same-sex marriage and suicide, the Alaska Dispatch News reports.
According to the Dispatch News, one of the school's students took his own life last week, making the congressman's thoughts on suicide particularly offensive to several event attendees. Wasilla High School principal Amy Spargo told the paper that Young called suicide the result of a "lack of support from friends and family," prompting one student -- a friend of the recently deceased -- to respond verbally.
“The kid said, ‘It’s depression -- you know, a mental illness,'" Spargo said. Young reportedly replied, "Well, what, do you just go to the doctor and get diagnosed with suicide?"
"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 added. "It just isn't true in these situations. It's just such a hurtful thing to say."
Young also took on the issue of same-sex marriage, interspersing his comments with profanity (according to the Dispatch News, the words "asshole" and "smartass" were tossed around quite a bit). When Wasilla junior Zachary Grier asked the congressman, "Why is [same-sex marriage] so bad in your eyes," Young made a strange allusion to bull copulation.
“'You can’t have marriage with two men,'" Spargo recalled Young saying. "'What do you get with two bulls?'” Reports say he went on to reference "bullshazzle" and more familiar obscenities for LGBT people.
Grier told the Dispatch News he decided to ask the congressman about the issue after he read a report of Young threatening Democratic opponent Forrest Dunbar before a debate, when Dunbar lightly touched Young's arm to ask a question. According to the Huffington Post, Young "snarled" at Dunbar, "Don't you ever touch me. Don't ever touch me. The last guy who touched me ended up on the ground dead."
Young has not remained silent about the Wasilla event. Matt Shuckerow, a spokesperson for the 81-year-old representative, issued a statement on Tuesday evening, calling Young's responses to questions "serious and honest":
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.
Principal Spargo, who cut the event short following Young's comments on same-sex couples, told the Dispatch News she plans to hold a staff meeting on Wednesday to determine a strategy for addressing the congressman's remarks about suicide.