It Gets Better Project creator Dan Savage has found himself in hot water after video of his April 13 keynote address to a convention of high school journalists on the power of social media and the problem of anti-bullying veering into a lecture on Christian hypocrisy went viral. Savage said people often say they can’t help with anti-gay bullying because the Bible tells them it’s wrong. “We can learn to ignore the bulls— in the Bible about gay people,” he said, “the same way we have learned to ignore the bulls— in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation. We ignore bulls— in the Bible about all sorts of things…” Some in the audience applauded, some got up and quietly walked out. Watch this segment of his speech in its entirety below (“The Bible says that if a woman isn’t a virgin on her wedding night, she shall be dragged to her father’s doorstep and stoned to death… Callista Gingrich lives,” he says).
After he brings his point home – “People are dying because people can’t clear this one last hurdle, they can’t get past this one last thing in the Bible” – he announces he’s ready to move on. “So you can tell the Bible guys in the hall that they can come back now because I’m done beating up the Bible,” he says. “It’s funny as someone who’s on the receiving ending of beatings that are justified by the Bible how pansy-assed some people react when you push back… I apologize 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.”
On April 28, GOProud – a national organization of gay and straight Americans – condemned Savage’s speech, with its Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia issuing a statement calling it an “anti-Christian tirade” and insisting, “Dan Savage should apologize for his comments and should apologize to the high school students in attendance who he called ‘pansy-asses.’ It is ironic that someone whose claim to fame is fighting bullying would resort to bullying tactics in attacking high school students who were offended by his outrageous remarks.”
On April 29, Savage issued a thorough response on the Seattle news and culture blog Slog. He apologized for use of “pansy-assed” and admitted it was name-calling.
I would like to apologize for describing that walk out as a pansy-assed move. I wasn’t calling the handful of students who left pansies (2800+ students, most of them Christian, stayed and listened), just the walk-out itself. But that’s a distinction without a difference – kinda like when religious conservatives tells their gay friends that they ‘love the sinner, hate the sin. They’re often shocked when their gay friends get upset because, hey, they were making a distinction between the person (lovable!) and the person’s actions (not so much!). But gay people feel insulted by ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ because it is insulting. Likewise, my use of ‘pansy-assed’ was insulting, it was name-calling, and it was wrong. And I apologize for saying it.
As for what he said about the Bible, he insists he wasn’t calling Christianity itself, the faith in which he was raised, “bulls—.”
I was attacking the argument that gay people must be discriminated against – and anti-bullying programs that address anti-gay bullying should be blocked (or exceptions should be made for bullying “motivated by faith”) – because it says right there in the Bible that being gay is wrong. Yet the same people who make that claim choose to ignore what the Bible has to say about a great deal else. I did not attack Christianity. I attacked hypocrisy. My remarks can only be read as an attack on all Christians if you believe that all Christians are hypocrites. Which I don’t believe.
He admits he perhaps should not have used the word “bulls—” in this forum, but stands by his point: “If believers can ignore what the Bible says about slavery, they can ignore what the Bible says about homosexuality.”
The National Scholastic Press Association and Journalism Education Association, which present the semi-annual National High School Journalism Convention, have now issued their own apology, saying in part: “Student journalism, like professional journalism, is built on the foundation of free speech. It should not shy away from controversial topics and viewpoints. But it should promote and engage in civil discourse. Mr. Savage’s speech fell short of that standard, and for this our organizations apologize.”
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, the U.S.’s largest Catholic civil rights organization, does not appear to accept either apology. In a statement issued today, he argues three mistakes were made: The NSPA and JEA inviting Savage to speak in the first place, then not immediately issuing an apology. “The third mistake,” he says, “was made by Savage himself: he tried to weasel out of this by saying that his vicious comments on the Bible are ‘being spun as an attack on Christianity.’ Next time he ought to trash the Koran and then explain to Muslims that it has nothing to do with attacking Islam.”
As for what Savage has said today, he’s just posted another blog item, “Testaments Old & New,” in which he admits his email box is ”an exciting place to visit these days” and responds to some of his critics on his interpretation of the Bible.