Rep. Don Young's Comments On Suicide At Alaska's Wasilla High School Were Disgraceful
People can be pretty callous sometimes. And sometimes those people are in positions of considerable power and influence, a lesson students and faculty at Wasilla High School in Alaska apparently learned Tuesday. Republican Rep. Don Young showed up at the school, where a student committed suicide last week, and Young's attempt to address the tragedy did not go over well. According to a report by the Alaska Dispatch News' Zaz Hollander, Young's comments on suicide and same-sex marriage offended many of the assembled students and teachers, and when you hear what he said, it's not hard to understand why.
Young, 81, is part of the elder guard of the Congressional GOP, having served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1973. He has something of a reputation for bluntness, and a testy disposition, as detailed by the Huffington Post's Ashley Alman — Young's Democratic challenger in the upcoming midterm elections, Forrest Dunbar, accused the 22-term congressman of angrily telling him "Don't ever touch me, the last guy who touched me ended up on the ground dead" before a debate in early October. He's also been caught using a racial slur to refer to Latinos before.
Basically, it wouldn't be the most shocking thing in the world to learn that Young has a little problem with bigotry, or an inflated sense of his own values.
There's no video of the event. But after stating that he believed drug use and depression contributed to suicide, Young apparently claimed that suicide was a sign of 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. It just isn't true in these situations. It's just such a hurtful thing to say.
When a friend of the suicide victim spoke up to challenge Young's commentary, insisting the deceased teen did have friends and support, the congressman's response was allegedly no better. When the student yelled out that "It’s depression — you know, a mental illness," Swick says Young replied with "Well, what, do you just go to the doctor and get diagnosed with suicide?"
Given that uncomfortable anecdote, you may not be shocked to learn that a question about same-sex marriage didn't go over well either. When one student asked Don Young why he was so opposed to marriage equality, Young allegedly offered a bizarre, inappropriate, and thoroughly inane reply.
You can’t have marriage with two men. What do you get with two bulls?
Young's campaign has downplayed the reports. In an email, spokesperson Matt Shuckerow offered a statement:
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.
Quite a mouthful, huh? For what it's worth, Wasilla principal Amy Spargo has a simpler and more straightforward message she wants to get out there, according to the Alaska Dispatch News — to let her students know that Young was wrong. "What I really want to do is just reinforce to the students that suicide is not a function of a lack of support," she said.