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GOP Rep. Don Young tussles with students over same-sex marriage and suicide

"I felt the oxygen go out of the room," principal describes of school's reaction to Rep. Don Young's offensive remarks.

By Matt Bradwell
GOP Rep. Don Young tussles with students over same-sex marriage and suicide
Rep. Don Young, R-AK. (UPI Photo/Roger L. Wollenberg) | License Photo

WASILLA, Alaska, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Rep. Don Young, R-Ala., is dealing with the fallout of a pre-election gaffe after comparing same-sex marriage to bulls having intercourse, and telling a group of high school students a peer's recent suicide was their fault for not being supportive enough.

Speaking at Wasilla High School, the notoriously contentious 81-year-old congressman tussled with students over the issue of same-sex marriage, something he has long opposed.

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"Why is it so bad in your eyes?" asked junior Zachary Greer.

The speech was not recorded, but Principal Amy Spargo told the Alaska Dispatch News Young replied by stating, "You can't have marriage with two men," before asking the school, "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."

Earlier in the speech, when teacher Carla Swick asked what, if anything, Young's office was doing to combat Alaska's high suicide and domestic violence rate, Young told the assembly suicide "shows a lack of support from friends and family."

The Wasilla High School community was just days removed from a student's suicide.

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"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 recalled.

"It just isn't true in these situations. It's just such a hurtful thing to say."

One offended teen reportedly yelled, "He had friends. He had support. It's depression -- you know, a mental illness," to which Young snarked, "Well, what, do you just go to the doctor and get diagnosed with suicide?"

After the speech, an offended Young asked Spargo to discipline the student who yelled at him, saying, "That boy needs to learn some respect."

A statement from Young's office issued after the event said if he had known of the recent suicide he would have "taken a much more sensitive approach," and again attempted to place some of the blame on the teenager who yelled at him after most of the statements were made.

Young is running for his twenty-second term representing Alaska's At-Large congressional district against Democrat Forrest Dunbar, where he has a 15 point lead as of the latest polling.

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