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Updated Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 09:59 AM

Sparks fly over Dan Savage's comments to students about Bible

By Jonathan Martin
Seattle Times staff reporter

Dan Savage, Seattle's reigning journalist provocateur, has again stumbled into the cross hairs of political conservatives, this time for a speech involving the Bible, gays and what he called a "pansy-assed" protest by high-school students.

Savage's speech, at a 3,000-student gathering of young journalists in Seattle, linked bullying of gay kids with biblical denunciations of homosexuality. Savage, noting the Bible also banned masturbation and the eating of shellfish, said, "We ignore the bullshit in the Bible about all sorts of things."

When about two dozen students, and some advisers, walked out, Savage said, "I have a right to defend myself and to point out the hypocrisy" of biblical commandments.

A short video clip of Savage's hourlong speech, delivered last month, went viral this weekend, and conference organizers Monday denounced Savage for having "belittled the faith of others."

Savage on Sunday apologized on the website of The Stranger, where he is editorial director and writes a nationally syndicated sex-advice column.

In an interview, Savage said he regretted using vulgar terms and apologized for his description of the walkout, but defended his description of the Bible.

Savage said the speech is one he has repeatedly given in promoting "It Gets Better," his hugely successful project to help gay, lesbian and transgender youths cope with bullying. The project has at least 40,000 videos — testimonials meant to offer encouragement — including one by President Obama, and an accompanying book that debuted on The New York Times best-seller list.

Savage, 47, said he asked the organizers — the National Scholastic Press Association and Journalism Education Association — if he should "moderate" the speech. "They said, 'No. Be yourself; do what you do.' "

"It wasn't like I sneaked up on a Bible study class and commandeered the podium. I'm like the devil. You have to invite me in," said Savage.

In the speech, Savage, citing Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation," said the Bible gave instructions about how to treat slaves. If the Bible erred "on the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced ... What are the odds that the Bible got something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? 100 percent," said Savage. Students are heard cheering and clapping.

After the walkout, which came after Savage made comments about the Bible, he suggested the protesting students return. "It's funny, as someone who is the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-assed some people react when you push back," Savage said.

Rick Tuttle, a journalism adviser from Sutter Union High School in Northern California, told Fox News his students walked out of what they thought would be anti-bullying talk, but "what we got was a vulgar, profanity-laced attack on Christians."

In a statement, the organizers said Savage "veered from the topic" of bullying. Student journalism "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."

Savage has a history of walking back from over-the-top political rhetoric, and apologized for sarcastically wishing in 2011 that Republicans "were all [expletive] dead" on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."

Savage said he gave the speech to the student journalists for free, got a standing ovation and signed books after the event.

He said he intended his derogatory remark to apply to the walkout, not the students themselves. "Pansies are some of my favorite people," he said.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @jmartin206.


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