The Background: Savage was invited to deliver the keynote address during the National High School Journalism Conference sponsored by the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association. Instead of giving the expected talk about bullying, CitizenLink notes, the students got "an earful about birth control, sex, and Savage's opinions on the Bible."
"The first thing he told the audience was, 'I hope you're all using birth control,'" a student told CitizenLink. "He said there are people using the Bible as an excuse for gay bullying, because it says in Leviticus and Romans that being gay is wrong. Right after that, he said we can ignore all the (expletive deleted) in the Bible." In the video of the incident, Salvage heckles the teenagers who walked out of his rant.
Why It Matters: Despite being an "anti-bullying activist," Savage has a reputation for being a reprehensible bully who uses some of most disgusting tactics imaginable against people he hates. In 2001, during the Republican primary in 2000, Savage traveled to Iowa and became a campaign volunteer for Gary Bauer. During the trip, Savage became sick---"I had the flu in a big way"---and decided to use his illness as a bioweapon against Bauer and his staff. He boasts that he,
. . . started licking doorknobs. The front door, office doors, even a bathroom door. When that was done, I started in on the staplers, phones and computer keyboards. Then I stood in the kitchen and licked the rims of all the clean coffee cups drying in the rack.
Unfortunately, that is not the worst of Savage's dirty tricks against his ideological enemies. You would quite literally retch if I were to describe the details of his crusade against former Senator Rick Santorum.
Despite his long history of despicable behavior and an embarrassing ignorance of human sexuality, Savage has managed to syndicate his sex-advice column internationally and build a readership of millions.
In 2010, he garnered widespread acclaim for his "It Gets Better" campaign, an effort to prevent suicide among gay youth by having LGBT adults convey the message that the lives of these teens will eventually improve if they embrace their sexuality. The effort has been supported by dozens of influential politicians (Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton), celebrities (Justin Bieber, Tom Hanks) and corporations (Google, Apple). The message is a worthy one---no young person should be bullied, much less be driven to suicidal angst over it---but the inescapable fact is that for those who follow Savage's advice, heterosexual or homosexual, it won't "get better."
"Our bodies are our own," he has said, "they're ours to use, abuse, and since we're all going to die one day, they're ours to use up." Savage's message to teens and young adults is that before they end their lives they need first to experience diseases, divorces, and drug overdoses. Your bodies are still young and supple, he implies, it would be a waste to shuffle off this mortal coil before you have a chance to trash it.
What is most depressing is not Savage's message---that is standard hedonist propaganda---but rather the respect he is given despite being an amoral cretin. Savage is no longer just a guy who writes for the weekly tabloids. Now he's taken seriously by political leaders, business executives, actors, and pastors. His influence extends from Hollywood to the White House.
What message is it sending young people when the chief executive of the most powerful nation on earth endorses a man who believes that men and woman should not be expected to be monogamous---even when they are married?
Many of these same politicians and pastors wouldn't want their sons or daughters to date someone influenced by Savage. Yet they seem to be unconcerned about other people's children, who will be affected by their tacit endorsement of Savage's ethics.
Perhaps the best counter to Savage's message is Savage's own life. He is a symbol of what happens when vice is embraced and virtue is abandoned. Rather than maturing into a happy, healthy, well-adjusted adult, he's devolved into a man so filled with hate that he'll bully teenagers and lick doorknobs to spite his enemies.
Savage's counsel of hedonistic sex speaks of hope but leads only to despair. We must counter it with the Gospel truth about love and fidelity. We need to send a message of true hope to the young people of America: When you seek Christ-like virtue, it really does get better.
[Note: Parts of this post have been adapted from my article, "The Doorknob Chronicles of Dan Savage."]