Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) engaged in what will surely be a memorable question-and-answer session with students and faculty at a Wasilla, Alaska high school on Tuesday, using profane language and making highly insensitive remarks during the hour-long event, according to several witness reports.
Young, according to accounts from school officials, spoke for 15 minutes and then took questions for 45 minutes, during which time he struck students with his remarks on suicide and gay marriage, Alaska Dispatch News reports. The appearance was not a campaign event, and was not taped.
According to Alaska Dispatch News, one of the school's students took his own life last Thursday. Teacher Carla Swick posed a question on the state's high suicide and domestic violence rates to the representative. Young began to say suicide resulted from a "lack of support from family" and friends, said Wasilla Principal Amy Spargo.
"I felt the oxygen go out of the room, but I gasped as well," Spargo told Alaska Dispatch News. "It just isn't true in these situations. It's just such a hurtful thing to say."
The principal said another student, who was a friend of the deceased, called out to Young saying, "He had friends. He had support. ... It’s depression -- you know, a mental illness."
Spargo remembered Young replying, "Well, what, do you just go to the doctor and get diagnosed with suicide?"
Young spokesman Matt Shuckerow responded to the reports in an emailed statement to Alaska Dispatch News, saying the congressman should have been "more sensitive" in light of the recent suicide.
“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,” Shuckerow said. “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.”
Multiple witnesses said Young repeatedly used profane language throughout the address. Later in the assembly, another student asked Young to speak to his stance on gay marriage.
“I asked why is it so bad in your eyes?” Wasilla junior Zachary Grier told Alaska Dispatch News.
According to Spargo, Young replied, “You can’t have marriage with two men. What do you get with two bulls?”
Young has developed a reputation for having a temper in recent months. In August, video surfaced of the congressman aggressively grabbing the arm of a staffer who was reportedly trying to block him from entering a hearing room. Earlier in October, Young was said to have had a nasty confrontation with Democratic challenger Forrest Dunbar just before a debate, when Dunbar lightly touched his arm while asking him a question.
"He kind of snarled at me and said, 'Don't you ever touch me. Don't ever touch me. The last guy who touched me ended up on the ground dead,'" Dunbar recalled.
Read more on Young's latest comments at the Alaska Dispatch News.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly described Young's home state. He represents Alaska's at-large congressional district, not Arkansas.