U.S. Rep. Don Young said he was just trying to educate high school students when he used an obscenity to refer to anal sex while denouncing government funding of the arts.
Young, Alaska's lone congressman for 22 years and a former teacher, told the auditorium full of 15- through 18-year-olds that the federal government has funded "photographs of things that are absolutely ridiculous" and "photographs of people doing offensive things."
When students asked which pictures he was talking about, Young said, "butt f------.... You think that's art?"
At West Valley High School, his words Friday had the roughly 150 students laughing or grumbling.
Later, Young told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that he thought his comments would have lacked impact if he had used different words. "I was a teacher. I was trying to educate," he said.
He apparently was referring to the Cincinnati exhibit in 1990 of homoerotic photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe.
Reaction to the exhibit, partly funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, caused artists and grant foundations nationwide to re-examine funding rules and censorship issues.
Young had been invited by a student government class to talk about the GOP's Contract with America. As the meeting closed, Young addressed students who might have been offended. "I don't apologize. You're all adults, and if you have to ask the questions, I'm going to answer," the Republican said.
Teachers and administrators called Young's language inappropriate. Some students were disappointed. "He's supposed to be setting an example," said junior Lesley Taylor, 17.
CUT OFF HIS FUNDING
Letter to the Editor
I am writing this letter with regards to Rep. Don Young's visit to West Valley High School on April 21. He was there to simply answer any questions that students had, but when a student inquired about his stand on funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, he began referring to "the picture" and when students asked what "the picture" was, he answered that it was a picture of two men "B--- F------".
Not only did he use obscene language, but also inferred that this was the only type of art that the NEA supported. He obviously did not understand that art includes music, dance, painting, sculpting, pottery, photography, etc. He further insulted West Valley students and high school students around the state by saying that he chose that particular phrase because it was the only way he felt that high school students could relate to this issue.
Immediately after he said it, he outright refused to apologize for his actions and language. He knew that his response to this question was inappropriate, but Don Young lacked the maturity and intelligence to admit his wrongdoing. I found it to be extremely ironic that, in his feeble attempt to condemn government funding for obscene material, he was acting and speaking in an obscene manner (maybe the government should cut off his funding).
I would also like to point out that had any student used this type of language, he or she would have been suspended, at the very least. As Alaska's lone representative to the U.S. House of Representatives, his attitude and demeanor were well beyond inappropriate. As a leader, representative, and role model, he has a responsibility that appears to be beyond his capabilities.
His behavior and word choice were rude and repulsive, especially for the high school environment. His conceitedness and immaturity shined through, and his visit to West Valley definitely caused me, and numerous other students, to question whether Don Young has the capability to represent Alaska at the national level.
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