Controversial sex columnist returns to UAA

Matt Sullivan

He's the editorial director for the Seattle-based weekly paper The Stranger, but more people are familiar with Dan Savage through "Savage Love," his widely syndicated sex and relationship advice column.

The controversial columnist has both a devoted following and vocal critics. Some readers find him frank, honest and funny; some find him raunchy. The Anchorage Press opted to stop running "Savage Love" in late 2010, partly due to the graphic degree to which Savage addresses sexual matters. Occasional letters to the editor in the paper have opined on the column's absence ever since.

Savage also speaks regularly on college campuses, and he will present "Savage Love Live" for the third time at the University of Alaska Anchorage as part of the school's Healthy Sexuality Week. Attendees can submit questions that Savage will then answer on stage, with no subject off limits.

Before speaking to a sold-out Wendy Williamson Auditorium two years ago, Savage explained what he expects in the questions at these events.

"What I don't want is questions that people can Google for themselves," he said. "People read advice columns for the real-life problems and scenarios, for the hypothetical situations that are hypothetical to them at the time, but the advice may be of use later on when they encounter a similar situation."

Also a fierce equal-rights advocate for homosexuals and transgender individuals, Savage and husband Terry Miller launched the Internet-based video project "It Gets Better," an effort to stop suicide among teenagers who are bullied for being gay. Tens of thousands of participants, including President Barack Obama, have contributed videos to the project.

Since he began doling out advice in 1991, Savage has regularly butted heads with social conservatives, but his national profile probably hasn't been more prominent than it is now. That's because the columnist picked a fight in 2003 with Rick Santorum, who at the time was a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

After the Supreme Court ruled against an anti-sodomy law, Santorum said that the judgment opened the door for polygamy and incest. Savage and many of his readers took exception with the statement and organized an Internet campaign to define the word "santorum" as "a sex act that would make his big, white teeth fall out of his big, empty head."

Nine years later, Santorum is a final-four candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and Savage's "santorum" definition is still the top search result on Google, Bing and Yahoo.

(If you don't know the definition at this point and are curious, you'll have to search for it on your own. We recommend not doing so at work.)

In a recent column, a reader asked if the Santorum episode contradicted the anti-bullying message of "It Gets Better."

Savage didn't think so, arguing that deflating a "bigot" was "not the moral equivalent" of beating up a gay teen.

That same column opened with a letter thanking Savage for waging his Web campaign. Most of the comments on The Stranger's website carry the same sentiment, but obviously not everyone agrees.

"Savage Love Live" took place at the University of North Carolina this past Thursday, and sophomore Brendan Madigan wrote a letter to the school's newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel.

"Savage has a long record of using defamatory language to accomplish his goals," he wrote. "This is not the kind of political dialogue that this University should promote."

By Matt Sullivan
Anchorage Daily News