Rather than hold a town hall during the Congressional Recess, Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) played it safe by taking questions from students at Greybull High School. The decision, however, did not prevent him from saying something horrible. (Recording below.)
Near the end of the 40-minute session, Sophomore Bailee Foster posed a thoughtful question of her four-term Senator.
“What work are you and your comrades doing to improve the lives of LGBT youth in our community in Wyoming?” Foster asked. “How do you plan to help Wyoming live up to its name as ‘The Equality State?'”
Enzi offered nothing he could do for LGBT youth in the state where 18-year-old Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered by his peers less than two decades ago. No, for the teenagers of this community, in which emotional scars remain raw, the Senator offered a personal anecdote.
“I know a guy that wears a tutu and goes to bars on Friday night, and it always surprises him that he gets in fights. Well, he kind of asks for it a little bit,” Enzi told Foster and her peers. “But, uh, that’s, that’s the way he winds up with that kind of a problem.”
To a teenager expressing genuine concern for a vulnerable population, Enzi’s blame-the-victim anecdote seems on its face to not be merely an insensitive slip of the tongue but flagrantly antagonistic.
Not so, insist Enzi, who explained in an email that his answer “was intended specifically to be about promoting respect and tolerance toward each other.”
The non-apology apology went on to say that he regrets his “poor choice of words,” and added, “None of us is infallible and I apologize to anyone who has taken offense.”
Joe Barbuto, Chair of the Wyoming Democratic Party, was not swayed by Enzi’s excuses. “Senator Enzi’s comment was not just inappropriate, it was ugly and indicative of a kind of backwards thinking that has no place in today’s society,” he said. “It only makes matters worse that his remark was made to a group of young students.”
“Let me be clear: no one deserves or is asking to be punished for simply being who they are. The Senator should already know that,” the Democratic leader added.
Enzi’s spokesman suggested that Democrats are overreacting. “This is a hot-button issue and emotions can run high, but no one should take his remarks out of context or misconstrue them to mean anything but advocacy of kindness toward our fellow citizens,” read an email from the Senator’s office.
What Enzi and his staff fail to grasp is that these comments, along with his continued apathy to the struggles of people not like him, are more than just offending people. They cause actual harm. Statements suggesting that people who are different deserve to be beaten, or even picked on, condone the bullying that has long plagued the lives of millions of Americans.
That being said, if Enzi feels his comments were not as shameful as they appeared and were simply taken out of context, we should all have the opportunity to hear the exchange in its entirety.
The recording is below, followed by a transcript. Upon further review, maybe Enzi will be moved to withdraw his apology over word choice. We would all be better served if he sincerely apologized for disrespecting a concerned teenager and callously condoning bullying in a school.
“There are a lot of problems that really don’t have a federal, one-size-fits-all solution. That’s what we do is one-size-fits-all solutions. Most of the things that have to do with equality, and Wyoming is the ‘The Equality State.’ We allowed women to vote almost 50 years before the rest of the women in the United States got to vote. And there are different explanations for how that happened, but, uh, um.
Everything can’t be done by law, and that’s one of the problems we have in this country, thinking that we can solve everything with a law. What we need to have is a little civility between people. And we always say that in Wyoming you can be just about anything you want to be, as long as you don’t push it in somebody’s face.
“I know a guy that wears a tutu and goes to bars on Friday night, and it always surprises him that he gets in fights. Well, he kind of asks for it a little bit, but uh. That’s, that’s the way he winds up with that kind of a problem.
“I’d be interested in any solutions that you have for how we can make that all work better. Again, everything can’t be done by law, but there are other things that can be done too.
“The biggest thing that we need is civility.”
Sheila Norton is a writer with ten years of Capitol Hill experience. Subscribe to the OD Action email to get all the hottest news delivered right to your inbox every day at www.odaction.com