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U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has apologized for homophobic comments he made which seemed to imply that violence against gay or gender-nonconforming individuals was acceptable.
Enzi made the comments at while speaking to a group of students at Greybull High School in Greybull, Wyo., on April 20. One of the students asked Enzi about what he was doing in Congress to support the LGBTQ community. Enzi, who has a long record of opposing LGBTQ rights, told the students that it was better to learn how to tolerate one another rather than relying on the federal government to enforce pro-LGBTQ legislation passed by Congress.
According to the Greybull Standard, in the course of that discussion, Enzi told the students “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 who wears a tutu and goes to bars on Friday night and is always surprised that he gets in fights. Well, he kind of asks for it,” Enzi said. “That’s the way that he winds up with that kind of problem.”
Enzi’s remarks sparked controversy and condemnation from LGBTQ advocates, who saw the comments as not only insensitive but as condoning anti-gay or anti-trans violence.
“Sen. Enzi’s comments are exactly the kind of hateful remarks we are working against in Wyoming and beyond,” the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which is named after one of Wyoming’s most well-known victims of anti-gay violence, said in a statement responding to Enzi’s comments.
“To tell a person that they are ‘asking for it’ is the same kind of harmful rhetoric people use to disqualify the claims of sexual assault victims. It’s the same kind of rhetoric that keeps up to 61% of hate crime victims from reporting because they are afraid of not being believes while also having to be fearful of being re-victimized by those in power, who should be defending their rights.”
Enzi later apologized, releasing his own statement clarifying his remarks were meant to encourage mutual tolerance and respect for people who are different. He said he did not mean to offend anyone with his remarks, and that he regretted his words.
“I believe all individuals should be treated with respect. I do not believe that anyone should be bullied, intimidated or attacked because of their beliefs,” the senator said. “Wyoming’s population is made so great by its mixture — and tolerance — of differing value and belief systems. Our live and let live approach is one of the great aspects of our state.
“It is important that our students learn that the importance of respecting all people and how it is incumbent on those in the communities we live in to treat others as you would want to be treated,” Enzi added. “It is such a simple lesson — it is never permissible to hurt another. Hatred in any form is destructive to the very foundation upon which our society is built. No person, including LGBT individuals, should feel unsafe in their community.”
Wyoming Equality issued a release thanking Enzi for his swift apology.
“Senator Enzi took the time to personally call our office and apologize for his remarks. We think Wyoming is unique in our ability to sit down and speak to one another and find common sense solutions,” Sara Burlingame, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement. “We look forward to sitting down to a meal with Senator Enzi and transgender students when he returns to the state. Together, we can meaningfully address bullying and represent the values Wyoming should be known for: our fairness and live-and-let-live lifestyle.”