Wyoming senator Mike Enzi is receiving heat from critics for a comment he made at Greybull High School. While speaking to middle and high school students there, Enzi was asked about federal protections of LGBT people and what he has done to support Wyoming’s LGBT community.
In his response, he reportedly said that people have the right to live and let live in Wyoming, but they shouldn’t be surprised if others don’t agree. He used the example of a man wearing a tutu to a bar who keeps getting into fights, and was accused of saying that man shouldn’t be surprised because he’s asking for it.
Sara Grossman, the communications manager for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, said that to tell someone they are “asking for it” by being themselves is the same kind of rhetoric people use to undermine victims of sexual assault.
“To be doing that in front of students and also in Wyoming - the state that homed the hate crime of Matthew Shepard - it’s kind of an affront to all the work we’ve been doing for almost twenty years,” said Grossman.
Wyoming Democratic Party Chair Joe Barbuto has also come out against Enzi’s remarks.
“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. 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,” Barbuto said in a statement.
Enzi’s press secretary Max D’onofrio said the original answer to the question was much longer and focused primarily on anti-bullying, not just the LGBT community.
“This was a complete misunderstanding. He was trying to teach a lesson about respecting people and anti-bullying. [But] it was probably not a great metaphor, especially in the context of the original question being about LGBT issues,” D’onofrio said.
He also said that anyone who knows the Senator would recognize this as out of context.
“He’s known as one of the nicest senators. He’s known as one of the best people to work across the aisle, and he talks constantly about civility. It’s not in the senator’s way in any way to try to disparage any one particular group at all in that kind of manner,” said D’onofrio.
In a statement, Senator Enzi said he “regrets a poor choice of words,” and that he apologizes to anyone who has taken offense.
“An apology is not really enough when your voting record doesn’t exactly back your backtracking,” said Grossman.
The Human Rights Campaign has given Enzi a score of zero out of 100 for his voting record on LGBT issues the past two congressional sessions.