Plenty of pubic figures have had their say, too. Among them are the comedian Kathy Griffin, who spoke to teens in a "message from" video; the writer Dan Savage, who founded the It Gets Better Project, which has a Web site and YouTube page (on the latter, folks post vids telling their stories of being bullied and offering hope to kids currently in a similar situation); and Lance Bass, former boy-band member, who appeared on Larry King Live Oct. 4 to decry bullying and share his experiences as a (now) openly gay man.
Lesser known figures have contributed to the dialogue, too. Over at the music blog The Popsucker, Jared Stearns bravely and brilliantly wrote about his experience as a gay teenager who was bullied in high school. The Good Men Project, a Web magazine, ran Jared's blog post and a companion piece about what makes a bully and what solutions to the problem might be workable.
It is with this in mind that we now turn our attention to a man with the refreshing name of Jim DeMint. Would that his outlook on gays and lesbians were as bracing as his name.
Mr. DeMint (pictured below) is a Republican Senator from South Carolina. Recent press reports noted that at an Oct. 1 rally, held at a Spartanburg, South Carolina church, Mr. Senator DeMint said that those who are openly gay and lesbian shouldn't teach in public schools.
Dear Mr. Senator DeMint: We'd like you to meet a former California politician named John Briggs. Back in the day he sponsored Proposition 6, aka The Briggs Initiative, which set out to remove gay/lesbian employees (including, obviously, teachers) from the state's schools. The measure did not pass, not least because a man named Harvey Milk bested Mr. Briggs in a series of high-profile debates. This was in 1978.
Nineteen seventy-eight. Either you're a time traveler, Mr. Senator DeMint, or a nostalgist, or a Capricorn. Or you are cynical beyond compare, a possibility that wins our vote.
At least Mr. Senator DeMint sticks to his guns. During a televised Senate-race debate way back in 2004 (but not 1978), Mr. DeMint said more or less the same thing.
An Oct. 4, 2004 story (yes, 2004; now we are time traveling) posted on the Web site of WIS-TV, which is located in Columbia, S.C., reported that during the debate Mr. Senator DeMint and his opponent were questioned about their stance regarding a state Republican party platform stating that gays and lesbians should not teach in schools. The WIS-TV story noted that "[Mr. Senator] DeMint says he supports that because government should not endorse particular behaviors."
Mr. Senator DeMint later walked the comment back after an outcry from queer and other groups, saying, oddly, that it was "something as a dad I shouldn't have said."
Later that month, the minty-fresh Senator appeared on Meet the Press, where then-host Tim Russert pressed him on the comments.
As any political junkie knows, high profile politicians are handed (by staff or their party bosses) "talking points" with which to smooth over dopey off-the-cuff comments. Mr. Senator DeMint's Meet the Press talking points involved referring the gay-teachers issue to local school boards, and "apologizing" not for his comments about said teachers but for "distracting from the debate."
How do we know this? Because the other day the Huffington Post printed a transcript of the conversation, which here we selectively excerpt. Each of the ellipses represents a question Mr. Russert asked:
Mr. Russert: Blah blah gays should not teach in schools blah blah?
Mr. Senator DeMint: I believe that's a local school board issue. And, Tim, I was answering as a dad who's put lots of children in the hands of teachers and I answered with my heart. [Editor's note: Huh?] And I should just say, again, I apologize that distracted from the real debate.
Mr. Senator DeMint: ...I am apologizing for talking about a local school board issue when the voters want us to talk about blah blah blah.
Mr. Senator DeMint: Listen, I have my personal beliefs, Tim, but I honestly believe that the teachers should be hired by local school districts. They [the school districts] should be making the decisions on who should be in the classroom.
Mr. Senator DeMint: I apologized for answering a local school board question.
Mr. Senator DeMint: I think the local school board should make that issue, not Senate can - I mean, make that decision. [Editor's note: Heh. Senate can.]
Mr. Senator DeMint: And I apologize for that, Tim.
Mr. Senator DeMint: Yeah, for distracting from the real thing.
Mr. Senator DeMint: Tim, who hires teachers should be decided by school boards.
*It's a school board issue: 6
*A dad putting children in the hands of teachers: 1, but a very weird 1.
This type of circular, not to say dizzying, conversation is typical of obfuscating politicians.
But the time has run out on these shenanigans. The proper answer to the Mr. Senator DeMints of the world is:
"It's because of people like you and your stance on gays teaching in schools that America's gay kids are killing themselves."
If you are of the mindset and temperament, you may add, "So go fuck yourself, you self-serving sack of shit," which, while not actually elevating the debate, would have the salutary effect of adding the words "fuck" and "shit" to the conversation, always a fine thing.
UPDATE: An Oct. 7 Huffington Post report noted that gay/lesbian and women's groups roundly hissed Mr. Senator DeMint's ill-advised (and super dumb) comments. So did two of the nation's largest and most powerful teachers' unions. No surprise there.
No surprise here, either: Mr. Senator DeMint's communications director, a man named Wesley Denton, told the Huffington Post that "[Mr.] Senator DeMint believes that hiring decisions at local schools are a local school board issue, not a federal issue."
That bumps the above "It's a school board issue" tally to a whopping seven (well, six in one interview and a seventh free-standing). This makes clear that Mr. Senator DeMint is the type of person who offers passionate opinions the fallout from which he then skedaddles away from as fast as his little legs will carry him. Sometimes he even hides under the skirts of his undoubtedly unfailingly dependable communications communicator.
In grown-up land, this sort of behavior is considered, and therefore called, "craven and cowardly." In politics, it is called, alas, "campaigning."