Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) told a group of high school and middle school students last week that it’s fine to be a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer community ― but if you’re too open about it, don’t be surprised if you get picked on.
On Thursday, Enzi was speaking to students at Greybull High School and Middle School when a student asked him what he was doing to support LGBTQ communities in Wyoming.
Mathew Burciaga, an editor at the Greybull Standard, was at the event. He said he has audio of the exchange, which the paper plans to release Wednesday.
At the event, Enzi offered an anecdote about a man who wears a tutu to a bar and is then surprised that he keeps getting in fights.
“Well, he kind of asks for it,” Enzi said, according to Burciaga.
“The Senator then went on to state that the situations like this can’t always be solved by law and that he’d be open to hearing suggestions from students regarding ways to address it. He ended his remarks by saying civility is the biggest thing we need,” Burciaga told HuffPost in an email, noting that he thought the comment was “tone deaf by my own personal opinion of it.”
According to Burciaga, Enzi prefaced his comment by saying, “We always say in Wyoming you can be anything you want to be as long as you don’t push it in somebody’s face.”
Max D’Onofrio, a spokesman for Enzi, said the senator stressed the importance of respecting other people and argued that protections mandated by Washington are not always the best solution.
“He talked about how many Wyoming folks take a live and let live approach to life, but we need to be conscious that everyone may not react the same way to differing value and belief systems. He advocates nothing but respect and civil treatment for members of the LGBT community,” D’Onofrio said in an email. He added that “no one should take his remarks out of context or misconstrue them to mean anything but advocacy of kindness toward our fellow citizens.”
Here’s the full statement from Enzi:
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. 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. 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.
In 1998, Laramie, Wyoming, became the site of one of the nation’s most horrific and infamous anti-gay hate crimes when college student Matthew Shepard, 21, was tortured and left to die. Outcry over his death eventually led to passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which extended federal hate crime protections to people targeted because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, or disability.
“Sen. Enzi’s comments are exactly the kind of hateful remarks we are working against in Wyoming and beyond,” the Matthew Shepard Foundation said in a statement to HuffPost. “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 believed while also having to be fearful of being re-victimized by those in power, who should be defending their rights. The Matthew Shepard Foundation will continue to fight against this kind of hate speech as long as it continues.”