LGBT activists say that Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s broad apology for gay bullying when he was in school is not enough.
An article in The Washington Post on Thursday recounted five of Romney’s classmates at the prestigious Cranbrook School in Michigan recalling him perpetually teasing a classmate with long hair who was perceived to be gay.
At one point the then-18-year-old is said to have told a friend, “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!”
According to the article, the verbal harassment eventually turned into physical violence; Romney led a group of students in pinning the classmate to the ground and forcibly cutting off his hair.
“Back in high school I did some dumb things,” Romney told FOX radio host Brian Kilmeade after the article was published. “I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks in high school and some of them might have gone too far, and I apologise.”
Judy Shepard, whose son Matthew was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998, dismissed the weak apology.
“While this may seem like an innocent prank to some, it was an act of torment against a child for being different,” she said.
“We expect the people we elect to be leaders in the charge against bullying so that all students are afforded the right to learn and grow in an environment free of fear. This incident calls into question whether Mitt Romney can be an advocate for the nation’s most vulnerable children.”
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese added: “Mitt Romney’s unwillingness to understand or acknowledge the gravity of his actions and sincerely apologise is a troubling suggestion of a lack of character.”
Romney has also been accused of dismantling an existing Massachusetts state programme to fight LGBT bullying in schools when he became governor of that state.
According to Talking Points Memo, in 2005 he vetoed increasing the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth’s budget and ultimately shut down the commission entirely after he failed to change its focus from LGBT youth to all youth.
“If he’s willing to dismiss [his own bullying] incident as ‘hijinks,’ I could understand that he wouldn’t understand at all why this program was so critical,” commented Eliza Byard, executive director of LGBT anti-bullying organisation GLSEN.
The organisation has launched a letter-writing campaign calling on Romney to outline what he would do to combat “bullying targeted at people who are different” if he were to become president.
After President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage on Wednesday, Romney told reporters in Oklahoma City: “I have the same view on marriage that I had when I was governor. I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.”