When senator Mike Enzi visited Greybull High School in Wyoming for a Q&A with kids in grades 6 through 12 last Thursday, his answer to a question about LGBTQ rights stirred controversy, the Greybull Standard reports.
Bailee Foster, a sophomore at the school, asked Enzi what he planned to do to help Wyoming live up to its name as The Equality State, specifically for greater equality for the LGBTQ community.
His answer was vague and problematic.
"That’s one of the problems we have in this country; thinking that everything could be done by law,” he said, according to an audio file posted by the Greybull Standard. “What we need to have is a little civility between people."
The senator went on to explain to this student that it's the Wyoming way to accept people for who they are — as long as they 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," Enzi said. "Well, he kind of asks for it."
This is clearly victim blaming, saying that anyone who looks or acts differently from what we expect brings bullying on themselves. We can't know that the man who wears a tutu to bars is part of the LGBTQ community, but Enzi claims that stepping outside of gender boundaries is the "way that he winds up with that kind of problem."
By that thinking, queer people who hold their partners' hands in public or kiss them goodbye would be asking for discrimination, while straight people who do the same are just another couple in the crowd.
Yet, at the same time, Enzi preached a message of love and respect.
"Say there's a new student who comes to the school. They start out like a blank sheet of paper; they're really nervous and don't know what to expect," Enzi said. "Well, someone says 'the clothes you wear are really dorky.'"
He then folded a piece of paper in half to show that comments like this make a person feel smaller.
"We do things to people all the time; we bully them in very subtle ways," Enzi said. "I guarantee it if you embarrass somebody, that they will remember it for life. It's all about how you treat each other."
It's a mixed message. Enzi's metaphor told the students in attendance that they should always treat each other with respect, no matter how new or different someone is. But his personal anecdote involving someone he actually knows shows that Enzi believes those who stand out bring harassment upon themselves.
If you take the word of Enzi's press secretary, though, the senator didn't actually mean that anyone deserves discrimination.
“Senator Enzi believes all individuals should be treated with respect,” the press secretary wrote to the Greybull Standard. “[Enzi] does not believe that anyone should be bullied, intimidated or attacked because of their beliefs. This is a hot button issue and emotions can run high, but no one should take his remarks out of context or misconstrue them to mean anything but advocacy of kindness toward our fellow citizens."
So, just to set the record straight, having a marginalized identity doesn't mean you deserve to be bullied. Wearing a tutu at the bar (if you're a person with masculine features) doesn't mean you deserve to be bullied. Being different in any way doesn't mean you deserve to be bullied. And you can absolutely "push it in someone's face."