WASHINGTON — GOP front runner and presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney engaged in several incidents of pranks during his high school years, at least one incident in particular that LGBTQ activists are calling anti-gay bullying, according to a report by The Washington Post.
According to the report, John Lauber — a soft-spoken student one year behind Romney at the prestigious Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. — was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality.
Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
Romney has claimed to have no recollection of the physical altercation, or of bullying the student. However, the incident was recalled similarly by five of his classmates who gave their accounts independently of one another to the Post and all have similar recollections of what transpired.
One of the students, recalling the victim being terrified, later apologized to him and said, “What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.”
Friedemann and several people closest to Romney in those formative years told the Post that Romney had “a sharp edge.”
In an English class, Gary Hummel, who was a closeted gay student at the time, recalled that his efforts to speak out in class were punctuated with Romney shouting, “Atta girl!”
“Back in high school I just did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended by it, obviously I apologize,” Romney said in a call to Fox radio host Brian Kilmeade earlier today.
“I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some might have gone too far and for that, I apologize. […] I had no idea that this person might have been gay.”
“I don’t remember that incident and I’ll tell you I certainly don’t believe that I, I can’t speak for other people of course, thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from my mind back in the 1960s, so that was not the case. But as to pranks that were played back then, I don’t remember them all, but again, high school days, if I did stupid things, why I’m afraid I got to say sorry for it.”
Wayne Besen, Executive Director of Truth Wins Out, said the Washington Post article sheds light on Romney’s current anti-gay positions, including his hostility towards recognizing equal rights for same-sex couples.
“This is not a mere prank to be easily dismissed, but a disturbing portrait of a person with deeply ingrained anti-gay attitudes,” said Besen. “It seems Romney’s preferred form of bullying today is his anti-gay campaign positions and actions in the legislative arena.”
“I’m more disturbed by his amnesia than the original incident. To forget humiliating and abusing someone in this manner suggests that such behavior was common for Romney.”
HRC President Joe Solmonese said Romney’s “unwillingness to understand or acknowledge the gravity of his actions and sincerely apologize is a troubling suggestion of a lack of character.”
“With Mitt Romney’s anti-gay past exposed, it is clear why he has flip flopped on the issue of LGBT rights, becoming a vehemently anti-equality candidate in the race for the presidency. Yesterday as President Obama demonstrated clear leadership in expressing his support for marriage equality, Romney told a Denver news station: ‘If a civil union is identical to marriage other than in the name, I don’t support that.’
“Mitt Romney has come full-circle in his views on LGBT equality. He has gone from being a bully perpetuating violence on a classmate who was different from him, to a candidate who in 1994 said he would be better to the LGBT community than Ted Kennedy, to a candidate in 2012 whose views are in line with the most fringe anti-LGBT groups,” added Solmonese.
Judy Shepard, whose son Matthew was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998, called Romney’s behavior “an act of torment against a child for being different.”
“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,” said Shepard. “This incident calls into question whether Mitt Romney can be an advocate for the nation’s most vulnerable children.”