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Romney Blocked Anti-Bullying Guide as Mass. Governor over Mention of “Bisexual,” “Transgender”

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Just weeks after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney refused to endorse same-sex marriage, the Boston Globe reveals the former Massachusetts governor once blocked the publication of an anti-bullying report for teenagers because it contained the words “bisexual” and “transgender.” The article suggests this was only one of several initiatives aimed at distancing Romney from state programs specifically geared toward the gay community. We’re joined from Boston by Don Gorton, a prominent LGBTQ rights activist who co-authored the anti-bullying report and served as former co-chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Hate Crimes, and from Washington, D.C., by Christopher Rowland, a Boston Globe reporter who co-wrote the paper’s exposé. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In this Gay Pride Month, we turn to a new controversy surrounding Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s position on gay rights. Today’s Boston Globe reveals, while Romney was governor of Massachusetts, his administration blocked the publication of an anti-bullying report because it contained the words “bisexual” and “transgender.” The article suggests this was only one of several initiatives aimed at distancing Romney from state programs specifically geared towards the gay and lesbian community. The report was eventually printed, but only once Romney left office.

The revelation follows on the heels of a Washington Post exposé last month, in which five former classmates revealed Romney had bullied a student who was thought to be gay. Speaking to the Washington Post, former students at Michigan’s Cranbrook School say Romney became incensed after seeing another student, John Lauber, with bleached-blond hair. According to their account, Romney and other classmates tackled Lauber to the ground, then forcefully cut off his hair with a pair of scissors. Speaking to Fox News, Romney said he could not recall the 1965 incident and initially laughed when confronted with the details. He then offered a conditional apology.

MITT ROMNEY: I had no idea what that individual’s sexual orientation might be. Going back to the 1960s, that wasn’t something that we all discussed. I don’t recall the incident myself, but I’ve seen the reports, and not going to argue with that. There’s no question but that I did some stupid things when I was in high school. And obviously, if I hurt anyone by virtue of that, I would be very sorry for it and apologize for it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Fox last month.

Well, to find out more about Romney’s position on gay rights and the controversy surrounding the anti-bullying report in Massachusetts, we’re joined by two guests. In Boston, Donald Gorton is with us, one of the authors of the report and a prominent gay rights activist. He’s chairperson of the Anti-Violence Project of Massachusetts, former co-chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Hate Crimes. And in Washington, D.C., Christopher Rowland is with us, the Boston Globe bureau chief in Washington. He co-wrote today’s exposé with investigative journalist Murray Waas.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Christopher, let’s start with you. Lay out what you found in your Boston Globe piece today.

CHRISTOPHER ROWLAND: Well, what this episode came about was through an email from a Department of Public Health official that we obtained last week that shows that there—the Romney administration raised specific objections to the words “bisexual” and “transgender” that were included in this 120-page anti-bullying report. The anti-bullying report was a comprehensive document that was to be distributed to Massachusetts middle schools across the state. And really, the part that the administration found objectionable was only a couple of pages out of this 120 pages.

At the time, the administration was being lobbied by family groups and the anti-gay-marriage forces, that they were trying to, you know, get the administration to take a harder line on sort of the LGBT agenda that was sort of a part of a broader struggle going on in state government. So what this email shows from this official, it demonstrates how the Romney administration in the governor’s last year in office, as he was preparing for his primary run in 2008, was really sort of positioning himself to more—to be more acceptable to the socially conservative voters who would be crucial in the Republican primary.

AMY GOODMAN: Don Gorton, you’re head of the Anti-Violence Project in Massachusetts. You were author of the 120-page report. Exactly what happened? What did this anti-bullying report say? And what happened when the Romney administration saw it?

DON GORTON: Well, the report was in progress when Romney took office. We had researched the practices of middle schools around the state to find out what was working in field experience to stop bullying where it arose. And then the idea was to synthesize this information with academic research and come up with practical solutions that school districts could use on their own to combat bullying.

The funding was supposed to come from the Governor’s Task Force on Hate Crimes, but Romney ended that funding and the task force in his first year in office. So the anti-bullying guide was orphaned, stranded. On my own, I completed the work, brought it to the point it was ready for publication. Then I approached the Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth to see if they could fund the publication and distribution of the guide. They were enthusiastic. Their money was administered by the Department of Public Health, so DPH was involved. And we were on track to get published, until May of 2006, and then we hit a roadblock. We had already made arrangements with the printers, were ready to roll, and then we were told a new level of review and scrutiny had been imposed, and it could take seven weeks. It never reached its conclusion while Romney was in office, so I’m skeptical that it was a good-faith review process.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised—

DON GORTON: And it certainly was—

AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised to hear now about this discovery of the 2006 email that objects to, quote, “the bisexual and transgender” language in your report?

DON GORTON: That is somewhat surprising. I knew Romney had particular contempt for transgender Americans. That’s something we’ve seen in other contexts. I can’t really understand what his objection to the inclusion of—

AMY GOODMAN: How did you know that, Don? How did you know that?

DON GORTON: Well, from talking to other officials in the Romney administration and who headed commissions and such, and then talking to transgender activists who had worked with the Romney administration—not very successfully. So that was less surprising. The objection to “bisexual” was more surprising. I’m not quite clear where they’re coming from. But it could have been that they didn’t like the idea of the lesbian and gay community being larger. Adding trans and bi people to our community, we become a much larger constituency. And that might represent a political threat, and it certainly is something that Romney’s religious extremist supporters would object to. So, to appease them, I imagine, Romney dropped these hot-button words and avoided doing anything that seemed like he was acknowledging the existence of, you know, the LGBT community.

AMY GOODMAN: Christopher Rowland, you write about a highly publicized incident in May 2006 when Romney threatened to shut down the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth.

CHRISTOPHER ROWLAND: Right. So the contextual backdrop to this whole issue is that, you know, the socially conservative community objects to sort of, you know, the mainstreaming of language that—around gay issues. They think that if these words of “bisexual” and “transgender” are introduced into schools, that somehow that acknowledging that somehow would actually encourage, you know, youth to become gay or lesbian. So there’s sort of that—that’s kind of the backdrop of their lobbying.

So—and the other thing that was going on at this time was that, just a few days, about 10 days before this email was written and they basically stymied the anti-bullying report, the governor had taken a very highly public step of threatening to shut down the Gay and Lesbian Youth Commission in Massachusetts. And that story did land on the front pages at that time. The reason was that the Gay and Lesbian Youth Commission had put out a press release announcing a gay pride parade, that—and this particular press release, they used the wrong stationery by mistake, they say, and they—instead of using stationery of a private fundraising group that was supporting the parade, they actually used state stationery. And so, the governor’s name and the lieutenant governor’s name was on this stationary. And this set off quite a controversy in the corner office of the statehouse. And Romney immediately—through his chief of staff, immediately threatened to shut down the commission. After there was a big hullabaloo that afternoon, they quickly backed off.

But then, subsequently, 10 days later or so, the email came from the Department of Public Health saying, “We’re putting a stop to the anti-bullying report because it contains the words 'bisexual' and 'transgender.'” So those were—that was sort of—there’s a whole context of issues going on at around the time. And then, later on in the summer, the governor also vetoed about $158,000 worth of state funding that would have been used for anti-suicide and anti-bullying prevention for gay and lesbian youth, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is all very interesting, considering in 1994, in an interview with the LGBT newspaper, Bay Windows, Romney said he would be, quote, “better than Ted Kennedy for gay rights” during his unsuccessful campaign to unseat Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. And then, Don Gorton, from a piece you wrote, you say, “Romney was elected governor in 2002 as an outspoken supporter of gay and lesbian civil rights, promising to make benefits for same-sex domestic partners a 'hallmark' of his administration.”

DON GORTON: Well, there’s no doubt that Romney saw tolerance on gay and lesbian issues as essential to electability in Massachusetts. And he was right about that. The national Republican Party’s distaste for gay people does not play well in the Bay State, and Romney sought to distance himself as a more moderate, tolerant individual. And it didn’t work against Kennedy. It did work in 2002. He was elected governor on promises that he would be a defender of gay rights and socially moderate.

But in 2005, he decided he was not going to run for re-election as governor of Massachusetts, and he cast his eyes on the White House. And the Republican primary electorate that chooses the presidential nominee of that party is about as far removed from the Massachusetts general election electorate as you can imagine. Very staunch, anti-gay activists play a disproportionate role in that Republican primary process. So, the political imperatives of getting Romney elected went into reverse. Now he had to prove that he was a defender of so-called “traditional values” and an opponent of anything that could be labeled homosexual recruitment or promotion of homosexuality in schools. And the religious right, the religious extremists who involve themselves in politics, view anti-bullying efforts that include or mention LGBT people as encouraging students to take up a homosexual lifestyle. Eliminating bullying, supposedly, turns people gay. That’s the strange logic that Romney was responding to, because it carried some weight in the Republican primary process.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, a spokesperson for Mitt Romney resigned after opposition from far-right religious groups over his gay sexual orientation. Richard Grenell was hired in April, sparking immediate calls from evangelical groups for his dismissal. I want to just turn to a clip of Romney on Fox & Friends discussing Grenell’s resignation.

MITT ROMNEY: Well, we wanted him to stay with our team. He’s a very accomplished spokesperson. And we select people not based upon their ethnicity or their sexual preference or their gender, but upon their capability. He was a capable individual. We’re sorry to have him go. And actually, a whole series of the senior people on my team and my supporters called him and encouraged him to stay, but he expressed a desire to move on. And I wish him the very best.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mitt Romney. Don Gorton, a final comment on Grenell’s resignation, but also on why the issue of bisexuals and transgender people is especially important in a report on anti-bullying?

DON GORTON: Well, it’s clear that Mr. Grenell had his wings clipped by the Romney campaign. In early May, foreign policy was a subject of significant discussion in the presidential race, and Grenell was kept out of the loop. He was not representing the Romney campaign. He did not have input. So they had—they had basically neutered him, so that if he stayed, it would be in a purely symbolic role. And he wasn’t interested in that. So, they forced him out, although they tried to maintain window dressing of having a gay adviser, you know, just for the appearances of it.

The fact is, LGBT people are the second most frequent targets of bullying in American middle schools and high schools. The most frequent targets of bullyings are children with disabilities and special needs children. But LGBT is a primary focus of bullies. The phrase “That’s so gay” is understood as an insult from an early age. So it really is a focal point in the prevention of bullying that you attack stereotypes and prejudices related to sexual orientation and gender identity. You can’t really address the subject without addressing some of its most frequent and tormented targets. And, of course, in 2010 we saw a wave of gay teen suicides linked to bullying that suddenly achieved publicity. And it illustrated just how serious the problem of bullying LGBT youth has been for quite a long time.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Don Gorton of the Anti-Violence Project of Massachusetts, author of the 120-page anti-bullying report, which was not printed and distributed until after Romney left as governor because it mentioned the words “transgender” and “bisexual.” Christopher Rowland, thanks so much for joining us, a co-author of the piece in today’s Boston Globe called “No Mention of 'Bisexual,' 'Transgender' Under Romney.” He co-authored that piece with Murray Waas.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, New York has reached its highest level yet of homeless people. We’ll talk about what’s happening in the city. Stay with us.

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