New York's Republican gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino appeared on several morning talk shows on Monday to defend his remarks to Orthodox Jewish leaders over the weekend, in which he said that children shouldn't be "brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option." Paladino stood by his comments but insisted that he is not homophobic and would hire LGBT individuals into his administration if he is elected.
In his interviews, Paladino pointed out that he has a gay nephew and currently employs LGBT individuals in his organization. When asked to explain his comments about why being gay is not an "equally valid" option, Paladino insisted that he was simply talking about the fact that gay individuals face more discrimination. From his interview with NBC's Matt Lauer:
LAUER: One can only deduce from that comment that you do not think the homosexual lifestyle is equal to the heterosexual lifestyle.
PALADINO: It's a very very ugly experience for those that are discriminated against. It's terrible, and it shouldn't be. Our society should be more accepting --
LAUER: But don't comments like this create that kind of discrimination? If the lifestyle is not equally valid or successful, then why shouldn't people treat homosexuals differently than they treat heterosexuals?
PALADINO: You know Matt, when I talk about issues such as this, I talk from my heart. And I expect the press will properly interpret my remarks. If they don't interpret my remarks properly, and they want to skewer them, and that's apparently the problem with this line, that's wrong where I come from.
Lauer also challenged Paladino about whether was truly speaking from his heart. "My impression of that event was that you weren't talking from your heart; you were talking from a prepared text," said Lauer. "And one of the questions I have, and it's been reported, that some of the content of what you read was actually written by those Jewish leaders, the very same group of people you were going to talk to."
Paladino replied that "somebody" had inserted the line about gay men and women being "dysfunctional," but he excised it from the speech he actually gave because he didn't agree with it. He said a staff member didn't write it, but he didn't know definitively who did.
On "Good Morning America," host George Stephanopoulos asked Paldino whether he believes "homosexuality is a choice." "I've had difficulty with that," he replied. "My nephew tells me he didn't have that choice, and I believe it's a very very difficult life for a young person. I believe that young people should not necessarily be exposed to that, without a really really mature background first so they can learn to do with it. It's a very difficult thing, and I sensitize with it, totally."
Paladino also dismissed concerns that his comments may have appeared insensitive at a time when the public's attention has been drawn to LGBT suicides nationwide and brutal anti-gay hate crimes in New York.
"No, I think my comments were directed at the confusion people have had over this issue," he said. "I wanted to clearly distinguish that my feelings about homosexuality were no different from those of the Catholic church. I'm a Catholic. ... I only have one problem with homosexuality and that's their desire to be married. And beyond that, I don't have a problem whatsoever."
On the morning shows, Paladino expressed his disgust with gay pride parades, saying on NBC that young people shouldn't be exposed to watching "a couple of grown men grind against each other." "I don't think that's proper," he added. "I think it's disgusting."
"By his own words, Carl Paladino has made himself the poster boy for the kind of divisive leadership that makes young LGBT people question their self-worth and gives license to those who use violence to advance their hate," said HRC President Joe Solmonese in a statement on Monday. "Carl Paladino is either homophobic or stunningly tone deaf to the needs of the community -- two qualities New Yorkers don't want in a governor. It's disgusting to think that Carl Paladino's idea of celebrating the eve of National Coming Out Day is to tell young LGBT people that they're not equally valid. There is nothing to be proud of in giving voice to the kind of divisiveness that so often leads to violence."
UPDATE: In an interview on Monday with "Good Day New York," Paladino also said, "I don't believe that gays should be discussed in the schools."
UPDATE II: The Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, faith work director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, put out a statement: "In a time when anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender violence has risen in New York City, Carl Paladino's comments are especially hurtful and dangerous. They incite violence against people for being who they are. That they clothe themselves in religious language is even more disturbing. Preaching hate from our pulpits, in our politics, or to our pupils is simply unacceptable. It literally endangers lives. And the life and ministry of Jesus always calls us to stand against that which hates, hurts or destroys."
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