A Missouri lawmaker caused a firestorm of controversy last week after he tweeted disparaging comments about teens wearing T-shirts that support gay-straight alliances.
Rep. Kevin Elmer (R-Nixa) reportedly tweeted Thursday: “Nixa Schools failure. HS students working elementary school book fair in gay [T]-shirts.” Attached to the tweet, which has since been deleted, was a picture of a teenage girl in a shirt featuring representations of gay and lesbian couples and the word “HARMONY.” The photo showed only the girl’s torso, according to The Springfield News-Leader.
Elmer had been at a book fair at his third-grade child’s school when he saw several teens wearing the shirts. He told the Leader that he took issue with those garments being worn around young students, as he felt their message could interfere with his ability to parent on issues such as same-sex relationships.
"My wife and I know our kids better than anyone else and, when it’s time to breach certain subjects to talk about certain areas, that should be up to us as parents,” said Elmer, according to local outlet KY3.
However, he said he is not opposed to students belonging to gay-straight alliances, called GSAs for short.
"The shirt itself is not offensive. It’s what it was advocating for and questioning whether or not that advocacy needs to happen at the K through [fourth-grade] level," he said in a KY3 interview Friday afternoon. "It wasn’t a criticism of the students themselves. It was a question as to whether or not that advocacy needed to happen in that environment.”
Still, students at the school and gay rights advocates are firing back at the state representative.
"You're entitled to your own opinion, but don't break people down. We're here about harmony and that's what we're tying to do," Awreon Riley, a sophomore at Nixa High School and president of the school's GSA, told local outlet KSPR-TV.
PROMO, a statewide LGBT advocacy organization, wrote a news release in support of the school’s GSA students.
"Every day, Missouri students are subjected to some form of bullying. Research shows that schools with active Gay Straight Alliances provide a safe environment for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) and their allies. HARMONY at Nixa High School is one such GSA, and we support them," said Stephanie Perkins, deputy director of PROMO, according to KY3.
On twitter, responses to Elmer’s tweet were swift and negative.
— Aaron Malin (@MalinAaron) October 18, 2013
@KevinElmer you see a tshirt that says "GAY". I see a tshirt that says Harmony and love. Kevin Elmer failure.
— Jeanette Bruffett (@jeanettebru) October 18, 2013
.@KevinElmer creep alert! Missouri politician Kevin Elmer sneaks phone pics of teenage girls and posts them on twitter
— PotomacRipper (@potomacripper) October 18, 2013
However, Elmer told the News-Leader he feels he is being unfairly persecuted.
“The homosexual, gay issue in today’s society is so hypersensitive, you can’t talk about anything without them jumping on you and being totally negative,” Elmer said.