I am deeply concerned.
Last month, Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was given a pass after The Washington Post published a troubling story about an incident in high school, in which Romney had allegedly bullied a gay student, chased him down with friends and tried to cut his hair. Despite Romney's blurry response to the report (he said he couldn't recall the incident), it appeared to be an isolated event, and, to many, not worth commenting on. The thinking was: everybody does something stupid or hurtful at some point when they're younger; and even if the story was true, the assumption was that Romney had most likely learned his lesson as an adult.
But now comes this from the Boston Globe:
"Former governor Mitt Romney’s administration in 2006 blocked publication of a state antibullying guide for Massachusetts public schools because officials objected to use of the terms “bisexual’’ and “transgender’’ in passages about protecting certain students from harassment, according to state records and interviews with current and former state officials."
A subsequent New York magazine blog post goes on to list a few other unsettling disclosures:
--That, according to The Atlantic, although in 2002 and 2003, Romney signed proclamations supporting a gay pride march by the Massachusetts Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, "he abruptly threatened to shut the entire commission down in 2006."
-- And that, in the very same year, "he vetoed a $158,000 budget item that would have funded counseling for victims of sexual violence in the LGBT community, along with suicide prevention."
If any of this reporting is even remotely true (and, once again, the Romney camp has not answered the allegations directly), then candidate Romney needs to start giving us some straight talk about bullying, and he needs to do it now.
If we've learned anything in the past year from our anti-bullying campaign (see here and here and here and here), it's that the bullying epidemic in our nation rises above debate. We are not discussing fiscal policy or trade laws or taxes here -- we are talking about a life-or-death issue for America's children, and it needs to be addressed point blank by the Romney campaign. We cannot consider having a leader in the White House who turns his back on the realities facing kids today, especially those whose sexual orientation may be different from what he prefers.
I understand the art of the political pivot. I understand why, at this point in his campaign, Governor Romney needs to appeal to his conservative base. I even understand why, like many candidates in the thick of a race, he has begun to step away from his previous statements, in this case moving from a claim during his failed 1994 Senate run that he was more gay-friendly than Ted Kennedy, to a candidate today who proposes a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. (I don't respect it, but I get it.)
But this is unacceptable. Citizens of every political stripe in this country should hold candidate Romney's feet to the fire about his frightening track record on bullying, and demand answers about his actions as governor. As we've written about during our anti-bullying campaign, one of the great tragedies of this issue is that bullied kids often isolate themselves from the grown-ups in their lives, which leads to furthest desperation and, in the worst cases, suicide. Now is the time for those grown-ups to step forward and press Mitt Romney to get real about bullying. This is not about religion or sexuality or politics. Bullying is a weapon that kills children, and a President needs to be a leader who will help stop the dying.