Mike Enzi says his anti-LGBTQ remarks were about ‘promoting respect’

His record suggests otherwise.

Sen. Mike Enzi visiting a different middle school earlier this month. CREDIT: Facebook/Mike Enzi
Sen. Mike Enzi visiting a different middle school earlier this month. CREDIT: Facebook/Mike Enzi

Last week, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) tried to sound supportive of LGBT people, but he made a comment that seemed to confirm he was just the opposite.

While Enzi addressed students at Greybull High School in his home state, one audience member was asked what he was doing to improve the life of the LGBT community, “to help Wyoming live up to its name as ‘The Equality State’?”

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Enzi started his reply by claiming that “there are a lot of problems that don’t have a federal, one-size-fits-all solution.” Though he didn’t specify what he meant, this has been a common talking point used by those who objected to President Obama’s guidance requiring schools to recognize and respect transgender students.

He went on to say, “What we need to have is a little civility between people,” followed by an example that demonstrated exactly how not to show civility to people:

We always say that in Wyoming you can be just about anything you want to be, as long as you don’t push it in somebody’s face. I know a guy who wears a tutu and goes to bars on Friday night and is always surprised that he gets in fights. Well, he kind of asks for it. That’s the way that he winds up with that kind of problem. I’d be interested in any solutions that you have for how we can make that all work better.

As a coda to that thought, Enzi reiterated, “The biggest thing that we need is civility.”

The remarks were documented by the local press , which later posted the audio of Enzi’s entire remarks. His press secretary, Max D’Onofrio, initially responded to outcry about the remarks by claiming they were taken out of context, which the audio easily disproves.

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“No one should take his remarks out of context or misconstrue them to mean anything but advocacy of kindness toward our fellow citizens,” D’Onofrio said.

After HuffPost raised the profile of the remarks, Enzi issued his own apology “to anyone who has taken offense.” He similarly argued that the entirety of his remarks should properly contextualize what he was saying:

No person, including LGBT individuals, should feel unsafe in their community. My message was intended specifically to be about promoting respect and tolerance toward each other. I hope if people look at the entirety of my speech, they will understand that.

Wyoming is notably where, nearly 20 years ago, Matthew Shepard was murdered for being gay by individuals he met while out at a bar. The Matthew Shepard Foundation, which advocates against anti-LGBT violence, described Enzi’s comments in a comment to HuffPost as “exactly the kind of hate remarks we are working against in Wyoming and beyond.”

The problem with giving Enzi the benefit of the doubt about his remark is that he has done nothing to earn it. For the past two Congresses, the Human Rights Campaign awarded him a zero on its Congressional Scorecard, meaning Enzi didn’t take a single pro-LGBTQ position. In fact, he’s openly supported some anti-LGBTQ measures.

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In 2014, Enzi was one of the lead sponsors of a bill that would have created nationwide exemptions for faith-based child-placement agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples. He insisted at the time that not allowing agencies to place such discriminatory limits on the families they serve somehow “only ends up hurting the families they could be bringing together.”

Enzi is also an original co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which would create a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people for all religious organizations and individuals. Congressional Republicans are optimistic it could pass this session, and President Trump promised during the campaign that he would sign it.

Just this month, Enzi joined 17 other Senators in signing a letter urging Trump to sign the anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” executive order that leaked earlier this year. Another 51 members of Congress sent a similar letter this week. The executive order mirrors FADA in the way it guarantees organizations can discriminate without fear of repercussion from the government. Though the administration said it wasn’t signing the executive order at the time of the leak, it has also confirmed that such a proposal is still in the works.

As of 2014, Enzi still supported an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Given this pro-discrimination record, it’s thus easier to believe that Enzi really believes that gender nonconforming people deserve to experience violence than that he was trying to promote tolerance and respect. If he wants to be a bit more convincing on that point, he’ll have to do more than just apologize to the people who were offended — he’ll actually have to work to end the intolerance, discrimination, and violence LGBT people experience.