GOP Senate Leader: Gays Shouldn’t Be Teachers
As the midterm elections near, rallies on both sides of the political spectrum have send up a call to "take back" America. Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina gave some indication of what that means for the political right in an Oct. 1 address at the Greater Freedom Rally, which took place at First Baptist North Spartanburg, a church in the South Carolina city of Spartanburg.
DeMint told rally participants that he would work to bring more conservatives into government in order to "take our country back"--and deny gays the right to be in certain professions, such as teaching school. The senator also said that unmarried, sexually active women should be barred from the teaching profession, but he did not place any such restrictions on unmarried heterosexual men. DeMint’s comments were reported in an Oct. 2 article at GoUpstate.com.
DeMint also spoke against marriage equality for gay and lesbian families, dressing his anti-gay language in the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility. "People are beginning to see that there’s no way we can pay the interest on our debt and every week, we’re borrowing money to pay the debt we have and are creating new programs that are costing more money," DeMint told the crowd. "Hopefully in 2012, we’ll make headway to repeal some of the things we’ve done, because politics only works when we’re realigned with our Savior."
DeMint’s statement that gays should not be allowed to teach echoes GOP positions from the late 1980s, when gays were targeted by the Republican party for exclusion from certain jobs such as teaching and health care. The remark also evoked the 1978 California ballot initiative known as the Briggs Initiative, put the right of gays, and gay-friendly heterosexuals, to work as schoolteachers up to the popular vote.
The Briggs Initiative was criticized by then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan, who wrote a newspaper op-ed piece stating, "Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this." Another result of the Briggs Initiative was the founding of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group that recently won a court challenge to the law banning military service by open gays and lesbians.
As portrayed in the Gus Van Sant film Milk, San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk was deeply involved in generating opposition to the Briggs Initiative. Milk relied on a strategy of getting gays to come out of the closet to help drive home the point that gays are ordinary working people, a tactic that helped generate opposition to the proposal by putting a human face on the people the measure targeted. The Briggs Initiative lost at the ballot box.
On DeMint’s list for repeal is the health care reform that President Obama ushered into law last year.
The Green Party challenger for DeMint’s Senate seat denounced DeMint’s anti-gay remarks, an Oct. 5 GoUpstate.com follow-up article reported. "If he wants to come up with guidelines for some kind of morality test, I challenge him to produce it," said Tom Clements. "Lay out how you’re going to screen out people you don’t like [from teaching in schools]. And how far does it go? Does it go beyond gay people, or single women, or single males? Let’s hear how extensive your morality test is going to be applied to people. And I don’t think people in South Carolina would agree that somebody else’s morality test be applied to public school teachers."
DeMint cast his views as a matter of religious freedoms being threatened by social and legal parity for LGBTs. Perhaps referencing similar comments he made in 2004 that proved controversial (and which prompted DeMint to apologize for "distracting" from that year’s political races), DeMint said that in earlier times when he had expressed those views, "No one came to my defense. But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn’t back down. They don’t want government purging their rights and their freedom of religion."
DeMint’s comments were excoriated in an Oct. 4 Charleston City Paper op-ed by Greg Hambrick. Headlined "DeMint still scared of gays and functioning, unwed vaginas," Hambrick’s article said that the apology DeMint offered in 2004 for having made similar comments was made because DeMint faced stiff opposition from Inez Tenenbaum, who was running for DeMint’s seat that year. This year, however, DeMint faces no such strong opposition.
"He told a crowd over the weekend that he not only still believes you can catch an appreciation for musical theater like a cold--this man actually believes he’s got support," Hambrick scoffed.
"DeMint’s America is one where guns and God are allowed in the classroom, but not good educators who happen to have a functioning, unwed vagina or his and his bath towels," Hambrick added. "He also appeared to include GOP candidates Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul in his social conservative agenda. Somebody should ask these guys how much homophobia and sexism they like in their tea."
At a Discover Magazine blog, Razib Khan graphed the changes of social attitudes over time by comparing how many people from 1970 to today would be willing to allow gays to teach, versus allowing racists or people opposed to religion into the classroom. The graph indicated that in the past four decades, more people have come to embrace gays as teachers than either racists or anti-religionists.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.