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What We Learn from Mitt Romney's Disgusting Teenage Bullying

That a teenage Romney abused classmates perceived as "effeminate" tells us a lot about the candidate--as does his reaction to the revelation of this part of his past.

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Indeed, one of the most heartbreaking elements of the Post story is that 30 years after it took place, one of the perpetrators, David Seed accidentally ran into Lauber at O'Hare International Airport and tried to apologize for not doing more to help his classmate. "It was horrible," Lauber recounted. He went on to explain how frightened he was during the incident, and acknowledged to Seed, "It's something I have thought about a lot since then."

In recent years, Americans have woken up to the horrible impact of  bullying, especially on  children. Though many  schools no longer take a "kids will be kids" response to such behavior, and even at a time when gays enjoy far greater acceptance in American society,  a 2009 survey found that "85% of kids who identify as LGBT said they'd been verbally harassed at school, 40% physically harassed, and nearly 20% physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation."

Those who suffer such abuse are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and social withdrawal – and are five times more likely than those not bullied to try and take their own lives. Bullying is not something that simply "toughens up kids"; it wounds them, often deeply.

From this perspective, these revelations actually provided Romney with a unique opportunity to own up to his past behavior and publicly recognize the trauma of bullying and harassment of children. Considering the extent to which anti-gay attitudes find a home in the modern GOP, it could be, one might say, a teachable moment. For Romney to speak up would be a statement of leadership and would send a powerful signal that anti-gay bullying, or bullying of any kind, is unacceptable and should be condemned.

Here, the contrast with Romney's opponent in November is instructive. Two days ago, President Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage. It was long overdue, politically calculated and forced upon him, in part, by the big mouth of his Vice President. Nonetheless, it was perhaps the most important civil rights statement by a sitting president since Lyndon Johnson declared "We Shall Overcome" to a joint session of Congress in 1965. And it was a statement cloaked in a resounding sense of empathy for gay Americans:

"When I think about members of my own staff who are incredibly committed, in monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together. When I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet, feel constrained, even now that 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is gone, because they're not able to commit themselves in a marriage … at a certain point, I've just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."

Whatever the motivation or calculation that led Obama to speak, these are the words of a man who recognizes that not only should gay Americans be treated with equal rights under the law, but that the basic humanity of gay Americans – so often forgotten in this debate – must be celebrated. There was compassion and identification in Obama's words that no doubt resonated with millions of gay (and non-gay) Americans – including and in particular those who had suffered the same trauma as John Lauber.

To be sure, considering that he has adopted a position (or been forced to adopt a position) of complete rejection of equal rights for gays, even opposing civil unions, it is hard to imagine Mitt Romney taking a similar course. Still, he might have made a start in the right direction by owning up to his own behavior and counseling others to act with greater humanity. He chose otherwise.

 
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