Anderson Cooper: Bachmann Suddenly Silent On Gays

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday August 16, 2011

Before Michele Bachmann was a contender for the GOP nomination in next year's race for the White House, she couldn't stop talking about gays. As a state legislator, the Congresswoman was brimming over with opinions about GLBT Americans, saying that most of them had been abused and declaring that their lives were "very sad" examples of "personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement."

Bachmann and her husband, Marcus Bachmann, run two Christian counseling clinics in which, according to reports such as a recent news segment on ABC News, gay clients are offered so-called "reparative therapy," a treatment based on the assumption that homosexuality is a pathological condition caused by early life trauma such as abuse or inadequate parental attention. Proponents of the therapy say that gays can "choose" to become straight through counseling and prayer, but reputable mental health professionals say that the treatment is ineffective and could even harm gays by increasing a societally-imposed sense of shame and hopelessness.

Bachmann also promoted an amendment to the Minnesota state constitution as a member of that state's lawmaking body, efforts that did not pay off before she had gone on to Congress, but which laid the groundwork for the ballot initiative that will see Minnesota voters deciding on the rights of gay and lesbian families next year.

Moreover, she slammed efforts by GLBT youth advocates to provide for the needs of gay teens in Minnesota. Bachmann's congressional district includes the Anoka-Hennepin school district, which has been plagued by a high number of gay youth suicides in recent years; critics have asked whether Bachmann's high-profile embrace of damaging anti-gay myths might be a contributing factor to an environment that gay youths find intolerably hostile.

Indeed, the Anoka-Hennepin district is the subject of two lawsuits by a total of six teens for its policies regarding anti-gay bullying and classroom discussion of issues connected with sexual orientation TIME Magazine reported at its online newsfeed. The district maintains a "neutral" policy toward issues associated with homosexuality; critics charge that the policy leaves teachers and staff uncertain of how, or whether, they are allowed to intervene in cases of anti-gay persecution. The district settled a prior suit out of court for some $25,000. In that case, two teachers -- not students, but teachers -- were accused of having systematically subjected a student to anti-gay harassment, even though the student was heterosexual.

But now, as CNN's Anderson Cooper noted in an Aug. 15 "Keeping Them Honest" report, the GOP hopeful -- who once was anything but shy about letting fly with highly charged, controversial statements about gays -- seems to be pulling back on the issue, and has started referring to matters of GLBT equality as "frivolous" and unimportant.

"Bachmann obviously won the Iowa straw poll on Saturday," Cooper said, "but she also seems to be running from her own past statements about sexual orientation and civil rights, refusing to answer questions about her statements."

"I am running for the presidency of the United States, I am not running to be anyone's judge," Bachmann told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Aug. 14.

But, as Cooper noted, Bachmann's words concerning gays have all too often been highly judgmental. She has called use of the word "gay" to describe homosexuals as being "of Satan" for its connotation of happiness, and promoted the idea that being gay makes people miserable in and of itself.

When asked by "Meet the Press" host David Gregory, "Do you think that anyone... thinks you haven't made a judgment about gays and lesbians" after hearing her past remarks, Bachmann responded, "That's all I can tell you, is I'm not judging."

"But mainly, she's just not answering questions on her views about sexual orientation," Cooper commented during the broadcast. "Claiming that millions of gay and lesbian Americans are living in 'personal bondage' or 'personal despair' or 'personal enslavement,' [and] claiming that the very use of the word 'gay' is satanic, sounds like personal judgment," Cooper continued. "It's certainly not a fact."

Continued the CNN anchor, "She also refers to a gay and lesbian 'lifestyle,' by which one can only assume she means it's a choice." But a speech in which Bachmann had made the claim that gays live a specific "lifestyle" that is distinct from heterosexuals, Cooper noted, Bachmann also suggested that homosexuality is a pathological condition, referring to it as a "disorder."

In that speech, Bachmann struck a familiar tone of "love the sinner," telling her audience, "We need to have profound compassion" for gays. But in a debate earlier this summer, Bachmann showed little compassion for gay and lesbian families, declaring that she would support an amendment to the United States Constitution that would bar marriage rights for any but heterosexual couples -- even though she also said that the issue should be left up to the states to decide for themselves.

Her willingness to speak to the issue aloud notwithstanding, the anti-gay pol made a hard-to-miss statement about gays when she signed on to an intensely anti-gay campaign pledge issued by a fringe right Iowa group. The 14-point agenda also contained racially offensive language, removed after Bachmann and Rick Santorum had signed on, declaring that many African American children were better off during the slavery era than they are now.

Two Parents, Some Kids... But Not A Family

Bachmann's attitude toward gay and lesbian families was further exposed, if only momentarily, when she told "Meet the Press" host David Gregory that two people living together in a single home in committed devotion to one another and their children did not constitute a family.

As ThinkProgress reported on Aug. 15, Bachmann responded to Gregory's question about gay and lesbian families with children by saying, "When it comes to marriage, and family, my opinion is that marriage is between a man and a woman."

"So a gay couple with kids would not be considered a family to you?" Gregory pressed.

At that point, Bachmann resorted to a tactic that has, of late, become a favorite means of dealing with questions about her views on sexual minorities, their rights, and their families.

"You know, all of these kinds of questions really aren't about what people are concerned about right now," Bachmann (who had previously told a New Hampshire newspaper that marriage equality was a "frivolous matter") said to Gregory.

Many fiscal conservatives agree that the American electorate is hardly losing much sleep over the issue of gays marrying one another. A recent poll showed that a slim majority of Americans approve of marriage equality for the first time in history. Conservatives who are serious about retaking the White House in 2012 -- including many gay conservatives -- say that the Republican Party needs to stop punishing sexual minorities as a means of scoring political points with the electorate at large. In a modern context, in which GLBT Americans have rapidly won increasing acceptance in recent years, clinging to anti-gay talking points serves to marginalize otherwise serious contenders and obscure policy positions on crucial questions such as the economy and jobs creation.

But Bachmann's record has been anything but socially neutral, and her fresh tactic of downplaying GLBT issues as "trivial" sounds hollow, coming from a politician who has made anti-gay rhetoric a hallmark of her career. ThinkProgress also pointed out that the Congresswoman's antigay views, which still peek through on occasion, remain in place despite the fact that many of her own constituents are gays and lesbians, and many of them have life partners and children that they consider to be families, even if the congresswoman does not.

"The 2010 Census shows that there are at least 13,718 same-sex couples living in Bachmann's home state of Minnesota, and 2,372 of those couples report raising children," ThinkProgress noted. "If those are not 'families,' it's unclear what Bachmann thinks they might be."

Bachmann's newfound elevation above the fray of full legal equality for America's GLBT citizens, and her new code of silence about such matters, also buckled when, later the same day, she appeared on the CNN program "State of the Union," reported LGBTQ Nation on Aug. 14.

Asked about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the law that kept openly gay Americans from serving their country in uniform for 18 years, Bachmann said that she would keep the law, which is due for its final stage of repeal on Sept. 20.

"The 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy has worked very well," Bachmann told the CNN program, going on to indicate that a Bachmann presidency would feature a reimposition of the ban on openly gay servicemembers. "I would be in consultation with our commanders, but yes, I probably will" kick gays out of uniform once again if elected president, Bachmann added.

ThinkProgress took exception to those comments, with an Aug. 14 article saying, "Exactly how Bachmann defines 'worked' remains unclear. Since its establishment in 1993, the DADT policy has resulted in the direct ouster of nearly 14,000 military service members. According to a 2007 study by the Williams Institute, the military's [retention] rates have also been harmed by the policy, with approximately 4,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual personnel leaving the military per year, who 'would have been retained if they could have been more open about their sexual orientation.' "

ThinkProgress went on to note the harm that the anti-gay policy has done to efforts to secure the nation against terrorist threats, reporting, "[A]t least 58 Arabic linguists have been expunged from the military due to DADT policy -- a serious loss in an era in which Middle Eastern terrorism is a significant international threat."

Cooper speculated that it was because of Bachmann's presidential ambitions that she has mostly gone mum about gays.

"Yet, those 'light, frivolous matters,' " as Bachmann characterized issues relating to GLBT equality before the law and gay families when speaking to New Hampshire newspaper the Concord Monitor, "were once serious enough for Ms. Bachmann to advocate changing her state's constitution," Cooper noted. "By the way, we invited Ms. Bachmann on tonight, as we do many nights; once again, our request for the interview was declined, and subsequent calls went unanswered."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. 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.