The Washington Post has a telling piece about Mitt Romney's prep school years. Along with the usual high pranks, the article also details a troubling incident in which Romney and a few other classmates held a closeted gay student down and cut off his bleached blond hair.
"John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
The incident was recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another. Four of them — Friedemann, now a dentist; Phillip Maxwell, a lawyer; Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor; and David Seed, a retired principal — spoke on the record. Another former student who witnessed the incident asked not to be named. The men have differing political affiliations, although they mostly lean Democratic. Buford volunteered for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. Seed, a registered independent, has served as a Republican county chairman in Michigan.
All of them said that politics in no way colored their recollections. “It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” said Buford, the school’s wrestling champion, who said he joined Romney in restraining Lauber. Buford subsequently apologized to Lauber, who was “terrified,” he said. “What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.” “It was a hack job,” recalled Maxwell, a childhood friend of Romney who was in the dorm room when the incident occurred. “It was vicious.”
Romney has said he has no recollection of the event, then went on to minimize the attack by saying “if there’s anything I said that was offensive to anyone, I certainly am sorry for that, very deeply sorry about that. No harm intended.” Aah, the old non-apology, such pure, unadulterated crap.
Of course, all of us can point to things we did back in high school that we now shake our heads at and regret, and our whole life shouldn't be judged by those four years. People evolve. Just like President Obama's not the same kid who drank, smoke weed and did cocaine back in the day, Romney has probably changed as well. But to pretend you don't remember, when all those involved can recall your role in the incident clearly to this day? Then to dismiss it as stupid teenage hi-jinks? That in and of itself says more about Romney's character than the actual attack.
As a gay-bashing victim myself, there's nothing light or funny about being descended on about a pack of bullies, not knowing what they have in store for you. It's terrifying and awful. The feelings of helplessness, of anger and humiliation, push themselves inside of you, hooking themselves onto your mind like tentacles. Those feelings eventually subside, but the memories--and most of all, that moment of fear and helplessness, of being at the mercy of someone else-- never fully leave you.
The honest thing for Romney to do would be to admit his role in the attack--and call it an attack, not a prank, because that's what it was-- and apologize. By that I mean saying "I'm sorry." But to pretend this less than savory part of his past didn't happen or to treat like it was no big deal, leaves one with the impression that he believes gay-bashing is no big deal--then or now.