Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) hails from the Equality State. But after a recent speech to high school students, many are wondering if he understands what his state’s nickname means to his constituents.
The controversy began after a Greybull High School sophomore asked Enzi about his role in helping the state’s LGBTQ people and community. The senator argued that a “federal, one-size-fits-all solution” simply doesn’t fit for LGBTQ rights, as many problems across Wyoming come down to interpersonal issues that go beyond legislative work.
“That’s one of the problems we have in this country; thinking that everything could be done by law,” Enzi said, according to the Greybull Standard. “What we need to have is a little civility between people.”
The senator proceeded to say that Wyoming is a state where citizens “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,” Enzi said. “The biggest thing we need is civility.”
Since making the comments last week, Enzi has since faced serious backlash for telling a room full of students that a gender non-conforming person “kind of asks” for violence. Seeing how LGBTQ students face particularly high rates of violence and harassment, many are calling his behavior not just tone-deaf but enabling of the bullying behaviors that go on in American public schools.
The Wyoming Democratic Party was particularly quick to condemn Enzi’s statements, defending LGBTQ students and saying they do not deserve violence “for simply being who they are.”
“Senator Enzi’s comment was not just inappropriate, it was ugly and indicative of a kind of backwards thinking that has no place in today’s society,” Wyoming Democratic Party Chair Joe Barbuto said in an official statement. “It only makes matters worse that his remark was made to a group of young students.”
Senator Enzi later apologized in an official response obtained by KGWN.
“I believe all individuals should be treated with respect. I do not believe that anyone should be bullied, intimidated or attacked because of their beliefs,” he said. “Wyoming’s population is made so great by its mixture—and tolerance—of differing value and belief systems. Our live and let live approach is one of the great aspects of our state.
“No person, including LGBT individuals, should feel unsafe in their community,” he continued. “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.”