Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican lawmaker who represents the state of Wyoming, told a group of students last week that he has no idea how to stop anti-LGBT hate crimes because men who dress as women are basically asking to get beat up. These comments are alarming when spoken in any context, but Sen. Enzi's comments abut LGBT violence are especially troubling because he is a lawmaker who is tasked with protecting all citizens within his state's borders — regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identification.
During a speaking engagement at Greybull High School and Middle School in Greybull, Wyoming, last Thursday, a student asked Enzi what he was doing to support the local LGBT community. "How do you plan to help Wyoming live up to its name as 'The Equality State,'" the student asked, according to a transcript released by The Greybull Standard.
Enzi responded by stating that "one of the problems we have in this country [is] thinking that everything could be done by law," and that the real problem is a lack of "civility" between people. Although this initially seems to blame homophobia as the root cause of anti-LGBT violence, the rest of his statement seemed to incriminate LGBT individuals themselves:
We always say that in Wyoming you 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.
The senator went on to say that he is "interested in any solutions" students have for solving this issue.
Enzi has since apologized for his remarks. "I regret a poor choice of words during part of my presentation. None of us is infallible and I apologize to anyone who has taken offense. No offense was intended," he said in a statement to CNN.
Enzi's comments are problematic, uninformed, and dangerous for many reasons. For starters, he assumes that the gender or sexual identity of an individual is somehow an affront to others, even though a person's decision to wear a tutu to a bar causes no harm to others. In fact, it is none of their business. A gay or transgender individual has a right to exist as well as to express their identity without being perceived as being "in somebody's face."
But what is most problematic is that Enzi, who is responsible for creating state laws and representing constituents, is contributing to a culture of victim-blaming that holds LGBT individuals responsible for the violence that is committed against them. Coming from a powerful and influential person, this statement could make others think that they are somehow justified in committing hate crimes, and that they might not be incriminated if they do.
Enzi seemed completely perplexed in suggesting how the law could possibly prevent future hate crimes. But as a lawmaker, it is his job to create legislation that protects all citizens, not just straight or cisgender individuals. Doing so might not be easy, but it starts with lawmakers like Enzi condemning this violence rather than contributing to a culture that justifies it.