Romney faces accounts of homophobia and bullying

 

WERE PRANKS carried out by Mitt Romney 47 years ago the sign of an intolerant, cruel and homophobic character, or merely errors of youth?

The question has been raised by a story in the Washington Post about the Republican candidate’s education at Cranbrook, an exclusive school in Michigan.

Mr Romney’s father George was governor of Michigan at the time. In 1965, his senior year, Mr Romney returned from spring break and was disturbed to see that John Lauber, a misfit who other students presumed to be gay, had dyed his long hair blond.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” Mr Romney told his close friend Matthew Friedemann. In a school where boys wore ties and carried briefcases, Mr Romney seemed obsessed with Mr Lauber’s appearance. He led what the Post called “a prep school posse” through the dormitory, brandishing a pair of scissors. While others pinned Mr Lauber, who was crying, to the floor, Mr Romney cut his long locks. The assailants cheered as they followed Mr Romney back to his room.

The Post corroborated the account with five participants or eye witnesses, four of whom were named by the newspaper. “To this day it troubles me,” Thomas Buford, the wrestling champion who helped hold Mr Lauber, said.

Phillip Maxwell, a lawyer, told the New York Times, “It started out as ribbing but it very quickly became an assault. . . it was like a pack of dogs. I would think this would be seared in memory. Certainly for the other people that were involved, nobody has forgotten.”

When confronted with the story, Mr Romney’s spokeswoman Andrea Saul called the story “exaggerated and off base” and said the presidential candidate “has no memory of participating in these incidents”.

Gary Hummel, a gay former student at Cranbrook, said that when he made efforts to express himself in English class, Mr Romney shouted “Atta girl!”

Mr Romney also tormented Carl Wonnberger, an English teacher with poor eyesight. On one occasion, he walked Mr Wonnberger to the library, opening a first set of doors for him, then giggled hysterically as the teacher crashed into a second closed door.

The reports of homophobic behaviour had particular resonance, following soon after Barack Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage.

Mr Romney’s version of events at Cranbrook evolved from denying all memory of them to a feeble apology on Fox News. “There’s no question that I did some stupid things in high school, and obviously, if I hurt anyone . . . I would be very sorry for it and apologise for it,” he said.

Mr Romney gave his characteristic chuckle when he said that “homosexuality was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s”.

He noted that the victims “didn’t come out of the closet until years later”. Some 30 years after the hair-cutting incident, David Seed, who witnessed the assault, ran into Mr Lauber and apologised for not having helped him. “It was horrible,” Mr Lauber said. “It’s something I have thought about a lot since then.” He died of liver cancer in 2004.