WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney apologized Thursday for “stupid” high school pranks that may have gone too far and moved quickly to stamp out any notion that he bullied schoolmates because they were gay. His swift response reflected the Republican presidential candidate’s recognition that his record on gay rights is under heightened scrutiny following President Barack Obama’s embrace of gay marriage.
One day after gay rights moved to the center of the presidential race with Obama’s announcement on same-sex marriage, a Washington Post report about Romney’s high school escapades nearly 50 years ago added a personal dimension to Democrats’ claim that he’s out of step on the sensitive topic.
The newspaper reported that in one case, Romney and several schoolmates held down classmate John Lauber and cut off his bleached-blond hair after seeking him out in his dorm room at their boarding school in the wealthy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. The Post said Lauber was “perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality” and that he screamed for help as Romney held him down. The paper recounted another incident in which Romney shouted “atta girl” to a different student at the all-boys’ school who, years later, came out as gay.
“I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some may have gone too far. And for that I apologize,” Romney told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade during a hastily arranged radio interview. Romney said he didn’t remember the Lauber incident from long ago, but didn’t dispute that it happened. He stressed that he didn’t know either student was gay.
The Republican presidential candidate had begun the day by treading softly on Obama’s historic embrace of same-sex marriage, which seems likely to fire up liberal and conservative activists alike. He quietly restated his opposition to legalizing such marriages, but his campaign turned its full attention to energy, the economy and other issues.
Then the boarding school story was posted online and Romney moved quickly to counter any suggestion he had targeted students because they were gay.
“That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case,” he said, adding that the students involved “didn’t come out of the closet until years later.”
“If there was anything I said that was offensive to someone, I certainly am sorry about that,” he said, adding that “there was no harm intended.”