Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi (R) was speaking to a group of students at Greybull High School and Middle School, when one of them asked him about what he plans to do to support the LGBT community in his state.
“What work are you and your comrades doing to improve the life of the LGBT community in Wyoming?” asked a student. “How do you plan to help Wyoming live up to its name as the Equality State?”
“There are a lot of problems that don’t have a federal, one-size-fits-all solution,” Enzi replied. “Everything can’t be done by law; that’s one of the problems we have in this country, thinking that everything could be done by law. What we need to have is a little civility between people.”
"You can be just about anything you want to be" in Wyoming "as long as you don't push it in somebody's face," he added.
However, his response turned into something unexpected when he blamed people of the LGBT+ community of getting bullied because they wore tutus.
"I know a guy who wears a tutu and goes to bars on Friday night and is always surprised that he gets in fights," the Republican continued. "Well, he kind of asks for it. That's the way that he winds up with that kind of problem."
Enzi’s suggestion that someone asked to get beaten up because of what he was wearing sounded like an excuse for homophobic violence. His words became quite the controversy. In fact, it sounded like the LGBT community doesn’t have equal rights.
The senator belongs to a state where a 21-year-old gay college student, Matthew Shepard, was brutally beaten up by two homophobic men and was left to die while strung to a fence. The state of Wyoming still does not have an adequate hate crimes law for prosecuting such heinous crimes.
The Republican immediately regretted using "a poor choice of words.”
In an emailed statement to CNN, Enzi said he does not believe "that anyone should be bullied, intimidated or attacked because of their beliefs" and that his 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," he added. "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. Quite the opposite in fact, and so I ask for your understanding as well."
Max D'Onofrio, a spokesman for Enzi, said the senator wanted people to get the message of understanding each other. "This is a hot-button issue and emotions can run high, but no one should take his remarks out of context or misconstrue them to mean anything but advocacy of kindness toward our fellow citizens."
However, for Wyoming Democratic Party Chair Joe Barbuto, this apology was not enough.
"Let me be clear: No one deserves or is asking to be punished for simply being who they are," he said. "The senator should already know that."
Enzi was ranked as one of the most anti-LGBTQ members of the Senate by the Human Rights Campaign.