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Brian Schweitzer’s ‘gaydar’ gaffe: Folks, this ain’t folksy

Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

When former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer declared his support for same-sex marriage last year, progressives rejoiced in seeing one of the last Democratic holdouts finally embracing LGBT equality. But a pair of offhand comments from Schweitzer in a National Journal profile should serve as a reminder of why equality under the law is only half the battle.

“Don’t hold this against me, but I’m going to blurt it out. How do I say this … men in the South, they are a little effeminate,” Schweitzer reasoned. “They just have effeminate mannerisms. If you were just a regular person, you turned on the TV and you saw Eric Cantor talking, I would say — and I’m fine with gay people, that’s all right — but my gaydar is 60% to 70%. But he’s not, I think, so I don’t know. Again, I couldn’t care less. I’m accepting.”

When a comment needs to be qualified with “I’m accepting,” it is typically a good indicator that it shouldn’t be said. The subject was bizarre and unnecessary for Schweitzer to broach in the first place, and he handled it with wild ineptitude, backtracking before he even had time to complete his offensive statement. The only use for Schweitzer’s “gaydar” seems to be reinforcing dated stereotypes.

At another point in the same interview, Schweitzer turned his focus to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s ties to the intelligence community and used an obnoxious analogy that even he recognized as wrong. “She was the woman who was standing under the streetlight with her dress pulled all the way up over her knees, and now she says, ‘I’m a nun’ when it comes to this spying!” he said, before adding, “I mean, maybe that’s the wrong metaphor — but she was all in!”

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Schweitzer rose to fame in large part due to his bravura and candor. Apparently he thinks that he will seem less “boring” if only he gives voice to his inner regular-guyness. But this kind of commentary is not folksy, it’s bigoted.

And the immediate inclination to frame this story in terms of horse-race politics, while understandable, ignores a larger point. Politicians are lawmakers, but they are also exceptionally public figures who wield a great deal of influence over national opinion and understanding. When they ignore the potency of this latter function, that negligence can have serious consequences. Brian Schweitzer may support legal equality, but that only matters so much when he continues to stigmatize homosexuality and deride women.

Follow @NoahRemnick for more news and opinions


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