10/15/10-by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett is in full damage control mode trying to walk back statements she made where she referred to Justin Aaberg’s sexuality as a ‘lifestyle choice’. Aaberg was fourteen when he committed suicide last month after ongoing homophobic bullying. Jarrett use of a term which has not been widely used since the 1990′s to describe homosexuality except among those seeking to delegitimize and stigmatize homosexuality cause a massive uproar.
Jarrett made the comments after she gave a speech to the Human Rights Campaign dinner this past weekend. She gave an interview with the Washington Post’s Justin Capehart. Her remarks were:
Well, I think what we’ve seen over the last few months are some very tragic deaths of young people — our children. And avoidable deaths, they were driven to commit suicide because they were being harassed in school and driven to do something that no child should ever be driven to do. And in many cases the parents are doing a great job, their families are supportive. Before I spoke at the HRC I met backstage with Tammy Aaberg, her son Andrew, these are good people. They were aware that their son was gay; they embraced him, they loved him, they supported his lifestyle choice, but when he left the home and he went to school he was tortured by his classmates.
It was not until Thursday that Jarrett contacted Capehart to release this statement saying how she ‘misspoke’:
In a recent interview I was asked about the recent tragedies about gay youth who have committed suicide, and I misspoke when I referred to someone’s sexual identity as a “lifestyle choice.” I meant no disrespect to the LGBT community, and I apologize to any who have taken offense at my poor choice of words. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not a choice, and anyone who knows me and my work over the years knows that I am a firm believer and supporter in the rights of LGBT Americans. Most of all, I hope this does not distract from the issue I was asked about — the desperate, tragic decision by some young people who feel that their only recourse is to take their own lives because they are being bullied or harassed because they are gay, or because others believe they are gay. We must instill in young people respect for one another, and we must set an example of mutual regard and civility to create an environment that is safe for every person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
While Capehart has come to Jarrett’s defense in claiming that she is “no Tony Perkins”, the remarks show not only a certain lack of sensitivity to the Aaberg’s surviving relatives, but to the LGBT Community. Capehart did, however, highlight the fact that the Washington Post has made some unfortunate choices in their editorial board regarding who to bring in for op-ed’s. The Family Research Council President’s column on Monday- which was National Coming Out Day- was more damaging than helpful and gave voice to homophobia and extremism even in the guise of not trying to do harm. Perkins has continued to spread his poison in order to try and damage the minds of many young lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transpeople as he can, and the suicides of almost a dozen LGBT youths are on his head. The insensitivity of someone like Jarrett only hampers the ability of the LGBT Community to stop the suicides from happening.