Here’s how the Spartanburg Herald-Journal reported DeMint’s comments:
DeMint said if someone is openly homosexual, they shouldn’t be teaching in the classroom and he holds the same position on an unmarried woman who’s sleeping with her boyfriend—she shouldn’t be in the classroom.
“(When I said those things,) no one came to my defense,” he said. “But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn’t back down. They don’t want government purging their rights and their freedom to religion.”
DeMint has won a national following by attacking the most basic functions of representative democracy. In his words, “this idea that government has to do something is not a good idea. So I think the less we do, the better.”
But in the world according to Jim DeMint, it’s perfectly okay for government, i.e. ultra-conservative legislators like him, to promote sexism and bigotry. I wonder how he feels about the people who work for him, who are paid with our tax dollars to shape the laws of Congress. Does he police their sexual orientation? Does he require all the single women on his payroll to be chaste?
Hatred has consequences—often, terrible ones. The recent tragedy of the Rutgers student who committed suicide following public humiliation by homophobes in his dorm shows what can happen when hatred is considered acceptable behavior.
A national survey of middle and high school students by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. Nearly a third of LGBT students skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.
In the last few weeks alone, at least five teenagers have killed themselves after being bullied over their sexuality. These and other young people are made to feel estranged and out of place from society—in part because powerful people like Jim DeMint cast them as villains.
Jim DeMint’s hypocrisy is clear: he wants gay women and men and sexually active women to be banned from teaching, but he says nothing about sexually active, single straight men. But the danger he poses to our democracy is what worries me the most. That’s why the National Organization for Women (NOW) is stepping up its efforts for the November elections.
With November 2nd less than a month away, and early voting already getting underway in some states, NOW chapters and activists are stepping up their grassroots activities in states like California, Pennsylvania, Florida, Washington, North Carolina and others where the race is close and the stakes especially high. We aim to ensure the re-election of incumbents who are strong supporters of women's rights, and to send them reinforcements—new faces who will stand with our long-time friends for equal rights for everyone.
To tackle the enormous challenges our country faces, we don't need people like Jim DeMint who lead from a place of ignorance and hate. We need leaders who will be committed to justice, inclusion and compassion. And to get those leaders, we need to turn away from the "two minutes' hate" and spend a couple minutes in a voting booth.
Terry O'Neill is the president of the National Organization for Women.