Polis downplays gaffe on hate crimes

Posted on 11 Mar 2009 at 8:52am

Openly gay Congressman Jared Polis has responded to my report about his gaffe concerning the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. Polis’ response, from Towleroad.com, is posted below. Allow me to introduce the response by saying that Dallas Voice published a front-page interview with Polis in advance of his appearance in Austin, and that there was nothing in his speech that stood out as newsworthy other than the hate crimes gaffe. We chose instead to report on the speech of longtime activist Matt Foreman, whose remarks were far more interesting.

Also, Polis states that several people who were in the room didn’t recall the mistake, suggesting that it must not have been that big a deal. I would argue that the one person who was in the room but claimed the mistake didn’t occur was doing so in an effort to protect Polis. This person quickly backed down once I revealed that I had the tape.

Finally, Polis admits that, “There’s no excuse for the mistake,” but then he goes on to complain about the fact that the LGBT media has jumped on it, saying, “We’re on the same side, fighting the same fight. …” In my case, at least, he is wrong about this. I’m not here to take sides. My job is to report the news as objectively as possible. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, a Republican, gay, straight or whatever, I’m going to treat you the same. If you co-chair the congressional LGBT caucus and you wrongly state the status of a major piece of gay-rights legislation, I’m going to report it, period.

Now, if you want my opinion, I’ll say that rather than trying to downplay his gaffe, Polis should admit that he forgot the Shepard Act didn’t pass, apologize for the error, and vow to work harder than ever to push it through. Because once you’ve listened to the audio, which is here, that’s pretty much the only reasonable response Polis could give. To me, this statement just makes him look worse. Here’s what he said, according to Towleroad:

“I too was rather surprised that rather reporting on my speech, all that was covered was the mistake. I talked about how we had succeeded in shifting Colorado from red to blue, and won important protections for our LGBT community including a hate crimes bill signed by our then-Republican governor, inclusive ENDA, and same sex adoption.
“I challenged Texas Democrats to do the same. Rather than covering any of this, all that was written about was my answer to that question. I had just finished talking about Colorado and our successes there, and my mind hadn’t made the shift yet to federal when I was asked the question and I gave the wrong answer. Talk to some of the attendees; I think they forgave the mistake right away as I was quick to correct it when pointed out and they focused on my message (apparently several of them didn’t remember that I had made a mistake, which is why the author later posted the audio).
“I’m a co-chair of the Equality Caucus here in US Congress and hate crimes is at the top of our agenda, and I expect action on it soon. I’m co-sponsoring the bill and have discussed it both within the Equality Caucus and as recently as today with leadership staff.
“It’s rather remarkable to me that this is getting so much play. Obviously I am well acquainted with hate crimes laws, ENDA, DADT, and other issues facing our community but we all sometimes make mistakes when we’re speaking, especially in this case when I had just finished talking about how we in Colorado had gotten a hate-crimes law.
“I didn’t just start working on these issues when I arrived in Congress, I’ve been an active supporter of HRC for years and advocated for the hate crimes law when it was being considered in Colorado.
“There’s no excuse for the mistake, but anyone who speaks a lot is bound to make them from time to time. What surprises me is how eagerly some people have leapt on it. We are on the same side, fighting the same fight, and supporting our LGBT community, as I was in Austin for the Stonewall Dems.”

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