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MO State Lawmaker Takes to Twitter in ’Gay T-Shirt’ Tempest

by Kilian Melloy
Sunday Oct 20, 2013
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Image posted on Twitter by Kevin Elmer
Image posted on Twitter by Kevin Elmer  (Source:Kevin Elmer / Twitter)

A Missouri state lawmaker evidently got confused about what high school GSAs are and what they do, publicly equating supportive groups with "sexual relationships" in a temperamental Twitter message.

Rep. Kevin Elmer, a Republican member of the Missouri’s House of Representatives who hails from the town of Nixa, was at a book fair taking place at an elementary school attended by his own child, a third-grader, when he saw two high schoolers sporting shirts emblazoned with the word "Harmony" and a graphic showing several generic man and woman symbols. Beneath the word "Harmony" appeared the legend, "Nixa High School Gay-Straight Alliance."

For Elmer, however, the message evidently spoke not of an accepting social climate, but of S-E-X.

"I just think it’s inappropriate to be promoting any sexual relationship in an elementary school, whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual," the lawmaker fumed, according to a news article posted at News-Leader.com and an Associated Press article that appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among other publications.

The lawmaker showed some contemporary tech savvy, however, in taking to Twitter to give vent to his displeasure -- not to mention the hip and current vernacular he employed (and almost got right).

"Nix Schools failure," Elmer tweeted. "HS students working elementary school book fair in gay t-shirts." Elmer also posted a photo of one of the students wearing the shirt. The photo did not show the student’s face.

Rep. Elmer was prompt in making the de rigeur claim that his gripe was not motivated by anti-gay bias, telling the press, ""It’s not a gay rights issue, it’s a parental issue," and suggesting that a T-shirt depicting restroom-style man and woman glyphs in a friendly group semi-hug somehow interfered with a parent’s right to transmit moral values to children.

The lawmaker’s complaint was reminiscent of the campaign in California in 2008 to pass the anti-gay measure Proposition 8, which rescinded the existing right of gay and lesbian couples to marry until the measure was struck down in the courts and marriage equality was restored in that state. Anti-gay groups promoted the message that unless marriage was snatched from same-sex families, young children would be taught about gay relationships in the classroom.

But the private matter of relationships, and marriage, is quite a different subject than the public matter of social acceptance and legal equality -- a distinction proponents of GLBT parity have repeatedly made with as much determination as anti-gay activists have displayed in attempting time and again to muddy and blur the issues.

Elmer found himself ridiculed by some in the online community, the new-Leader article reported. One online comment read, "What an interesting failure! Asking students to accept people for who they are."

Added the post, "The face of today’s GOP."

Elmer’s tone grew defensive, with the state rep declaring, "The homosexual, gay issue in today’s society is so hypersensitive, you can’t talk about anything without them jumping on you and being totally negative."

There were, however, some positive and constructive responses from the gay community. PROMO Deputy Director Stephanie Perkins pointed out to the press that even children in elementary school are likely to know, or at least hear of, gays and lesbians.

"LGBT people are everywhere in the community," the News-Leader article quoted Perkins as saying. Perkins agreed that parents need to have conversations with their children about subjects that some might find sensitive, and noted the availability of resources to make such conversations easier to have in an informed manner.

Those resources include links to "Welcoming Places of Faith" and "Counseling Services" at the PROMO website, as well as listings of GSAs and community centers.

The group’s website offered more information about PROMO, describing the organization as "a proud member of the Equality Federation, a network of statewide LGBT equality advocacy organizations across the country," and stating, "PROMO’s goals are to help LGBT Missourians create a supportive and visible community, become active in the democratic process, and work for their equal protection under the law. We build community awareness and grassroots support for LGBT equality and increase civic participation of LGBT Missourians."

School officials had little to say other than to explain that the group behind the "gay t-shirts" was but one of an array of groups run by area youth.

"Nixa schools spokeswoman Zac Rantz said the district has many student-initiated organizations, from Gay-Straight Alliance to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and other groups," reported the Associated Press.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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