The Washington Post has a rather lengthy report up today on Mitt Romney’s time at the prestigious prep school Cranbrook. The report details Romney’s years as a high school senior in 1965 and his reaction to a new student, John Lauber, who Romney felt looked too gay.
Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
The image of a scared teenage boy being tackled and forced to the ground while classmates chop his hair off doesn’t sit well with me. It’s torturous behavior. It’s cruel behavior. As a Romney classmate said, “it was viscious.” And it matters.
There are some who are making the argument that Mitt’s youthful transgressions have no impact on the here and now. I could not disagree more. It would be one thing if Romney had a long record of compassion and supported policies now that worked to advance equality and understanding. But that is not the case. It was just two weeks ago that a openly gay spokesperson was forced to step down after anti-gay groups virulently attack him. Romney did not utter a single word in his defense. Clearly, since his youth Romney has not “evolved” that much.
That Romney was a high school bully is important in context (ya know, how most things should be viewed). Assaulting a fellow classmate is more than a youthful prank; maybe not to the bully, but the children attacked live with it for the rest of their lives. John Lauber died in 2004, but in the piece one of other students who was present during the assault saw Lauber in Chicago’s O’Hare airport in the mid-1990s and apologized to him for the incident. Lauber told him, “It was horrible…It’s something I have thought about a lot since then.”
We must fight the urge to dismiss actions of children and teenagers as youthful transgressions. The trauma from childhood bullying lasts a lifetime for those victimized. With such high numbers of young people committing suicide as a result of bullying it’s long past time for us to take this deadly serious.