When Mitt Romney was a high school senior at Michigan’s prestigious Cranbrook School in 1965, one of his classmates was a kid named John Lauber. A transfer student and a junior, Lauber was soft-spoken, non-conformist, and gay.
After spring break that year, Lauber returned to the boarding school’s campus with his longish hair bleached blond. Here’s how one of Romney’s close friends from school remembers what happened next:
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann. … 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 incident transpired in a flash, and Friedemann said Romney then led his cheering schoolmates back to his bay-windowed room in Stevens Hall.
Friedemann, guilt ridden, made a point of not talking about it with his friend and waited to see what form of discipline would befall Romney at the famously strict institution. Nothing happened.
Five of Romney’s schoolmates described the incident to the Washington Post recently, four of them on the record. Each talked to the paper independently, and each recounted essentially the same version of events. One of the four, who says he helped hold Lauber down while Romney attacked him, says he still regrets the attack half a century later, calling it “senseless, stupid, idiotic.”
A Romney campaign representative declined to deny the accounts, telling the Post merely that they “seem exaggerated and off base,” and that the nominee “has no memory of participating in these incidents.”
The campaign refused to comment further. (see 10:40 update below)
The Post uncovered other similar — though less horrific — incidents from Romney’s high school years as well. One gay classmate, who like Lauber was then closeted, says Romney would shout “Atta girl!” when he would speak in class. Another classmate remembers an incident in which Romney guided a teacher with limited vision into a closed door, causing the teacher to slam into it.
As for Lauber, he left campus for several days after the incident, and when he returned his hair had been cut short and dyed brown. He was later expelled when a classmate reported him to the administration for smoking a cigarette on school grounds. He came out as gay a few years later, and died of liver cancer in 2004. According to his sister, he bleached his hair blond again after leaving Cranbrook, and kept it that way for the rest of his life.
10:40 am update | In a new statement following the publication of the Washington Post report, Romney again declines to dispute it, and in fact appears to concede the essential accuracy of his classmates’ accounts: “Back in high school I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended by that I apologize.”
11:20 update | The above Romney quote comes from a radio interview he gave this morning. Here’s the rest of what he had to say:
Twice he apologized, but in general terms and conditionally. “I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that,” he said, and “I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some might have gone too far and for that, I apologize,” and “if there’s anything I said that is offensive to someone, I certainly am sorry for that, very deeply sorry for that.”
“If anybody was hurt … or offended.” “Some might have gone too far.” “If there’s anything I said that is offensive to someone.”
Here’s how Romney responded to the specific allegation that he and a group of friends held John Lauber down and chopped off his hair with a pair of scissors:
“I don’t remember that incident,” Romney said, laughing. “I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case.”
The idea that in 1965, American teenagers weren’t aware of the existence of gay people, or that there wouldn’t any association in such teens’ minds between a boy’s long, bleached-blond hair and homosexuality, is of course preposterous.
11:50 update | Here’s how future president George W Bush responded to a friend who was mocking someone for being gay in 1965:
A few of us were in the common room one night. It was 1965, I believe — my junior year, his sophomore. We were making our usual sarcastic commentaries on those who walked by us. A little nasty perhaps, but always with a touch of humor. On this occasion, however, someone we all believed to be gay walked by, although the word we used in those days was “queer.” Someone, I’m sorry to say, snidely used that word as he walked by. George heard it and, most uncharacteristically, snapped: “Shut up.” Then he said, in words I can remember almost verbatim: “Why don’t you try walking in his shoes for a while and see how it feels before you make a comment like that?”