"My mommy doesn't need fixing", says 8-year-old to Michele Bachmann

"Shameless" maybe but this little boy shines light on Bachmann’s strained relationship with the LGBT

 

When it comes to Michele Bachmann and the LGBT community, it's fair to say that relations are fairly frosty. Look no further than the Minnesota Congresswoman's support for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex civil unions. Then there was an exchange in town hall in Iowa where Bachmann explains to the leader of the Gay Straight Alliance at the local high school that's its fine for gay people to marry, erm, so long as it's not with a person of the same sex. And of course there is the clinic co-owned by Bachmann and her husband, much maligned over its pretentions to "pray-the-gay-away" as this undercover video from Associated Press highlights.

So when an eight-year-old boy named Elijah wandered up to Bachmann during a recent meet-and-greet event in South Carolina -- where the congresswoman was promoting her new book Core of Conviction: My Story -- she hardly expected him to be an undercover assailant acting as the vanguard of this ongoing battle with the LGBT community.

As the video shows Bachmann is first unable to hear little Elijah, and learns over the desk to get as close as possible to him. The whole thing was like asking someone to come closer and closer and then shouting "boo!" except this time it wasn't "boo" but something that was equally shocking: "My mommy, miss Bachmann, my mommy's gay but she doesn't need any fixing." It's worth watching this video just for the look of utter shock on Bachmann's face. The mother -- apparently encouraging the boy's statement -- is then shot a look which, "if looks could kill, would have left Elijah an orphan" (as LGBT website Dallas Voice memorably points out.)

Later Bachmann took to the airwaves with Glenn Beck to call this act "shameless", excoriating the mother for her eagerness to use her child as a political pawn. Critics on Twitter also vented anger at what looked like a child being forced to deliver a prepared line. Beck asked: "How do you navigate in that kind of world where you're being -- I think -- set up to look like a homophobe. Are you a homophobe?" Bachmann vehemently denied being so and stated that the "agenda-driven community wants to climb up on my platform and make their issue my issue and paint me as someone that I'm not."

But the (unidentified) woman who videotaped the confrontation, disagreed with the idea that the boy had been forced by his mother. She told Chicago Now that the boy was the one who wanted to approach Bachmann:

"His mom was going to say something to her, but she got nervous and told me she wanted to leave. We were about to step out of the line but Elijah cried out, "Nooo!" He grabbed onto her coat and pulled her back in the line, saying he wanted to talk to her....[W]hen we got up to Michele, he got a little stage fright. His mom just didn't want him to not say it because he was afraid, because she knew he would regret it if he didn't."

Whatever the motive the LGBT community can comfort themselves with the thought that Bachmann's chances of winning the Republican nomiations -- barring a miracoulous turn-around in fortunes -- seem pretty bleak. After all it's not Elijah's mum that needs fixing, it's Bachmann's views.

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Is Google Maps discriminating against people with disabilities?

Its walking routes are not access-friendly.

“I ended up having to be pushed through a main road in London, which was really scary.” Three weeks ago, Mary Bradley went to London to visit her daughter Belinda, who is just finishing her first year at university there. Her other daughter joined them on the trip.

But what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend with her two children turned into a frustrating ordeal. The apps they were using to find their way around kept sending them on routes that are not wheelchair-friendly, leading to time-consuming and sometimes frightening consequences.

Bradley has been using a wheelchair – when having to go longer distances without a vehicle – for over a year, due to a 45-degree curve in her spine, severe joint facet deterioration in her back, and other conditions.

She lives in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and has made the trip up to London to visit her daughter a handful of times. Each visit, they use Google Maps and the transport app Citymapper to find their way around, as neither of them know London particularly well.


Belinda and Mary Bradley. Photo: Belinda Bradley

“It was just horrible,” says Bradley of her most recent trip to the capital. “We’re following the maps, and we go along, then find we are faced with a footbridge, and realise there was no way I was going to get over it, so we had to go back the way we’d come. At one point, we were faced with a strip of narrow pavement the wheelchair couldn’t go down. That was something we found all weekend.”

While Google Maps did highlight accessible Tube stations, they found that once they had alighted to do the rest of the journey to their destination on foot, “it took us three times as long, because the route that it takes us just wasn’t passable”.

They ended up having to try different routes “having no real idea of where were going”.

“It meant that it took so much longer, the girls ended up having to push me for longer, I got more and more embarrassed and frustrated and upset about the whole thing,” Bradley tells me.

At one point, her daughters had to take her down a main road. “Being pushed on a road, especially in London, is scary,” she says. “It was scary for me, it was scary for the girls.”

When they returned home, Belinda, who is a 19-year-old Writing and Theatre student at the University of Roehampton, was so furious at the situation that she started a petition for Google Maps to include wheelchair-friendly routes. It hit over 100,000 signatures in a fortnight. At the time of writing, it has 110,601 petitioners.


Belinda's petition.

Belinda was surprised that Google Maps didn’t have accessible routes. “I know Google Maps so well, [Google]’s such a big company, it has the satellite pictures and everything,” she says. “So I was really surprised because there’s loads of disabled people who must have such an issue.”

The aim of her petition is for Google Maps to generate routes that people using wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, or pushing prams will be able to use. “It just says that they’re a little bit ignorant,” is Belinda’s view of the service’s omission. “To me, just to ignore any issues that big needs to be solved; it needs to be addressed almost immediately.”

But she also wants to raise awareness to “make life better in general” for people with disabilities using navigation apps.

Belinda has not received a response from Google or Citymapper, but I understand that Google is aware of the petition and the issue it raises. Google declined to comment and I have contacted Citymapper but have not received a response.

Google Maps does provide information about how accessible its locations are, and also allows users to fill in accessibility features themselves via an amenities checklist for places that are missing that information. But it doesn’t provide accessible walking routes.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t take it that bit further and include wheelchair accessible routes,” says Matt McCann, the founder of Access Earth, an online service and app that aims to be the Google Maps for people with disabilities. “When I first started Access Earth, I always thought this is something Google should be doing, and I was always surprised they haven’t done it. And that’s the next logical step.”

McCann began crowdsourcing information for Access Earth in 2013, when he booked a hotel in London that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly – but turned out not to be accessible for his rollator, which he uses due to having cerebral palsy.

Based in Dublin, McCann says Google Maps has often sent him on pedestrian routes down cobbled streets, which are unsuitable for his rollator. “That’s another level of detail; to know whether the footpaths are pedestrian-friendly, but also if they’re wheelchair-friendly as well in terms of the surface,” he notes. “And that was the main problem that I had in my experience [of using walking routes].”

Access Earth, which includes bespoke accessibility information for locations around the world, aims to introduce accessible routes once the project has received enough funding. “The goal is to encompass all aspects of a route and trip,” he says. Other services such as Wheelmap and Euan's Guide also crowdsource information to provide access-friendly maps.

So how long will it take for more established tech companies like Google to clear the obstacles stopping Mary Bradley and millions like her using everyday services to get around?

“You can use them for public transport, to drive, you can use them if you’re an able-bodied person on foot,” she says. “But there are loads of us who are completely excluded now.”

Sign Belinda Bradley’s “Create Wheelchair Friendly Routes on Google Maps" here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.