"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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Unlikely sisters in the Gaza Strip

A former Jewish settler in Gaza recalls her childhood friendship with a young Palestinian.

It was well after midnight, one summer night in 1995, when Inbar Rozy, a 13-year-old living in the former Israeli settlement of Alei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip, heard her parents answer the phone. Sitting up in bed, surrounded by potted plants, candles and fairy dolls lit by shafts of light from a nearby security outpost, Inbar listened closely.

“I could hear everyone talking around me, making calls,” Inbar said when we met recently in Nitzan, southern Israel. When she got up to find out what was happening, her parents told her to make up a second mattress. As dawn broke, they led into the room a young woman carrying a small bag and wearing a black shirt and jeans. “She had shoulder-length dark hair dyed with red henna and beautiful eyes – big, black with thick eyelashes,” Inbar told me, smiling. “[She was] quiet. She looked scared.”

The woman was Rina (her surname cannot be given for security reasons), a talented artist in her early twenties studying at a local art college, where she had fallen in love with a Christian boy. For Rina, coming from a traditional family, marrying a non-Muslim would be strictly forbidden.

When her parents found out, they were furious and forbade her from seeing her boyfriend. But her male cousins felt this wasn’t enough. Earlier on the day the girls first met, Rina’s cousins had attempted to kill her in retribution for her perceived “honour crime”. Seeing that another attempt on her life was likely, Rina’s father called a relative, who in turn called Inbar’s father, Yossef, a friend of many years. There was no doubt she had to leave. Ironically, a Jewish settlement protected by the Israel Defence Forces was the safest place in Gaza for her to be.

In 1967, Israel seized the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the Six Day War. In time, it settled 21 communities on a third of the land, with a population of 8,000 by 2005. Soldiers guarded the settlements from 1.5 million displaced Palestinians, tens of thousands of whom were displaced in 1967 and moved to live in nearby refugee camps. In Gaza, before Israel’s ultimate withdrawal from the Strip in 2005, relationships between Israeli settlers and Palestinians were fraught. True, many Palestinians worked in Israeli settlements, earning wages higher than elsewhere in the Strip, but the two communities lived largely separate lives.

In the mid-1990s, even after the Oslo Accords, violence was simmering. Israeli military incursions increased with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. Thousands of home-made Qassam rockets were launched by Palestinian militants at settlers and those living in southern Israel. Security measures hardened. The veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who spent several years living in Gaza, describes neighbourhoods that were “turned into jails behind barbed-wire fences, closed gates, IDF surveillance, tanks and entry-permit red tape”.

And yet, in spite of the forced segregation, Inbar’s family enjoyed close links with their Palestinian neighbours. Inbar’s father worked as an ambulance driver, and on several occasions he helped transport those who lived nearby for emergency medical treatment in Israel. “Every Tuesday, my father’s Jewish and Arab friends would come to our house and we’d eat lunch together,” Inbar remembered.

Given the gravity of Rina’s situation, she couldn’t leave the house. Secrecy was paramount. The girls spent weeks together indoors, Inbar said, chatting, watching TV and drawing. “I’m not sure that as a child I actually understood it for real,” she said. “She taught me how to paint and sketch a face from sight.”

Almost as soon as Rina arrived, Inbar’s family began receiving anonymous phone calls asking about her. “My dad told me, ‘Don’t mention anything about Rina. Say you don’t know what they’re talking about – because otherwise they’ll come and kill us,’” Inbar said.

While the girls got to know each other, Inbar’s mother, Brigitte, found a women’s shelter in East Jerusalem for Rina. Whereas today Gaza is closed off by a military border under heavy surveillance, at that time it was porous. Brigitte drove Rina in to the capital, where she was given a new name and identity that would enable her to begin a new life, on condition that she contact no one in Gaza.

Today Inbar, who is 33, works at the Gush Katif centre in Nitzan – a museum dedicated to the memory of the Israeli settlements in Gaza. Despite her parents’ objections, the family was evacuated in 2005. Unlike most settlers in Gaza, some residents of Alei Sinai were determined to stay on, even if that meant forfeiting their Israeli citizenship. “I have no problem with living as a minority in a Palestinian state,” one of Alei Sinai’s inhabitants, Avi Farhan, told the Israeli daily Haaretz at the time.

Inbar now lives in Ashkelon, a city of 140,000 in southern Israel, and finds the big city alienating, especially when she recalls the warm relationships that once existed in Gaza. “I’ve never felt less secure,” she told me.

Years later, she learned that Rina had developed cancer and died. “The day before Rina left . . . she drew a portrait of me,” she said, describing how her friend had outlined, in charcoal strokes, the features of the teenager. Her parents packed the portrait with all their belongings in a shipping container the day they left Gaza. Soon after, the container was destroyed in a fire.

“I think if people had given it a chance . . . they would have had these kinds of friendships,” Inbar said, looking back. “We’d get along fairly well if we didn’t look at others as the monsters over the wall.” 

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism