A Calculated Face-off Against Homophobia Falls Flat

Parents Wrongly Use Eight Year-Old-Son to Discredit Michele Bachmann


Kim Kim Foster-Tobin

Michelle Bachmann is vying for the Republican presidential nomination, but she’s been receiving criticism lately for her stance on gay rights. (Kim Foster-Tobin/The State/MCT)


Michelle Bachmann is vying for the Republican presidential nomination, but she’s been receiving criticism lately for her stance on gay rights. (Kim Foster-Tobin/The State/MCT)

The latest video to go viral on the Internet shows an encounter between Michele Bachmann and a young boy at a book signing in South Carolina. The Republican presidential nominee was promoting her memoir, “Core of Conviction.” A little boy, Elijah, followed by a woman who is presumably his mother, approaches the author and tries to speak to her. His mother prompts him from behind, saying, “Do you have something you need to say?” Looking at the floor, Elijah mutters something almost inaudible, and at first, the camera doesn’t pick it up. Bachmann waits patiently, bringing her face closer.

“You said it but I think my ears were too far away,” says Bachmann, encouragingly. Still not looking at her, Elijah finally gets the words out: “My mommy—Mrs. Bachmann, my mommy’s gay but she doesn’t need fixing.” He then pulls himself away as his mother urges him, “Come on.” Elijah, his mother and the person behind the camera leave abruptly, ending the video just after capturing a look of what is perhaps shock on Bachmann’s face.

Before I even watched the video, seeing the words “Little Boy Stands Up to Michele Bachmann” across my screen made me feel the slightest sense of pride. Yet as I watched this painful 46-second scene unfold, I was not met with the smug satisfaction I’d expected to feel from watching a thoughtful young boy stand up to a closed-minded politician. That’s because the scene I had dreamed up in my head was decidedly different from the one that played before my eyes. I watched the video at least three more times, and each time, Elijah seemed to get a little smaller and withdrawn, clearly uncomfortable with carrying out a task that shouldn’t be his burden to bear.

When I first clicked on the video, I had expected to witness the triumph of a small child who would be able to distill and succinctly discredit Michele Bachmann’s homophobic social views by informing her that she was mistaken in thinking of homosexuality as a condition that needs to be rectified. I suspect that this was also the intention of Elijah’s mother, who clearly orchestrated the confrontation and then didn’t stick around for a response.

Each time I replayed the video, I wanted to feel differently about what I was seeing, and I kept wondering if I was missing the point. But I don’t think I am. What could have been a satisfying—and quite honestly, useful—victory against homophobia is severely reduced by the fact that Elijah was being used by his mother to deliver a message she would not. It is painfully obvious that Elijah was coached to say those exact words to Bachmann, which does nothing except prove that poor decisions and puppetry can occur on either side of the debate on homosexuality.

Using small children as messengers about personal beliefs does not advance issues, nor does it validate them. Teaching children to parrot our beliefs doesn’t instill the beliefs; it just lets them know that certain behaviors will merit parental approval. What’s more, they may learn to think that refusal to do as they are told will result in punishment, or perhaps neglect. Contrary to whatever goal she thinks she’s achieved, Elijah’s mother has only successfully taught her son that he has to fight her battles. It’s a stressful burden to put on one’s children, who have no place in the political games of misguided adults.

If Elijah’s mom wanted to prove to Congresswoman Bachmann that sexual orientation does not affect parenting ability, she did no such thing. If she intended to walk away having placed a hole in Bachmann’s argument against innate homosexuality (she has referred to all non-heterosexual orientations as sexual dysfunction), she didn’t do that either. By using her child to confront her own enemy, Elijah’s mother only compromised the deeply important fight against prejudice. It’s possible that Bachmann and her supporters were only reinforced in their bigotry when they saw that this woman was using a child to voice her own opinions and couldn’t herself tell Bachmann, mere feet away from her, that she didn’t need fixing. Instead, she shielded herself against her opponent using her young son, turning what might have been a triumph into sad impasse.
She played right into Bachmann’s hand by revealing herself in that moment as an imprudent parent. She was both too wrapped up in using her son as the medium and the message to think of her child’s own wellbeing and too afraid of Bachmann to confront her alone. Although it’s wrong to attribute a moment of irresponsible parenting to her sexual orientation, the fallacy now exists for Bachmann to exploit. Even worse, it’s on camera. In retrospect, even the words chosen for Elijah reflect poorly on his mother. Although at first his message was grave and powerful, they now seem ironic. Although her sexual orientation doesn’t need fixing, she could benefit from re-evaluating her priorities as a mother. She owes it to her son, who overcame his own unease to defend her.