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It's not easy being Kolbe


Wildcat File Photo
Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Sheila Bapat
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 10, 2000
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Many politicians have experienced tension between their personal lives and their political careers.

U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., knows first hand.

The openly gay Republican continues to deny his party's implied platform against homosexuality. He does his best to separate his sexuality from his politics, pretending that the two do not need to impact each other.

But hate crime legislation hit close when a gay UA student was stabbed at Rainbow Planet on Sunday night.

"It's obviously very tragic for any victim," Kolbe commented on the incident. "But one has to be cautious before labeling it a hate crime."

Incidentally, the student, who remains anonymous, said he is a friend of Kolbe's and has a different perspective.

"I believe this was a hate crime," he said. "There is no doubt in my mind. There's no doubt that (the attacker's) target was homosexuals."

Kolbe has thus far succeeded in denying his party's implied agenda against homosexuality and homosexual rights. He has refused to push the envelope regarding gay rights.

But one wonders what Kolbe would do if he knew that it had impacted a friend as deeply as this incident has.

When the stabbing victim came out of the closet three years ago, Kolbe was his confidant.

When he needed someone to talk to, Kolbe was there.

"I just know it was great to talk to him," the young man said. "He made himself available to talk to when I needed someone to talk to."

The young man recalls dealing with verbal abuse from intolerant nuts on campus. He recalls how it felt when the attacker stabbed the knife into his back, and hearing the attacker say "This is what gays deserve."

Clearly, it's still tough to be openly gay on the UA campus. Though Sunday night's horrifying incident is thankfully uncommon, it proves the sad reality that people still feel they have the right to hate-and act on their rage.

It must be tough to be a gay Republican, too.

But try to ask Kolbe about this, and he snaps, "It isn't an issue. Columnists like you make it an issue."

Correction: Columnists, unlike Kolbe, don't ignore the issue.

Kolbe is just beginning to make strides in a gay-unfriendly party. He is coauthoring hate crime legislation that attempts to deter people from committing hate-motivated crimes by demanding that they serve longer sentences.

This hate crime bill is an amended version of a previous bill that did not include homosexuals among the other groups it protected from hate crimes.

Kolbe says it won't pass.

"We're one vote short in the Senate," Kolbe admits. "And we're further away from passing it in the House. I don't expect it to pass this time around."

That just one simple phrase, "sexual orientation," could help stifle the passing of important legislation is just plain sad.

Kolbe relentlessly contends that his party is not any less tolerant of his lifestyle than other groups.

"It's not hard being a gay Republican," he persists. "I've never experienced discrimination."

But the proof otherwise is staggering. Reality takes over whatever rhetoric Kolbe is trying to push.

It isn't an issue; the media just make it an issue.

It isn't an issue even though Kolbe has served in the House of Representatives since 1985 but couldn't come out of the closet until 1996.

It isn't an issue even though GOP leaders have the audacity to say that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which has unfairly thrown gays out of the military, is working.

It isn't an issue even though the Republican party is vehemently opposed to benefits for domestic partners.

Perhaps now, after someone he knows is stabbed because he is gay, Kolbe will stand up more and stand for less.

But Kolbe is in between a rock and hard place. His party does not allow him to be as vocal about an issue he ought to be able to defend freely, but it has supported him for over a decade.

The victim seems to understand his dilemma.

"While I disagree with his politics, I can agree with the man," he said. "I know he's doing all that he can do."

Intolerance exists at every level-at a campus cafe, in the United States Congress. When the two connect as they have this time, it becomes even more clear that there needs to be a greater push for tolerance.

We can decorate the campus with "Stop Hate" pins. We can hold a vigil and celebrate Awarness Week.

We can support Kolbe's Hate Crime legislation and demand that it pass.

But it all seems like a feeble fist in the air when the political party controlling Congress routinely expresses intolerance toward gays, and one of the party's veteran members is caught in between his party and his lifestyle.

Kolbe needs to "come out" yet again. This time, he needs to come out as a gay Republican leader who will stand against his party's firm position of intolerance.

Sheila Bapat is a political science sophomore. She can be reached at editor@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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