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Mont. Senator Plays Anti-Gay ?Joke? on Colleague

BOZEMAN, Mont. – Montana gay rights leaders aren’t laughing at a prank pulled by Montana’s sole Representative on an Idaho colleague.

According to The Hill, a D.C.-based paper that covers congress, Republican Rep. Dennis “Denny” Rehberg left what he labeled an “Idaho Travel Package” on the airplane seat of Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, on Feb. 15.  The package included a stuffed sheep with gloves attached to it, books on cross-dressing and sign language, a CD by the Village People and a T-shirt that read, “My senator may not be gay, but my governor is butch.”

The shirt, which is widely available in Idaho, references embattled Senator Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who was arrested last year after allegedly propositioning an undercover officer for sex in a men’s restroom. Idaho’s governor is C.L. “Butch” Otter.   

Although Simpson reportedly found the prank amusing, the Montana Human Rights Network and the Western Montana Gay and Lesbian Community Center did not. The day after the event, they called on Rehberg to apologize.

“Denny Rehberg owes an apology to his constituents in Montana, not just his gay and lesbian constituents but certainly them, and he owes us the courtesy of meeting with us and talking about his voting record,” said Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, the Montana Human Right’s Network’s director.

She cited Rehberg’s congressional record of voting against hate crimes protections and in favor of a measure that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“It’s bad enough that Congressman Rehberg consistently votes against equality for gay and lesbian people; we’ve kind of come to expect that,” Kaufmann continued. “But when he uses his gay and lesbian constituents as the subject of pranks, it’s beyond the pale.”

Although Rehberg refused to comment on the issue, a spokesman from his office told the Helena Independent Record that the two often played pranks on each other, and that Rehberg did not intend to offend.

Kaufmann also asked Rehberg to meet with representatives from her group – an offer which his office refused.

She told The Bozeman Daily Chronicle that she received the following email from the representative’s office on Feb. 19: “Unfortunately, the congressman’s schedule is full during his Montana travel this week. However, Congressman Rehberg would be happy to meet with you and others from the Montana Human Rights Network when you are in Washington, D.C.”

Kauffman called the missive “uninviting.”

“What I take from the e-mail is that Congressman Rehberg does not want to meet with the gay and lesbian community,” she said. “Not only did he turn down an effort by the community, he clearly is not intending to apologize. He really ought to do that.”

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