WASHINGTON, D.C. — Montana’s gay and lesbian community is calling on Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., to apologize for a gag he recently played on one of his colleagues.
On a congressional trip to the Middle East last month, Rehberg left an “Idaho Travel Package” on the airplane seat of Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.
The contents included a stuffed sheep with gloves attached to it, a Village People CD, books on cross-dressing and sign language and a T-shirt that reads, “My senator may not be gay, but my governor is Butch.”
The shirt referred to Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who was caught in a men’s airport bathroom sex sting, and Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.
Craig, who has denied that he is gay, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct but later tried to withdraw the plea. He initially said he would resign from the Senate but decided to serve out his term.
Rehberg’s travel bag was first reported by The Hill newspaper, which covers Congress. It said Rehberg was proud of the gift bag and quoted him as boasting, “I spent a bit of time putting the things together.”
It said Simpson was amused but not surprised at Rehberg’s action.
The Montana Human Rights Network and the Western Montana Gay and Lesbian Community Center are calling 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, director of the network and a state senator from Helena.
Kaufmann cited votes by Rehberg against hate crime protections and for a measure that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented legal marriage rights to same-sex couples.
“It’s bad enough that Congressman Rehberg consistently votes against equality for gay and lesbian people; we’ve kind of come to expect that,” she said. “But when he uses his gay and lesbian constituents as the subject of pranks, it’s beyond the pale.”
Rehberg declined to comment on the matter himself, but a spokesman confirmed the report.
“This was a practical joke between two friends from neighboring western states who often play pranks on one another,” said Bridger Pierce. “No offense was intended.”
Pierce said the sentence on the T-shirt was not something Rehberg made up, but a slogan used in Idaho.
Kaufmann said there is a matter of being respectful and that “his prank is only funny if you think gay and lesbian people are funny.” She said that nothing about Craig’s situation is funny.