When openly gay St. Paul businessman Bill Hosko wrote City Councilman David Thune’s office to suggest erecting a statue of Bill Bowell, a recently deceased riverboat captain, Thune’s executive assistant Barb Benson responded with the following e-mail message:
“A statue of Bill Bowell??????????? Gag. Barf. [Hosko] is the gay guy that always runs against Dave for City Council.”
Thune has since apologized to Hosko’s and Bowell’s families and Benson now faces review by the city’s human resources office. But is calling someone “that gay guy” really that derogatory?
Hosko said, “Why would she identify me as ‘that gay guy’? That is derogatory. What if she had said ‘the black guy’? That would have been derogatory. ‘The gay guy’ — what does that have to do with anything?”
Granted, Benson mistakenly sent the e-mail back to Hosko instead of “Kathy”, the e-mail’s intended recipient. But a 20-year city employee should know better than to respond like 8th grader to a work e-mail either way. However, as one who refers to others I barely know in shorthand like “the gay waiter”, “that black lesbian”, or “that old dude with the limp” I wonder if Benson’s calling Hosko “that gay guy” is derogatory or just accurate.
Sure, no one wants to be labelled so crudely in an e-mail that also mocks a dead local hero with gagging and barfing, but Hosko has been active gay force in St. Paul’s business landscape. And seeing as Thune ran against four other candidates in his last re-election campaign, could it be that Benson referred to Hosko as “the gay guy” just to make clear who she meant?
Maybe the real issue here isn’t how Benson refers to Hosko, but how she responds to her bosses’ constituents. Careless yes, but derogatory? Not so much.