City Councilman Dave Thune’s Assistant Called His Opponent “That Gay Guy”: Derogatory Or Just Dumb?

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.

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One Comment

  • Josh Elder

    While I partially agree with your assessment, I also disagree. Had I received the email, I would have taken her referencing him as a “that gay guy” as an attempt to discredit his suggestion. That somehow, because he’s gay, his suggestion is ridiculous.
    I as well refer to people like you do, but in the context of the email, the way the sentence is structured, tells me she meant it in a discrediting manner not in a “pin pointing who she was referring to” manner.

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