Fellow Republicans have distanced themselves from Mobile County Treasurer Phil Benson, who has come under fire for a Facebook comment many found offensive to the LGBTQ community.
The comment in question was made on a June 12 article shared on the Mobile County Republican Party’s Facebook page. The original post was about Jack Phillips, the Colorado bakery owner who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding in 2012 and became the center of a national discussion and a lengthy legal battle about discrimination and religious freedom.
The National Review article shared on the page discussed a lawsuit filed by Autumn Scardina, a transgender woman who has accused Phillips of refusing to bake a gender-transition cake.
“This poor guy needs to move to a place he is wanted,” Benson said of Phillips. “Freaking queers have gotten too much sympathy. A real abomination.”
After a few days without being noticed, the comment was brought to the attention of a local TV journalist, whose story on the incident drew swift criticism from LGBTQ advocates with many calling Benson’s choice of words “hateful,” “homophobic” and “inappropriate” at best.
Benson, however, has since doubled down on his stance in the wake of the online criticism. He told Lagniappe Tuesday he was “sorry if people were offended,” but he also downplayed the concerns and said people should be more offended by what is happening to Phillips in Colorado.
“It didn’t bother anyone that the government stuck their nose into a private business and fined some poor guy $135,000 because he refused to bake a cake for some ‘freaking queers,’” he said. “It’s a ’60s term. It’s not politically correct today, but it was the term when I grew up.”
Despite the title, Benson is not a county employee, which a Mobile County Commission spokesperson pointed out when declining to comment. Like the sheriff, license commissioner and revenue commissioner, the county treasurer is an at-large elected position.
Benson has held the office since 2012, and does not appear to be concerned that his comments are making their way around local, state and national media outlets. He said he’s only received a few comments or emails, though he did say some were “offensive” and “almost threatening.”
He also doesn’t think the controversy will impact his plans to run again in 2020.
However, over the past 24 hours, Benson’s comments have been shared dozens of times on social media, with many calling for him to be removed from office. Rainbow Mobile, one of the more prominent local organizations dedicated to connecting LGBTQ people and their allies, didn’t excuse Benson’s comments, but did extend somewhat of an olive branch.
“We at Rainbow Mobile are working to make the city and county of Mobile a better place for everyone, no matter our differences,” Executive Director Bryan Fuenmayor said in a statement. “To that end, we would like to invite Phil Benson to sit down with us and learn more about the LGBTQ people he serves in Mobile County. We hope he will take us up on this offer.”
Besides the reaction from the LGBTQ community, Benson’s comments have also caused fellow Alabama Republicans to start distancing themselves from him. Once the story began making the rounds, the Mobile County Republican Party deleted Benson’s original remarks. The page said the comment, which at that point was six days old, didn’t use “appropriate language.”
“The comments made by a Mobile County elected official are his own and they do NOT in anyway reflect the policies or beliefs of the Mobile County Republican Party nor any of its other members,” the page wrote. “We do not wish for his comments to be published further on our Facebook page. He can express his comments in any way he wishes on his own page.”
Alabama GOP Chairman Terry Lathan also told NBC 15 reporter Andrea Ramey, who first reported the story on Monday, that “Mr. Benson’s comments represent his own personal opinion. I find them to be unnecessary, divisive and reflect solely on himself.”
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