White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett has apologized for recent remarks regarding the "lifestyle choice" of a bullied Minnesota teen who committed suicide in July.
In an online video interview with The Washington Post, Jarrett said of the family of the teen, Justin Aaberg, "These
are good people. They were aware that their son was gay. They embraced
him, they loved him, they supported his lifestyle choice."
After mounting criticism, Jarrett issued the following statement Thursday:
"In a recent interview I was asked about the recent tragedies about gay youth who have committed suicide, and I misspoke when I referred to someone’s sexual identity as a 'lifestyle choice.' I meant no disrespect to the LGBT community, and I apologize to any who have taken offense at my poor choice of words.
"Sexual orientation and gender identity are not a choice, and anyone who knows me and my work over the years knows that I am a firm believer and supporter in the rights of LGBT Americans. Most of all, I hope this does not distract from the issue I was asked about — the desperate, tragic decision by some young people who feel that their only recourse is to take their own lives because they are being bullied or harassed because they are gay, or because others believe they are gay.
"We must instill in young people respect for one another, and we must set an example of mutual regard and civility to create an environment that is safe for every person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."
Update: Tammy Aaberg, Justin Aaberg's mother who met with the White House adviser prior to the Human Rights Campaign's national dinner in Washington, D.C. last weekend, responded Thursday to Jarrett's use of the term "lifestyle choice" and subsequent apology:
"In meeting with [Jarrett], we knew her intentions to be pure and honest," Aaberg told The Advocate. "She cares about the LGBTQ community and simply misspoke. I myself know how easy it is to slip and say something that can be misinterpreted by the media. We knew the moment that she said that, that she did not mean it the way it sounded. Sometimes people fail to remember that people are more than titles."
Aaberg added that she thanked Jarrett for her apology and hopes "that those who were offended do not lose faith in her intentions or abilities to help those who need it."
Charles Robbins, executive director of the Trevor Project, said of the senior adviser's statement, "I’m pleased that Valerie Jarrett apologized for her poor choice of words and amplified the value of creating an environment that is safe for every person regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Words matter. Respect matters. Precious young lives matter.”