White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett Apologizes for Calling Homosexuality a ‘Lifestyle Choice’

Yesterday's post about Jonathan Capehart's Washington Post interview with White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, in which she referred to anti-gay bullying victim Justin Aaberg's sexuality as a "lifestyle choice", inspired a great deal of comments.

Jarrett Today, Capehart defended Jarrett, saying she's "no bigot", and published an apology from Jarrett for her use of the term.

Jarrett's statement:

"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."


  1. nick says

    No -the fact remains -she does believe what she said yesterday as do most of Barry’s staff. They fundamentally do not understand, won’t understand and have no desire to fully understand. Very sad for LBGT people who thought it would be different.

  2. Jon Brian Blake says

    I’m sorry – but the phrase ‘lifestyle choice’ doesn’t just rolloff the tongue. People don’t just say it out of the blue… she said what she meant. She just got careless and slipped. She’s as much a ‘friend’ the LGBT community as Obama is our ‘fierce advocate.’

  3. Martin Murray says

    F*** you Jarrett – you offensive moron.

    F*** you Obama you lying hypocrite.

    F*** you HRC for your betrayal of the LGBT community.

    Direct action seems more useful than the HRC at this point

  4. says

    whatever. A forced apology because she let slip what she REALLY thinks? not nearly good enough. And she has the fucking audacity to say this: “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.” Well, if that weren’t just a self-serving lie then you would have resigned your job in protest at this point. You have done nothing for our community and your indignant “apology” only reinforces the notion that you feel superior to those of us who “choose” to be gay. Fuck you Valerie.

  5. Gary Brown says

    Can someone tell me the difference between the Obama Administration and the Republican party? They both do their best to manipulate our community to their advantage.

  6. Tim says

    Sorry, the White House’s Freudian slip is showing. Want to help LGBT youth understand their value as human beings? Be the fierce advocate you promised to be and do everything you can to overturn DOMA and DADT and pass ENDA immediately. It’s a trite phrase, but actions DO speak louder than words. This is a hollow apology that would make Carl Paladino proud.

  7. Andalusian Dog says

    I think it’s one of those things that a not-too-intelligent person says when they are trying to be politically correct about something they actually don’t care too much about. She’s probably no bigot, as she claimed. Somewhere deep down, she probably just thinks that being gay is frivolous, but non-offensive. She probably doesn’t care that much.

    She needs to be fired immediately.

  8. Chitown Kev says

    She said that she was wrong, that she does not believe that it is a lifestyle choice.

    I don’t believe that she had any ill intent.

    Apology accepted.

    You know, Jarrett is in her mid-50’s. I know supporters of gay people who are her age that use “lifestyle choice” as well (including some gays).

    It is a bit of an anachronism.

    I’m glad that she took heat over this because, yes, nomenclature is important but noneed to browbeat Jarrett over something like this.

  9. Andalusian Dog says

    It is careless comments such as hers that demean gay people (even among “straight supporters”) and promote an environment of intolerance that leads to bullying, violence, and suicide. The White House must be so proud right now.

  10. Tim says

    The standard “non-apology” apology

    “I apologize to any who have taken offense at my poor choice of words.”

    How about this instead:

    “I apologize for my offensive choice of words”

    Why does it have to be couched in language that makes it clear that some people may not have been offended? Like anyone who was offended really has the problem of being over sensitive?

    The woman is a professional adviser and spokesperson for the most powerful man in the world. She certainly ought to know the proper language to use when speaking about LGBT issues. She didn’t “misspeak”. “Lifestyle choice” was the phrase that came naturally to her. Maybe she didn’t intend to be offensive. Maybe she didn’t know any better. But, it certainly proves that she didn’t care enough to have made herself knowledgeable beforehand. Can you think of any other minority group she would have spoken about without having prepared herself beforehand? You know the White House goes to great lengths to make sure the don’t make these kinds of “mistakes” when talking about or meeting with foreign dignitaries. Why the lackluster attitude wen it comes to the LGBT community?

  11. John P says

    I think it WAS a mistake. “lifestyle choice” is the kind of nonsense phrase that just get’s programmed into people. Especially older people.

    My mother, who is very supportive, sometimes uses “choice” when talking about LGBTQs and it’s because *she doesn’t understand the implications of it being a choice*. The important thing is that she knows that I *am* gay, not that I *choose* to be.

    She’s not part of our community, she’s not fully cognizant of what the nuance of the words mean. AND we have bigger problems. We called her out, she apologized, good. Now let’s focus back on DADT and gay youth.

  12. Mike C. says

    Oh please, it’s semantics. She made a linguistic error. You know most straight people are not as finely tuned to the semantics of LGBT language as gay people. Apology accepted, issue over.

  13. says

    Let’s be clear: if we had a Republican administration, there would be no chance of such a misstatement, because there would have been no statement about anti-gay bullying since the Republicans believe the issue either does not exist or must be silenced.

    So, I give her credit for speaking out to begin with and for apologizing for her ignorant choice of words. The unfortunate thing is that her choice of words has become the story, and she deserves full blame for that. In 2010, anyone who is claiming to speak with authority on gay issues should know how wrong and offensive the term “lifestyle choice” is to gay people. When your tone-deafness becomes more powerful than your message, you need to do better, a lot better. We shouldn’t have to keep telling the administration this, but . . .

  14. Martin Murray says

    Valerie Jarrett’s opposition to bullying is as meaningless as this apology.

    Is it any wonder LGBT teens are bullied when the president validates homophobia by opposing marriage equality, by defending DADT; by doing nothing about DOMA or ENDA, and when his special adviser Valerie Jarrett says that being gay is a ‘lifestyle choice’.

    The Obama administration is scarcely any better than the Bush administration. At least with Bush we knew he hated us.

    Obama claims to support us, but opposes our civil and human rights at every possible moment.

    I’ll be voting Green from now on. Votinf for the ‘lesser of 2 evils’ simply doesn’t cut it any more, for me.

  15. Rob says

    Mistake or not, words matter so they need to be chosen very carefully. This is especially true when speaking from or on behalf of The White House. Whether mistakenly saying a young person made a “lifestyle choice” or suggesting that one is working to end DADT this year (eh, Mr. President?), it does matter what you say and how you say it.

  16. K in VA says

    She’s a good woman, and I believe she meant no harm.

    However, that she’s not versed in correct language indicates a White House that has no high-level presidential staff who are intensely conversant with LGBT issues. And that’s the problem — not her terrible words, but that nobody close to the President knows exactly what equality is all about.

  17. says

    Andy leaves out the most disturbing part of Capehart’s defense of Jarrett. Although Capehart acknowledges that Jarrett made an error, he apparently does not think that he did anything wrong. He says he did not correct Jarrett because he knows her heart. That does not in any way explain his choice to have the video posted, without even a blog post from him acknowledging her use of the term “lifestyle choice” and his decision to let it pass.

    Jonathan Capehart really doesn’t get it. And the thing is, he goes on TV as a representative of the gay community. He is window-dressing, who is willing to help the Washington Post cover up the anti-gay agenda many of its editors want to push.

    Please help call Jonathan Capehart out on this, and on his previous, mindless support of the Obama administration.

  18. says

    I think she is doing the right thing to apologize, and I don’t think she felt forced to do so—it was brought to her attention what she was implying and she immediately apologized. I think she’s a smart, capable woman who’s on our side; if I’m not mistaken, she has in the past intimated that she herself is pro-marriage equality. Regardless, she is not an enemy. If we’re down to arguing about whether Valerie Jarrett is an enemy of the gays, I don’t see us ever making progress of any kind because there will always be someone to fight against.

    She’s one of the good guys. I do believe that saying “lifestyle choice” is easy to do. That was a very accepted phrase when she was younger and I think when government officials begin speaking for print they try to sound as “appropriate” as possible. This was clearly the wrong phrase, but she just as clearly gets that.

    I’d rather re-focus on pressuring Obama on DADT and DOMA than crucifying admittedly not-so-powerful allies for blunders for which they’ve abjectly apologized.

  19. Will says

    Can we give the woman a break? People make mistakes. She obviously is a huge supporter of us. Come on people. Let’s not bite the hand that feeds us.

  20. Sean says

    @Matthew – agreed. The apology, apparently heartfelt and informed, does not create some “credit” on the ledgar, merely offsets the “debit” created by her ill-chosen (no pun intended) words. There is still a whole lot of debit balance to be paid off!

  21. Keith says

    I agree with the majority of posters here who recognize this was no “slip of the tongue” and she meant what she originally said. It is the pervading attitude in this country that we all had to have chosen our orientation, despite the growing scientific evidence to the contrary. Sigh.

  22. TJ says

    Some serious “all or nothing” thinking going on here. She wasn’t perfect, so she must be evil incarnate. Don’t misunderstand; I get the importance of language. I want anyone who speaks out on issues important to us all to be absolutely sincere, never make a misstep, and always say just the thing that will win over hearts and minds. But I am also pragmatic.

    Go ahead. Teach those phonies a lesson by not voting, or voting for someone who hasn’t a snowball’s chance. Throw those babies out with the bath water; the world is overpopulated anyway. But first, spend some time in front of the mirror, imagining how your nose-less, spited face is gonna look.

  23. says

    “Let’s not bite the hand that feeds us”

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t eat out of ANYBODY’s hand. Especially when it is a constitutionally derived RIGHT like equality. It’s not some treat being doled out by some benevolent overseer. And all you apologists are a fucking embarassment. Get some self respect before you dare to lecture any of the rest of us.

  24. Chitown Kev says

    By the way, I do agree with the posters as far as Capehart is concerned.

    I think that pursuing the line of questioning about Jarrett’s choice of phrase would have in no way jeapordized Miss Capehart’s precious WH access.

    Capehart is such a tool.

  25. Fenrox says

    No, If she meant what she said her apology would read:

    “I did not intend for my remarks to hurt anyone”

    THAT is not an apology, that is a burn, its “Sorry you are such a pussy, pussy”. Her apology was a real apology, she apologies for her word choice and admits to doing the thing that pissed people off.

    People screw up, don’t be so childish people, if someone apologies be an adult and accept. You don’t need to forget but you can forgive, you assholes.

  26. TJ says

    @gay lib: I’d say the hand got bit, or at least harshly smacked. The result was to immediately apologize and admit the error. But clearly, the error should never have happened in the first place, so we are back to either/ or, all or nothing. Idealistic, but not practical.

  27. Demand Equality says

    It is what she did not say that matters- and she did not say what the White House plans to do to prosecute every school administrator who does not follow their state education department laws about making sure that every student has a safe school in which to learn.

  28. Martin FLL says

    I thought she was smarter.
    After a couple of months of Obama in the White House I wrote here on Towleroad: where is the change…? I was called inpatient (okay) and whatsoever not nice (not okay).
    It is clear now: NO CHANGE! That’s what I believe in.

  29. X says

    Good intentions are great. How about looking deeper and tackling where all this bullying comes from? Cultural and legal practices against gay Americans must change now — talk and belated apologies are not enough.

  30. TJ says

    @x – you are right. Belated apologies are not enough. It’s why we keep fighting. We call people out. We keep trying to change hearts and minds. I wouldn’t blame anyone for waiting for actions before fully accepting words. We called the woman out. She listened. We may not have completely changed a heart and a mind. But we may have started a process. As FENROX above suggests, the adult thing is to accept an apology. It doesn’t mean that that’s the end of the story.

  31. rapture says

    OH GET OVER IT and get out and lobby against republican and wingnut candidates who want to overturn gay marriage in iowa and in parts of my state (CALIFORNIA) wish to see biblical punishment instated for gay people (death by stoning) GET OUT AND GET ACTIVATED TO TELL YOUR CANDIDATES WHAT YOU WANT AND HOLD THEIR FEET TO THE FIRE. Don’t just bitch on this site. Take action. You think John McCain and Sarah Palin would be championing our cause now? Really? Do you think ODonnell will? How about the guy running against Feingold? These are the real issues. Don’t take your toys and go home mad. TAKE ACTION.

  32. bobbyjoe says

    Question: A White House senior adviser is sent as a representative to speak to a different minority, let’s say Asian groups or African-American groups. The next day, she gives an interview where she talks about “the Orientals” or “the Negroes.”

    What’s the most likely scenario?:

    A) the White House fires her a** so fast it makes her head spin and she doesn’t get a chance to apologize until after she’s lost her job.

    B) she apologizes a few days later, keeps her job, and everybody moves on.

    The correct answer is: likely “A” for most other minorities; inevitably “B” if the minority is gays.

  33. r says

    great, so tell your boss to change his mind on appealing the ruling ending discrimination in the military

  34. Jeff says

    She used a phrase that was always code for “gays choose to be this way and it’s wrong” — I’m glad she apologized, and believe she understands it better now, but it’s horrible that the White House apparently doesn’t know many gay people and hasn’t given LGBT equality issues more than 30 minutes of sustained thought. With the teen suicides so in the news, we could use some Presidential leadership — a brief talk from our leader, fluently using words like “gay” and “lesbian”, speaking to those teens and to bullies and their parents, saying that it’s OK to be gay.

    Yeah, not gonna happen. Every antigay politician and talking head now opposes marriage equality by saying that they “believe what President Obama believes.” This is a big problem. He needs to say something.

    I don’t think he or Michelle really have any gay friends. We are not part of their lives (dress designers don’t count).

  35. Name: says

    Why is it that Obama, his wife and numerous people in the Obama administration, always say they misspoke. Don’t they have speech writers? Can’t they just apologize. I’ve never seen an administration say this as much as they do.

  36. Joe says

    To hear a white house offical strongly state that sexual orientation is not a choice is really great. I’m pretty sure it is something we never got out of the Bush white house, and didn’t the clinton administration skirt around this issue (or am I misremembering).

    However, we need more than an apology, someone should be pounding the white house on this.

  37. TANK says

    The hand that feeds us? C’mon…you aren’t sellin’ that line still, are you? LOL! Sad little faggots…you get nothing, and some of you LIKE IT!

    OF course this was an accident. However, it’s a revealing accident. And that’s that…the cat’s out of the bag, and the administration’s conception of gay people is about thirty to forty years out of date (they simply have no relevant reference point)…and if that’s so, just imagine what the bush admin’s was…

  38. Keith says

    She is not too old to know better. I am a gay man of her age and she’s been around long enough, especially in Chicago, to be well versed in language that is appropriate and not demeaning. The language she used is demeaning and in using it she is buying into the Christianist attacks on us.

    That being said, I hope she’s sorry about the language she used and not about the reaction. She knows better.

  39. adamblast says

    It’s important to remember that Obama was *for* marriage equality until he decided to run for President.

    He seems not to understand the implications of that, what it says to us about his heart. Gay equality is not a matter of principle to him, only a matter of politics.

    I hold no hope that Clinton would have been any better. I will continue to vote anti-Republican, since they’re worse, but in truth, we’ve all been disenfranchised, and there is no one to believe in.

  40. TANK says

    “Gay equality is not a matter of principle to him, only a matter of politics.”

    Which pulls the curtain back on the principles that guide his decisions. Are you calling our president a whore? A whore with no scruple except his own self promotion and aggrandizement? I find this troubling from an OBOT.

  41. BobN says

    Yeah, “she meant what she said” about this one little term, but she must be lying about all the other words she said.

    Makes perfect sense… if you’re dimwitted.

    I’m about the same age she is and at the time when she probably first started working with gay people, WE used that same term.

  42. Bobo says

    I’ll believe that this administration cares anything about LGBT people when the President himself makes a statement about, anti-gay bullying, youth suicide, and himself goes to a fundraiser by an LGBT organization! ( BTW, I fucking hate HRC, and have for many years, and have never felt that they were an organization that should be at the forefront of our community!)

  43. piminnowcheez says

    The thing I can’t understand is how it ever came to be that someone who could possibly make the mistake of saying “lifestyle choice” would find herself speaking on the record about any glbt related issue. You put people in front of the mic who can speak the language of the audience. This was like having a Chamber of Commerce official speak at a union rally: destined to say the wrong thing no matter how benign the intentions.

  44. Jims says

    I am just disgusted by so many of the comments here. I am as fed up as anyone about the all of the empty lip service from the White House, about all the motherfuckingscumbags from the “Christian” taliban, and all the “special rights” asswipes, but get a grip people! The woman, who IS a supporter, stuck her foot in her mouth and used the wrong terminology. Cut her some slack! She appologized and I can guarentee she will NEVER make that mistake again. You people are sounding just as crazed as the rightwing nuts with all of this talk. Jesus Fucking Christ! Some people are just beggin to be insulted! Grow some fucking skin. Reminds me of a “consciousness” presention I sat through @ a Queer Nation meeting years back when a bunch of REDICULOUS dykes were “educating” us about how offensive drag queens were for stereotyping wimin(all the while in butch drag mind you). Needless to say that was THE LAST “consciousness” meeting OR any other queer meeting I attended. Fuck all of you. No one is goddamn perfect, NOT EVEN YOU. Pick you battles carefully dumbshits. This is not that big a deal. DOMA, DADT & ENDA are the REAL battles. The CHRISTIAN TALIBAN is the REAL battle. The real battle is NOT some poor woman expressing concern about antigay bullying who made a FUCKING MISTAKE & used an inappropriate choice of words. I’m just disgusted. I’ve had it! Its conversion therapy for me.

  45. Randy says

    This “slip” reveals what the Obama administration really thinks about LGBTs. The only mistake was in (once again) revealing that to the public, and getting called on it.

  46. says

    as someone who claims to have worked with the glbt community for years, how do you misspeak on this subject. i think she is either unaware of who we are or just stupid, either is not acceptable for someone who works with our community.

  47. wimsy says

    The woman’s a clueless idiot who had to be instructed to apologize for letting her true opinion dribble out. She needs to STFU.