SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The gubernatorial campaign of Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, has released a series of statements responding to media inquiries into past statements from the candidate and his mother.
Dixon’s mother, a state representative from 1988-1990, led a charge against Missouri State University – then Southwest Missouri State University – when they announced in 1989 they would be putting on the play Normal Heart. She shared concerns with the Springfield News-Leader that she was upset by the performance because of her own son’s – Bob Dixon’s – “struggle with homosexuality.” Dixon spoke about being homosexual as a teenager when he ran for the Springfield City Council in 1991, speaking against a bias crime ordinance.
Dixon has continued on through the House and Senate championing legislation and semi-openly speaking about his experience being abused and the subsequent “teenage confusion.”
But advocates for the abused are saying Dixon’s statement is being oversimplified and misinterpreted.
“I’ve been a little troubled by the way some of the newspapers have framed this issue and how it has been discussed,” said Emily van Schenkhof of Missouri KidsFirst – a group who’s motto is “Ending Child Abuse Now.” “It is not fair to say that child abuse caused him to be gay – that is not what he’s saying – it’s very much an oversimplification and it’s not appropriate. When you boil down a complicated dynamic into a headline, it is misleading. Child abuse does not cause homosexuality. Child abuse does interfere with normal sexual development. Survivors can experience a great deal of confusion relating to sexual identity.”
Dixon, R-Springfield, had been a candidate for governor for less than two weeks when he officially released details of an abusive childhood leading to confused teenage years, and faith in God.
“Through the years, I have publicly spoken about being abused as a child and the confusion this caused me as a teenager. There are literally thousands of Missourians who will understand how heartbreaking childhood abuse can be- though few might be willing to acknowledge it.
“I have put the childhood abuse, and the teenage confusion behind me. What others intended for harm has resulted in untold good. I have overcome, and will not allow evil to win. From passing the Child Witness Protection Act, to protecting children from those who would do harm to them from the shadows of the internet, and to reforming Missouri’s Criminal Code- I have consistently worked to treat all people with respect, understanding, and compassion, and to bring people together, not divide them.
“There are people who to this day try to turn politics into a blood sport. This sort of approach discourages many good people from public service. While it is disappointing, I will have no fear of those who wish to tear down others for their gain. I will have no part of it.
“I began this campaign from my front porch surround by people I love and those who know me best, my wife Amanda and our daughters. I told those gathered there that my faith in an Almighty God who is full of love and compassion is at the core of all I do to help others, and daily helps me to set the compass.
“My faith in a loving and just God has helped to guide my approach with people. There are those who constantly seek to divide us, but I am committed to renewing the Spirit of Missouri and bringing people together with sensible conservative solutions.”
While some are saying Dixon’s abuse history and teenage years is not relevant to his campaign or ability to govern, van Schenkhof believes that they’re vital – and to be treated delicately.
“I think that someone’s life experience is certainly relevant to a campaign,” said van Schenkhof. “There’s parts of our past that we don’t want to read on the front of a newspaper. People need to be careful passing judgment on those who have survived child abuse until you’ve lived it and experience it. It takes tremendous courage and it’s very difficult to come forward to come out and share that. There are lots of people – adults and children – who have survived things that most of us couldn’t comprehend surviving. How we react to those who share their story is important. Someone’s history and past can be relevant, Sen. Dixon has shown how important addressing child abuse is to him. He’s one of the Missouri General Assembly’s strongest advocates. His record speaks to that commitment. We should respect and honor someone’s past and what they’ve done with it.”
Van Schenkhof notes that Missouri Kids First is a 501(c)3 and does not make endorsements, but spoke towards Dixon’s record as a senator.
Rachael Herndon is the editor at The Missouri Times, and also produces This Week in Missouri Politics, publishes Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosts the #moleg podcast. She joined the Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.
To contact Rachael, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @TheRachDunn.