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St. Paul, Minn. — Arlon Lindner has been a lightning rod for controversy even before his most recent comments. Two years ago he offended Buddhists by calling their religion a "cult." He also declined to attend the Dalai Lama's speech in the House chambers. Now, Lindner has offended both gays and Jews after saying the Nazis didn't persecute homosexuals. The comments came when he was answering questions about his bill that would remove state human rights protection for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people.
"His obvious lack of knowledge concerning Nazi barbarity in World War II is appalling," said Hinda Kibort, a holocaust survivor. The 82-year-old Edina resident was forced into a Nazi concentration camp in Germany from 1941 to 1945. She says Nazis identified homosexuals in her camp with pink stars.
"Unlike Lindner, I did not learn about World War II and the Nazi holocaust by reading books. I was in a concentration camps and can testify to the fact that homosexuals were indeed persecuted based on their sexuality," she said. Kibort also called Lindner "a hate mongering representative" for authoring the bill that would remove the GLBT community from human rights protection.
Minneapolis DFLer Frank Hornstein says Lindner's comments are an attempt to revise history. He says he wants Lindner to step down as chair of the House Economic Policy and Tourism Committee. If he doesn't, Hornstein and others want Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum to remove him.
"It is difficult to express how far outside the mainstream of history these views are. Revisionism of this kind are on par with those who believe the earth is flat and the moon landing was fabricated on a sound stage in New Mexico," Hornstein said.
Others say Lindner should not be chair of a committee that advocates Minnesota tourism. Some of the critics invited Lindner to join them in Washington, D.C. next month for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Lindner says he will consider attending the event, if others pay for his trip and time off. He says he stands by his comments but adds that no one can fully know what happened 60 years ago.
"I just think it's strange that over 58, 60 years it's just willing to come out about that. We know there's been a lot of rewriting of history lately and in my mind that's possibly an area where that's happening," he said.
Lindner also said on the House floor that homosexuality, the rise in sexually transmitted diseases, and comprehensive sexual health education could prompt "a future "holocaust" in Minnesota. "What I'm trying to prevent is the holocaust of our children getting STDs, AIDS, and various other diseases that's going to affect their lives the rest of their lives. If you want to sit around here and wait until America becomes another African continent, well you can do that. I'm going to try and do something about it," he said.
Lindner's comments drew criticism from the two African American House members.
Lindner says he will not step down. Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he will not ask Lindner to step down as committee chair.
Sviggum says House Republicans didn't complain when Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, called State Auditor Pat Awada, "Osama Bin Awada." He was concerned about Awada's proposal to curb local government aid. Sviggum says everyone is entitled to First Amendment rights.
"At some point or another people have freedom of speech even though that speech may not be appropriate, politically correct or even the most wise speech," Sviggum said.
Sviggum says it's unlikely Lindner's repeal of the human rights protections will pass the House as currently drafted. He also says the bill will probably not even get a committee hearing. Gov. Pawlenty has also said he opposes to Lindner's bill.