Mitt Romney has been forced to apologise for forcibly shaving the head of a high school classmate who was regularly taunted for being gay. The Republican presidential candidate grabbed tearful John Lauber and hacked away with a pair of scissors because he thought his bleached blond hair was ‘wrong’.
Mr Romney also supposedly mocked another student who was a closeted gay by shouting ‘Atta girl!’ when he tried to speak in class.
The damaging claims come a day after Barack Obama said he was in favour of gay marriage.
Mr Romney has made it clear he opposes it but issued an apology for fear of being seen as homophobic.
He said: ‘Back in high school, you know, I did some dumb things. If anyone was hurt by that or offended by that, obviously I apologize.
‘But overall, high school years were a long time ago’.
Interviews with Mr Romney’s former classmates at the $54,000 a year Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, reveal he was fond of jokes that were mostly good-natured by sometimes had a hard edge.
After the shaving incident Mr Lauber ‘seemed to disappear’ from life in school and was later expelled for smoking and died in 2004 of liver cancer.
Decades after it happened he ran into one of Romney’s friends who helped hold him down and told him: ‘It was horrible. It’s something I have thought about a lot since then.’
The incident supposedly happened in the summer term in 1965 when Mr Lauber, who was a year below Mr Romney, came back from Spring Break with his hair dyed blond and styled so it was draped over one eye.
According to the Washington Post, Mr Romney would not let it go and told his friend Matthew Friedemann: ‘He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!’
A few days later Mr Romney assembled a posse which found Mr Lauber, tackled him to the floor and held him down whilst the future governor of Massachusetts snipped away.
When it was completed, the crowd cheered Romney as he walked out of the room.
The incident was recalled by five former Cranbrook pupils including Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor, who helped hold Mr Lauber down.
He said: ‘It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me. What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.’
Phillip Maxwell, who is now a lawyer, added: ‘It was a hack job. It was vicious.’
Mr Friedemann, a dentist, also felt bad for not stopping it happening and admitted Mr Lauber was ‘easy pickins’.
Romney’s time at Cranbrook is credited with shaping into the hard-working, driven man he is today.
It was also the time in his life when sports and socialising governed his life more than at any other time.
Friends recalled how he and his friends would be up all night larking around, the sound of his laughter filling the corridors at 2am.
In English class however things took a more sinister twist – Mr Romney had a habit of interrupting fellow pupil Gary Hummel, a closeted gay at the time, by shouting: ‘Atta girl!’
According to the Washington Post he also behaved in a ‘sour’ fashion towards scholarship student Lou Vierling when he found he he was from a poor area of Detroit.
Mr Romney’s wife Ann has claimed that contrary to his public image as a ‘tin man’, as one friend has claimed, he is actually a ‘wild and crazy man’.
And details about his pranks have come to light before, notably in the biography, ‘The Real Romney’, by Boston Globe investigative reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman.
The problem with the latest revelations however is that they suggest a cruelty which voters might find hard to stomach.
Romney’s most famous such incident is also his most controversial – when he strapped his dog to the top of his car whilst on a 12-hour drive from Massachusetts to Canada in 1983.
Seamus the Irish Setter was put in a crate on top of the vehicle because there wasn’t room inside.
Among the claims in ‘The Real Romney’, is that Mr Romney once shouted: ‘Oh yeah!’ and gave an impromptu rendition of the Michael Jackson hit ‘Billie Jean’ at a meeting with other Mormons – whilst doing the Moonwalk.
While at Stanford University he dressed up as an anti-Vietnam protester to infiltrate what he thought was a plot to embarrass the college.
At Cranbrook he also once staged an ‘elaborate formal dinner’ in a busy corridor and another time impersonated a cop to scare two girls who were being driven around by two friends.
When Mr Romney flagged them down he discovered some beer in the trunk as they had agreed would happen – but left the women terrified they were about to get into trouble.
Mr Romney’s spokeswoman Andrea Saul said: ‘Anyone who knows Mitt Romney knows that he doesn’t have a mean-spirited bone in his body.’