Eric Fehrnstrom, a top aide and political strategist to presumptive Republican presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (MA), made headlines earlier this year with a gaffe comparing Romney in the primary fight to an “Etch a Sketch” that you can flip over and shake and start over with as a blank slate in the general election. Before he was an adviser to Romney, Fehrnstrom was a political columnist for the Boston Herald. According to a profile in GQ, in 1992, he outed recently-elected Massachusetts Rep. Althea Garrison (R) as a transgender woman, effectively ending her political career.
To Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, the malicious outing and the presence of Fehrnstrom on Romney’s staff is simply unacceptable.
“Privacy for transgender people is a matter of survival, physical and economic survival,” Keisling said, “Once you out a trans person, you can’t just ‘Etch a Sketch’ it away.”
Fehrnstrom made his name in Boston as a “blue-collar conservative” columnist whose hard-hitting style got him moved from sports reporting to the political beat at the Rupert Murdoch-owned Herald, which was the splashy, tabloid-style counterpart to the more staidBoston Globe. He and his fellow reporter Howie Carr brought what GQ called a “nasty and resentful” tone to the paper’s political reportage, making the Herald a kind of perfect weapon against the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, gormless former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.
It was for a local official, however, that Fehrnstrom reserved one of his nastiest political hits. Althea Garrison was a Boston politician and activist who was elected as a Republican to the Massachusetts state House in 1992. Two days after her election victory, Fehrnstrom published an article in the Herald announcing that Garrison had been born male.
“I can remember his glee when he found the birth certificate,” said a former Herald reporter named Robert Connolly.
Garrison’s career in politics was over. Speculation had previously gone around the community about Garrison’s gender status, but after Fehrnstrom’s story, it became her defining characteristic to the media. In every mention of her name in the press, her performance as a House member was overshadowed by her gender identity. Howie Carr, who is now a conservative talk show host, wrote in the Herald not long after the outing, “I’ve always liked Althea. She has a big heart. Not to mention big feet. And very, very big hands.”