Amid calls to apologize, Rep. Mike Hill says he should have corrected attendee on homophobic comment

Top state leaders including Gov. Ron DeSantis and Speaker José Oliva had said Hill should apologize for laughing along to a constituent’s suggestion he sponsor a bill that would allow executing gay people.
State Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, listens to testimony in April during the legislative session in Tallahassee. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
State Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, listens to testimony in April during the legislative session in Tallahassee. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published June 5, 2019|Updated June 5, 2019

After nearly a week of pressure from top state officials to apologize for his reaction to a homophobic remark, state Rep. Mike Hill said late Tuesday that he should have corrected a constituent who asked him to sponsor a bill that would allow executing gay people.

Hill, a Republican, had declined to apologize for days after his reaction to the comment at a recent meeting of the Pensacola-based Women for Responsible Legislation was publicized — he had chuckled at a suggestion that he introduce a bill based on a Bible verse that an attendee characterized as saying “a man who has an affair with another man will be put to death.”

Hill, after joining in laughter, said at the time, “I wonder how that would go over?” before adding, “Okay, enough of that stuff.”

In a statement given to Pensacola-area radio talk show host Burnie Thompson Tuesday, Hill said he should have corrected the Bible verse that the constituent had based his comment on.

“Specifically, one man I had never met said the Bible in 1 Corinthians calls for a man having an affair with another man to be put to death. If the man was referring to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, that text says nothing about anyone being put to death. It simply states people who practice various sins will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

“I apologize for not directly responding to the fact that the premise for this question was inaccurate,” he added in the statement. “I deeply regret how the tone of my response to a constituent was received at this event. I believe that no matter one’s race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, economic status or otherwise, that all lives are created equal in the image of God.”

Hill’s comments had been widely criticized by fellow representatives and top Republicans after being reported last week by the Pensacola News Journal and other outlets, with some members calling for him to step down or for the House to censure him.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is among one of a few openly gay members of the chamber, had called for Hill’s resignation and for the House to seek further punishment like stripping Hill of his position on legislative committees. He said Wednesday that Hill’s “non-apology” was not enough.

“It’s just kind of unreal. There’s no apology to his colleagues, no apology to the House, or to LGBTQ Floridians,” Smith said. “I didn’t even understand the statement at first. He’s apologizing for not correcting an inaccurate Bible verse?”

“I’m going to continue to call for him to resign," he added. "At the very least he should be censured by the Legislature and he should be stripped of his committee assignments.”

Speaker José Oliva and Rules Chair Chris Sprowls had also issued a statement calling on Hill to apologize to the chamber, writing that "such callous indifference to an outrageous question is unacceptable, runs contrary to our founding principles, and in no way reflects the beliefs of the Republican caucus in the Florida House.”

But Hill for several days had said his comments were taken out of context. After the comments were unearthed, Hill told the Miami Herald that he didn’t remember laughing and that “for that one-, two- or three-second blip to come out was very inconsequential about what the meeting was about.”

Earlier in the week, Hill had also appeared on Thompson’s show and said the exchange had been misrepresented. “I never even said the words,” Hill said. “They can’t say that I said, ‘Let’s kill gays.’ I did not.”

But earlier Tuesday, at a meeting of the state Cabinet, even Gov. Ron DeSantis said he supported Oliva’s stance that the representative should apologize, adding: “I trust the Speaker to take whatever action is necessary.”

Even after issuing his statement Tuesday night, Hill had not personally posted his apology online Wednesday. He did share a link from his Twitter account Wednesday morning to a blog post titled “Rep. Mike Hill vs. the gay establishment,” in which a columnist labeled the controversy “hypocrisy and manufactured outrage” and wrote Hill deserves an apology from his colleagues.