Free Speech or Hate Speech: When Words Kill

enough-e1377069751736Over the past 24 hours, I’ve learned that A&E has reversed its decision on Phil Robertson. They’ve decided to cave to the same people who attacked Cracker Barrel and bring Mr. Robertson back. People who believe his comments were fine, that he’s a good Christian and the “gays” are the ones who are bullying and being hateful and bigoted.

Reading an article on Business Insider this morning, it hit me. The people who are being completely ignored in all of this are LGBT teens. Young people driven to take their own lives because of the same hate being preached by Phil Robertson and his supporters. Young people like Samantha Johnson and Jamey Rodemeyer and Justin Aaberg.

Justin Aaberg was a beautiful kid. Funny and smart, he played the cello in the school orchestra, had friends who cared deeply about him and a mother who adored him. Justin was gay, and when his mom Tammy asked him if he was sure, he told her yes. But being a gay teenager in Anoka, Minnesota wasn’t easy. Thanks to Michele Bachmann and her far-right Christian supporters, up until 2012, the school districts in Anoka had a “no homo promo” policy. Teachers were not allowed to speak about homosexuality in school: if they did, they could lose their job. If a teenager being bullied for being LGBT approached a staff member in school for help, there was nothing the educator could do. Michele Bachmann’s district was labeled a “suicide contagion area” by the Department of Public Health. Justin Aaberg and Samantha Johnson were quite literally living in hell.

Justin came home from school one afternoon and told his mom another kid had told him he was going to hell for being gay. Tammy told Justin that wasn’t true, that God loved everybody. Maybe God did, but Justin was finding out other kids didn’t. He was being bullied at school, receiving hateful messages on Facebook and realizing that he had 3 more years of high school to get through. Justin didn’t know if he would make it.

Justin Aaberg did not make it. On July 9th, 2010, Tammy Aaberg noticed it was past noon and Justin was still in his room. She began knocking on the door, receiving silence from the other side. That thing moms have – that gut instinct, that knowledge that something is horribly wrong – kicked in, and Tammy started screaming her son’s name. She grabbed a screwdriver, loosened the doorknob and burst into her child’s room. Justin had taken the frame of his futon and leaned it upright against the wall. He had hung himself with a belt. Tammy Aaberg’s son was dead.

Samantha Johnson was a 13-year-old transfer from North Dakota. Sam didn’t identify as a lesbian, but she was a tomboy and many students bullied her because they thought she was gay. Sam was involved in a GSA group (Gay Straight Alliance) at her school, and had the support of Jefferson Fietek, an openly gay teacher. Fietek organized the first meeting of the GSA group for November of 2009, against the wishes of school administrators. A week before the meeting, Samantha Johnson climbed into a bathtub and shot herself with a hunting rifle. Her mother was returning home with a video she had rented as her daughter pulled the trigger.

Imagine for a moment you are a 15-year-old LGBT kid. You haven’t come out yet because you are terrified. Your parents over the past few weeks have talked nonstop about Phil Robertson and how he’s right – how “being gay is a sin.” You see people at school wearing their Duck Dynasty gear, laughing about the “faggots” and “queers.” Your pastor at church agrees with some other preacher – gay people should be dropped behind electrified fences and left to die out. Gay people molest children. Being gay is the same as having sex with animals. Being gay is evil.

You can’t be yourself, because being yourself will get you beat up, thrown out of your house, ostracized. Your dad told your mom just a few nights ago that if one of his kids ever said they were gay, he’d whip them and throw their sorry ass out onto the street. Everywhere you turn, someone is saying being gay is a choice. That’s a laugh, you think. If you had a choice, who would choose to be something that can get you killed?

When Phil Robertson and his supporters say the things they do about LGBT people, what they’re really saying is they don’t care. They don’t care about Matthew Shepard or Justin Aaberg or Samantha Johnson or Jamey Rodemeyer or Tyler Clementi or Harvey Milk. They don’t care that kids get to the point where because of hate and ignorance and bigotry, they feel as though they have no choice but to die. They don’t care if they are culpable in the murders, the beatings and the suicides of hundreds of innocent kids. Those children don’t matter because they’re LGBT.

Yes, compared to other countries, America is a safer place for LGBT people. But there are a lot of folks on the right who’d love to make America the next Uganda. In fact, quite a few fundamentalist Christian pastors supported the “kill the gays” bill, including Scott Lively and Rick Warren. Warren has stepped back slightly from the bill, but Lively never has. He’s proud of his role in creating that horrible piece of legislation. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association tells his listeners all the Nazis were gay men. Michele Bachmann has said that homosexuality is of Satan. Rick Santorum compared homosexuality to bestiality. The last two were presidential candidates and may be once again in 2016.

Being gay is not a sin. Promoting hate and bigotry and telling LGBT teens their lives don’t matter is. Being gay is not a choice. Using a religion to batter and beat and hurt is. Being gay is not wrong. Letting raging bigots use media to promote an agenda of fear and lies is.

If you’re reading this and you feel like you have nowhere to turn, no safe place, please contact The Trevor Project. They have people who will listen and can help.

Erin Nanasi

Erin Nanasi is the creator of The Bachmann Diaries: Satirical Excerpts from Michele Bachmann's Fictional Diary. She hates writing about herself in the third person. Erin enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with family. And wombats. Come visit Erin on on Facebook. She also can be found on Twitter at @WriterENanasi.

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