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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  • Steven Liesch

    Thank you,Erin, for framing the issue so well.

  • Pipercat

    Stroll over to A&E sometime and look at the featured programming. Things will become clear very quickly…

  • Ed Rudy

    The bearded dirty looking Duck dude’s hatred of Blacks and gays is not a religious belief and should not be accepted or condoned by decent people.
    Being Black or gay is not a sin. Promoting hate and bigotry is.
    Being Black or gay is not a choice. Using a religion to batter and beat and hurt is. Being Black or gay is not wrong. Letting raging bigots use media to promote an agenda of fear and lies is.

    • blkold7

      Reading your words I would say take a look in the mirror, for your words are hateful too, Ed Rudy. I had a cousin who was turned out gay by being molested by an older man about your age from the look of your picture. My cousin was about the age of the child you have in front of you. This worries me that this is happing again with you and that child. My cousin was molested by his uncle that was no uncle of mine. I remember my mom warning me to run from that man if I ever see him again. Now that I have thought of it, your picture really scares me for I am beginning to wonder if you have sexual thoughts about the boy in front of you. Please get help before you ruin a young boys life for my cousin continued a gay lifestyle and then did later by contacting aids

      • globugg

        What in the H3ll is wrong with you? Based on this man’s picture, you’ve decided he is molesting the child in the picture and worry that it will turn him gay? I can’t even address everything you’re saying because there is no way anything I say will penetrate the deep walls of hate and ignorance surrounding you. I will hope that at some time in your life, you come to realize that this hate towards other humans based on their sexual orientation is a waste of your time.

        I’m sorry for the pain your cousin went through in his life; no one should be molested or abused. But it didn’t turn your cousin gay – he already was. It’s too bad your mother didn’t care enough about her nephew to also warn him about the man who molested him, instead of only warning you.

      • Pipercat

        The cousin thing is all made up bullshit. This was projection and an insidious red herring fallacy nested within an ad hominem.

      • Kingminnie

        Wow. What happened to your cousin is truly horrible. BUT. No one “turns out gay” by being molested. You are the one that should be looking in the mirror. Ed Rudy’s words are true. When one opens a dictionary to the word “homophobia” it should show your picture. You should really be ashamed that your own paranoia propels you to accuse someone you don’t know of being a molester. Good Lord. I am appalled. You owe an apology to this person. Who the hell do you think you are to accuse someone, tell him to get help? Honestly, it is you that needs to get help. And you need to apologize.

      • Artos90

        projecting your own thoughts much?

      • Ed Rudy

        The very handsome young man that we proudly have on our Facebook photo, with us, is our 7 year old very talented great grandson, Jack R. O’Connor. Sorry for your confusion and delusion, bikold7!

        We repeat. ” Letting raging bigots use media to promote an agenda of fear and lies is WRONG!”

      • jmdud

        I think after reading this thread, you are all a bunch of idiots. Fact one) yes there are many people born gay. Fact two) there are also people that are forced into the gay lifestyle, not by true choice or being born that way, but because they are conditioned. To say someone who is molested was already gay is stupid. Research has shown that if a person is traumatized enough they will continue to a learned behavior. This learned behavior includes homosexuality. These people are damaged and need help. In many cases these people also become child molesters. I worked for seven years helping children recover from such damage. I have seen many of them become mentally healthy and have found happiness with females. I have seen a small few still be in same sex relationships and are happy as well. I have also seen damage that has lead many to long stints in prison. One 18 year old I worked with, by the time he was caught, had raped 13 boys. Some younger than 10. Homosexuality, can and has been something that has been conditioned in many and there are many that never get help. To simply know this, can easily be backed up by doing the research on behavior, human sexuality, and psychology.

        As for religion, reading what the duck dynasty star said, I am fine with what he said. People who really don’t read the Bible or think so narrowly will believe what he said was hate speech. It wasn’t. As he said, it is not his place to judge, but God’s.

        On this earth we simply have to accept peoples differences and be civil. We are not required to love or like everyone. But for equality to exist, it also means the LGBT community must respect the differences of others.

        In the end it saddens me any one dies because of who they are, whether it be because they are Christian or LGBT. In looking on history, both have and still are struggling.

      • Pipercat

        Sure is a lot of straw in that scarecrow…

      • Ed Rudy

        jmdud – Sorry for your many problems!

      • $85804262

        You fucking IDIOT. Pedophilia is not linked to homosexuality WHATSOEVER. Ugh. NEWSFLASH- straight people can contact AIDS too- this is not 1986 anymore! And STraight people molest kids too, you moron. God you people disgust me- there is no reason today for such ignorance. Go crawl back into your cave.

  • Tamaracboy

    And now it comes to light that he advises men to marry 14 year old girls !
    So, I guess A&E is now endorsing Pedophilia and Child Abuse.

  • scott

    Wow just straight up ignorance running rampant on here. Obviously all who are stomping around outraged over Phil supposed spread of “hate” clearly have not read the article and are simple minded followers of a cause that just looks for any stage to promote passing of their own judgment. Get informed first then talk.

    • DoctorButler

      It’s cute how you put the word “Hate” in parentheses, as if there’s any way to describe what the Duck asshole said, other than hate-speech.

      • Jim Bean

        For liberals, the definition of hate-speech is, ‘anything anyone says that offends me.’ Conversely, the definition of anything they say that offends someone else is ‘guidance.’

      • Leslee Bean

        The man put homosexuality in the same category as bestiality, and then, of course, claimed it was okay to do so because that is what the Bible says. Although I notice he hasn’t given all his money away because “rich men don’t get into heaven”. Has he apologized to the men he beat up in a bar some years ago? He then went on to claim that African Americans were just happy campers in the 50’s. Never mind the KKK, sitting in the back of the bus and being treated like second class citizens. Do you call this a ringing endorsement and a loving Christian attitude? When the speech becomes so bad that kids resort to suicide, then yes, it is hate speech. Your simplistic assessment that “anything anyone say that offends me” is what liberals define as hate speech just shows what a low information, conservative dim-wit you really are.

      • Annoyed

        And we could just as easily say that “hate speech” for conservatives is saying absolutely anything FauxNews disagrees with.

      • Grazel

        His actual hate speech wasn’t the GQ interview that started this mess (that was more just something on the level of Paula Deen admitting she’d said nigger in the 60s). His hate speech came from the 2010 sermon video that surfaced where he said gays were, among other things, “full of murder” and “create new evil”.

  • Eric Jarvis

    Homophobia cannot be treated as a religious belief in the case of a Christian because the Bible specifically forbids a Christian from judging other people on a moral basis. Advocating violence against gay people cannot be treated as a religious belief amongst Christians as Christ said “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, and according to accepted Christian beliefs by the time we are old enough to throw a stone we are not without sin.

    Any homophobic, or even bigoted, statements from a supposed Christian can only ever be the result of choosing to ignore some religious teachings. That shouldn’t make it eligible for protection under religious freedoms. If gay bashers want to claim it as a religious belief they are going to have to invent a new religion.

    • Jim Bean

      The same argument could be used to excuse the pedophile, rapist, and murderer.

  • Jim Bean

    25 million have died of HIV. 35 million more are in the process of dying. More are being added daily. You don’t have to be a Christian to be ambivalent towards those engaged in the practices that swell those numbers nor does verbally objecting to them have to be regarded as ‘hate speech.’

    • Annoyed

      You took health class in school right? I’m pretty sure that they debunked the whole “gay disease” crap in the 80s. AIDS is spread through SEX. Not gay sex, not bisexual sex… sex.

      • strayaway

        I looked up statistics on Wikipedia. “In the United States from 2001–2005, the highest transmission risk behaviors were sex between men (40–49% of new cases) and high risk heterosexual sex (32–35% of new cases).” An interesting side note is that black women are 19x more likely to suffer from AIDS than white women (27x in NY City) and that statistic is related to heterosexual sex.

        If about 2.5% of the total population gets 40-49% of new cases while 97.5% of the population gets 30-35% of new cases, the “”gay disease” crap” still has the ring of truth to it even though you are correct that sex is the overriding means of the spread of AIDS.

      • Grazel

        The spread of AIDS in any community is more about safe sex, than having sex. The reason that AIDS is on the rise again in the gay community is because we’ve got a new generation of gay men having sex who weren’t even born in the 80’s and don’t see AIDS as a guaranteed death sentence and just brush off the older (aka mine) generation’s warnings about AIDS and the need for safe sex. That’s why it spreads in lower-income/inner city black communities as well, a lack of safe sex. In both cases this is often due to a lack of proper sex education in schools. What you’re also failing to mention is that not only AIDS is on the rise but other STI’s that used to be on the decline are as well, like Syphilis. The focus on AIDS has made many forget there are other diseases and conditions out there that can spread without safe sex practices, gay or straight. Gay sex doesn’t spread AIDS, unsafe sex of any kind spreads AIDS (that and not being tested to see if you have HIV so spread it to others unwittingly).

  • Exceptional article, you nailed it.

  • SVLynn

    Great artlcle! It’s surprising to me though that he also had a lot of insulting garbage about African Americans, and there hasn’t been a peep in the media of complaints that I have seen, I’m suprised.

  • Jim Bean

    What you learned over the past 24 hours is that liberals convictions ebb and flow in direct relation to their own self-interest.

    • Grazel

      I’d hardly call A&E Liberals. It’s a network run by Capitalists. Their only motive is money, and DD is big money for them. They caved to the religious right like many corporations do because they somehow believe the “moral majority” is really a majority, not just a very vocal minority. I think they realized the controversy wasn’t going to die down just because they suspended Phil, so they removed it so they could make more money despite the controversy. Instead they’re doing what most corporations and celebrities do during a public ’embarrassment’, they’re setting up a PR spin and damage control initiative.. In A&E’s case that means a weak statement of “we think he learned his lesson because he made a half-ass vague comment we’ll take as an apology” and a series of PSA’s about tolerance that they “hope” the Robertson’s will take part of, though it’s not required to keep DD on the air.

  • Bob W

    Phil Robertson does not hate gays. He does not preach hate. Did you actually read what he said?

    • Grazel

      Did you see the video of his sermon in 2010 that came to light after the interview that started the mess where he said gays were “full of murder” and “create new evils”?

    • Ed Rudy

      The bearded dirty looking Duck dude’s hatred of Blacks and gays is not a religious belief and should not be accepted or condoned by decent people.
      Being Black or gay is not a sin. Promoting hate and bigotry is.
      Being Black or gay is not a choice. Using a religion to batter and beat and hurt is. Being Black or gay is not wrong. Letting raging bigots use media to promote an agenda of fear and lies is.

  • Devin

    Being gay is not a sin, but engaging in homosexual behavior is sinful. Treating gay people like they have no value is a sin. Treating gay people like they’re disgusting is a sin. The way that homosexuality is characterized by many Christians as a sin in and of itself is a sin.

    We are all born sinners, we are all guilty of being sinners and committing sins. For some of us our greatest temptation is heterosexual lust. For others it’s homosexual lust. For others still it’s pride and vanity, or worship of money, or a multitude of other temptations that plague humanity. We are all the same in that we are born into a world where we will sin and where we will be continually tempted by the sins that are most difficult for us to deny.

    If people treated heterosexual lust like they treat homosexual lust then people would commit suicide for the shame that would come not just from having heterosexual premarital teen sex or masturbating, but for even having the urge or desire to do those things they would be called disgusting and treated like they were less than human beings. That’s the equivalent to what we are doing to homosexuals. We are condemning them for the way that they’re made, not loving them despite the fact that they’re sinners, just like the rest of us.

    However, it is a mistake to proliferate the idea that committing homosexual actions is not sinful. It is a sin, just as it is a sin for a heterosexual person to have sex outside of marriage.

    It is also a sin to judge those outside of the church. Calling a sin a sin is one thing, but requiring non-Christians to act like Christians is wrong and not what Christ called us to do.

    We should not legislate in our secular government whether or not homosexual marriage should be allowed, scripture never once gives examples of God’s people taking political action to change the laws for people that are not a part of God’s chosen. He calls Christians to act like Christians, not for Christians to make non-Christians act like Christians. In the same way, though, we do need to hold those in the church accountable, and homosexual actions should be called what they are: sin. Just as a person who is cheating on his wife should be lovingly admonished and prayerfully sought after by his Christian brothers and sisters, then disciplined by the church if he does not repent, so too should homosexual behavior be treated by Christians IN THE CHURCH.

    Call sin sin, but realize that a homosexual’s sin is no more egregious than any committed by a heterosexual. Each and every sin is equally damning, each and every sin separates us from God and is an affront to His righteousness and because of His holiness, His justice requires atonement by death. However for each and every one of us, homosexual and heterosexual alike, God sent Jesus to show us how to love, to live a life free of sin, to expose the proud religious hatred and oppression, and finally to give us freedom from sin by dying upon the cross FOR our sin, for the sin of every man and woman, gay or straight, so that God could look down upon us and see His perfect Son covering our sin and washing away the death penalty placed upon us. Christ rose from that death three days later, going to heaven to make a place for all of us to live together in love and harmony and worship of God for the rest of time.

    Christians, hold to your righteousness, but learn how to love.

    If you aren’t a believer, God still wants you, he still loves you, and no matter how you were made or what cards you were dealt, living your life to honor and please him will be immensely more wonderful, joyful, and eternally rewarding than living a life in attempt to please yourself by following the urges of your human flesh.

  • Dominion

    So the moral of the story is that we should limit free speech of those who don’t like you, promote the rights of people who like you and blame those who don’t like us we we hurt ourselves?

    I support your right to say what you think. You seem to suggest that you do not support that of others.

    It’s interesting that if people disagree with you they are somehow wrong. I really take exception to your idea that school is a place to discuss the merits of any sexuality. That’s a discussion for parents; not for anybody with an agenda.

  • Guest contributor

    Ever notice how some people focus on the emotional aspects of a disagreement but offer no solutions? This article makes a compelling case of how banning homosexual behaviors in a high school is intolerant and leads to suicide. It offers no solutions for the devoutly religious who are forced to observe and discuss material that they may find very objectionable.

    Nobody has pointed out that parents are the ones responsible for educating their kids about sexuality and that high school is an inappropriate place to hold a debate about sexuality of any kind.