Michael A. Tew
Free expression is a tricky thing. Particularly when it comes to public figures articulating their personal or “professional” opinions about those who differ from them or don’t share their “values.” A increasing trend amongst folks who engage in negative, derogatory, or exclusionary discourse regarding LGBT people and communities is to suggest that criticism of their statements is somehow intolerant itself.
Media figures (Erick Erickson and Megyn Kelly of Fox News, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson), politicians (Michelle Bachmann), organizations (Chik-fil-A, Family Research Council, American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Americans for Truth, Illinois) have condemned attacks on their anti-LGBT public discourse or policies as demonstrating liberal, specifically gay, intolerance.
Jim Bopp, formerly a notoriously conservative Indiana lawmaker, told attendees of a House Judiciary Committee hearing that those in favor of marriage equality who find the nature of the debate damaging are “intolerant.” (Huff Post Gay Voices, 1/14/2014)
Most recently, Juan Pablo Galavis, the 2014 star of ABC’s “The Bachelor,” when asked if there should be a gay bachelor, said “I don’t think it’s a good example for kids…they [gay men] are more pervert in a sense.” When criticized for his point of view, supporters say that such criticism is intolerant.
In each of these cases, speakers have sought and used a public platform to express their opinions. “Public officials, private citizens and talk show hosts (who fall somewhere in between these groups) set forth their views often quite freely. Does the first amendment protect free speech without any consideration of the consequences?” (Zach Dawes, 3/25/10). The accusation that the vigorous response of a group, targeted by discriminatory expression, is “intolerant” suggests that free speech should be afforded to one set of opinions and not to others. Public figures who complain about negative responses to their opinions imply that they should have unfettered access to public platforms while denying the same access to their respondents.
These speakers (and their supporters, found largely in online contexts) have increasingly responded to negative reactions to their comments by shielding the character of their own intolerance/exclusion and claiming intolerance on the part of their targets – Implying that LGBT people and communities should simply let heterosexist discourse stand. It should be no surprise that statements containing morally and politically charged implications (which do, in fact, invite social harm to a stigmatized group) will prompt disagreement. Trust me, LGBT people and communities have understood this for centuries.
Let’s put this plainly. Responding to intolerance, discrimination, and exclusion is not intolerance or suppression. It is reciprocal. To imply that intolerance grounded in heterosexism or religion should be tolerated is hypocrisy. James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s gay rights project, writes, “Being stigmatized for expressing unpopular views is part of being in a free society. There’s nothing wrong with that.” (Urban Christian News 6/12/2011). It seems the social tables have turned to some extent. This is a marketplace of ideas people. Don’t be surprised or offended when the market strenuously rejects the product you chose to put out there for consumption.