Free speech for who?

Recently, a New Jersey teacher posted comments on Facebook that spoke out against teaching about LGBT people of historic significance and denigrated gays.  She went so far as to call homosexuality a cancer.  This has led some people, including Garden State Equality head Steve Goldstein — to criticize her and even recommend that the school reconsider allowing her to hold her position.

Proving once again that the conservative Christian caricature of them is quite unfounded, the ACLU has actually defended teacher Viki Knox:

“Although we do not agree with the sentiments expressed on Ms. Knox’s personal Facebook page, her comments are protected by the First Amendment,” ACLU Legal Director Ed Barocas stated. “The ACLU believes that the response to offensive speech is not the restriction of speech, but more speech.”

I agree with Barocas, and I am hesitant to remove a teacher for making personal comments outside of school and outside the capacity as a school employee and representative.[1]  As distasteful, hateful, and bigoted as I find the quotes in the article, I cannot in good conscience seek to silence Knox or prevent her from saying them on her own time and when she is acting as a private citizen.

Having said that, I think it’s important to note that while I and the ACLU are more than willing to stand up for her freedom of expression, Ms. Knox is quite happy to deny that freedom to QUILTBAG individuals.  Indeed, the whole thing that sparked this controversy was the fact that she took issue with recognizing and acknowledging gay people of historic significance.[2]  And she made it perfectly known that she would like all QUILTBAG people to remain completely closeted:

“Why parade your unnatural immoral behaviors before the rest of us?

Bear in mind that according to religious conservatives and other homophobes, immoral behaviors includes things like two men holding hands and one woman giving another woman a back rub.

Knox is not unique in this matter.  Many anti-gay individuals and groups will work towards the silencing of QUILTBAG individuals, forcing us into the closet, and making us all but invisible, yet will complain about their own rights to spew their drivel are being violated — or even just when they perceive them as having been violated.[3]

I don’t fault them for sticking up for their rights.  I do think some LGBT advocates go too far in some (hopefully rare) cases.  I just wish they’d grant us the same courtesy.


[1]  Of course, as Goldstein notes, one of Knox’s comments include the phrase “That’s what I teach and preach,” which does suggest that the school would do well to make sure that she is not using her teaching position as a bully pulpit for not only expressing her views, but giving them some sense of authority.

[2]  For a wonderful examination of how writing marginalized groups out of the pictures contributes to their continued marginalization and oppression, see mmy’s fantastic take on the well-known incident where it happened to women this past Spring.

[3]  This example was the result of a racist comment rather than a homophobic one.  However, the principle remains the same:  haters want to silence others while wrapping their hatred in the First Amendment.  Specifically who they hate is irrelevant.

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