“You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.” ― John Morley, On Compromise

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There has been a great deal of heated discussion recently concerning an organization called GLAAD. GLAAD was founded in New York City in 1985 “… to protest against what it saw as the New York Post’s defamatory and sensationalized AIDS coverage, GLAAD put pressure on media organizations to end what it saw as homophobic reporting.” (Wikipedia) In 2012 GLAAD founded the Commentator Accountability Project (CAP). GLAAD maintains the purpose of CAP is to give a public airing of what various anti-gay commentators are saying and have said when they are not speaking through the mainstream media. Critics in the United States, generally those anti-gay commentators singled out in CAP and their supporters, accuse GLAAD of trying to impose censorship, that is, to stifle 1st Amendment guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom of religion. As a gay man, the anti-gay commentary GLAAD brings to light concerns me. I agree it needs to be challenged. However, censorship is an issue that resonates with me also, as I am a librarian and as such have a mandate to uphold intellectual freedom and freedom of expression.

This discussion heated up in the controversy that erupted over remarks made about gay people in an interview with GQ magazine by Phil Robertson, one of the hosts of a reality TV series on A&E called Duck Dynasty. When A&E learned of his remarks, the response was swift. A&E released the following statement: “We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.” (As cited in Wikipedia.) News of the suspension was released on December 18th, 2013, but as of December 28th, 2013, A&E had lifted the suspension.

Interestingly, Robertson and his temporary suspension from Duck Dynasty by A&E, has become the focal point in this war of words between those anti-gay commentators listed on the CAP, such as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, though Robertson himself does not appear on the list. Robertson sought to put forth a softened stance regarding his religious beliefs and the anti-gay remarks he made in the GQ interview, issuing the following comment: “… I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.” (As cited in Gossip Cop) GLAAD was unimpressed, offering this comment in response: “Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.” (As cited in Gossip Cop) The sponsor boycott is a common form of protest used by interest groups, conservative and liberal alike; there is nothing unusual in this. All’s fair in love and war as the saying goes.

As for those anti-gay commentators who are listed on the CAP, they have brought forth their accusations with renewed vigour that GLAAD is trying to stifle their 1st Amendment guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom of religion, claiming this is fascism and totalitarianism. When CAP was founded, Focus on the Family Vice President of Communications Gary Schneeberger stated, “this is an attempt to stifle freedom of speech and freedom of religion by trying to intimidate the media into forfeiting their constitutional right to freedom of the press,” he explained. They’re seeking to saw three of the five legs of freedom off the stool that holds up the First Amendment.” (as cited in Equality Matters) Sarah Palin weighed in on the Duck Dynasty controversy asserting “free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ [sic] and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.” (as cited in Politico)

Is this really the case? Are 1st Amendment rights at risk in US society? Is GLAAD seeking to deprive anti-gay commentators of their right to speak freely? Based on the outcome of this Duck Dynasty controversy, I conclude, no, they are not. The decision by A&E to suspend Phil Robertson, then lift the suspension in short order was solely an issue between A&E and Phil Robertson. GLAAD chose to challenge Robertson on his remarks in keeping with their 1st Amendment rights to do so. As yet, there is no evidence that GLAAD is petitioning the US government to pass a law that would prohibit anti-gay commentators from speaking their minds. The reality confronting anti-gay commentators is that public attitudes toward gay people have changed, as is evidenced by the gains in marriage equality for same sex couples in the US in 2013. Anti-gay commentators are free to express themselves, in keeping with the 1st Amendment, but they will find their opinions are increasingly unpopular in the mainstream media and can expect to be challenged on them.

Posted by Geoffrey

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