Friday, December 20, 2013

Myths of Free Speech or Duck Homophobia

A little while ago I wrote a series of blogs about the "myths of  capitalism." It struck me that it might be a good time to write another series but not about capitalism. Instead, what I thought I'd do is draw together a series of thoughts I've offered over the years about free speech, what it means, what it entails, why it is needed, and its limits. In part, I thought I'd do this in response to something that happened in the United States that related to what I'll call "Duck Homophobia." If you have not been following the news, this story -- Duck Dynasty Star ...  is the trigger to these blogs. According to news reports, a cast member of the "reality" tv show "Duck Dynasty" has been suspended for making homophobic comments. The question that animates this series of blogs is this: What does this tell us about homophobia and free speech? In response to the suspension of this "star" from the show, notable American commentators -- such as Sarah Palin -- have argued that A & E, the network that shows "Duck Dynasty," is infringing free speech. Is it?

There are, I think, a number of things that we can learn form this minor cause celebre. Because there are a number of things to learn, a single blog (which I started to write last night) would end up being too long. So, instead, I'll offer a series of blogs. As always ... comments (but not flames) are welcome.

The first thing that we learn is that it is no longer OK to make homophobic comments. While there are a lot of people who view gays and lesbians as "sinners" and who cite passages from The Bible to justify their views, the field of force of culture has moved on. And, this is an important thing. It is, for instance, notable that people defend homophobic comments not on the basis of their accuracy but on the basis of "free speech." This shift might go unnoticed but it is important. What it indicates is that even those who hold negative views of GLBT people no longer feel that they have a "winning" hand in simply slagging them. Instead, they recognize that they need to find a moral high ground. This indicates that they understand on some level that the "gays are bad" approach has a limited -- and I would argue increasingly limited -- "play." Outside of its core constituency (who are, unfortunately, self-identify evangelical Christians), virtually no one subscribes to the old stereotypes of GLBT. Indeed, the only thing that these old stereotypes do is make those who hold them look like dinosaurs or rednecks.  Thus, the shift to free speech as a defence of homophobia is actually a good thing for those of us who support equality and want to end the marginalization of GLBT people. It show that a culture shift is already well under way and one that can only be considered positive. This is more true in Canada than the US but even in the US, evidence of increased respect for diversity, a willingness to accept the idea that believing in equality means supporting equality, and a shedding of stereotypes is underway.

Can it be reversed? This is another question but the fact that anti-gay people are responding to increased equality with such determination means that they feel (a) it can be but (b) they need to take action now. I don't believe society can function necessarily well on auto-pilot. I argue that those of us who support equality need to continue to do so and do so in the public fora. But, I also believe that time is now on the side of equality. The changes have gone far enough -- not far enough but ... well, there have been enough cultural changes  (I hope that is clear) -- that reversing them and returning to a day and age when discrimination and bigotry were easily accepted is going to be very difficult. Indeed, the very fact that the supporters of homophobia don't really want to argue for homophobia but instead argue for it by stealth is a good sign.
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