This is where I get myself in to trouble for being a racist homophobe: I believe that a Christan group advertising its “therapy” to make gay people straight should be allowed to run its adverts. I tweeted “The ‘gay cure’ loonies have every right to to advertise on buses just as the atheists did. Free speech is for those I disagree with, too”, and many disagreed with me, so here’s a justification of my position with more than 140 characters.
The gay activist charity, Stonewall, recently ran some advertisements on 1,000 London buses which featured the slogan: “Some people are gay. Get over it!”.
A Christian group called Core Issues Trust attempted to book ads on buses in top tourist routes that read “Not gay! Post-gay, ex-gay and proud. Get over it!”. The adverts were banned by the Mayor of London.
Core Issues says
CORE is a non-profit Christian initiative seeking to support men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression. It respects the rights of individuals who identify as ‘gay’ who do not seek change…
CORE is a Christian initiative seeking to support men and women who struggle with homosexuality, and related issues. Of particular concern to us are people who struggle to find a useful place within the church, either because local congregations find it difficult to get alongside people who haven’t yet resolved their issues, or because the church has taken a liberal perspective which undermines their desire to move away from homosexual practice and preference.…The initiative is educational in nature offering some therapeutic support as capacity to do so allows.
Homosexuality isn’t a ‘disease’ so we’re not looking for a ‘cure’.
Personally, I find this stuff pretty offensive and it seems to me that if people are struggling to balance their homosexuality and their church, they should look at changing their church rather than change their sexual orientation.
But my finding it offensive doesn’t matter at all. I support free speech— and in doing so, I must support free speech for those I disagree with.
None of the arguments for banning the Core Issues ads seem to justify censorship.
If the ads were a direct incitement to hurt gay people, then they shouldn’t be allowed. Recently three muslim men were jailed for distributing a leaflet calling for gay people to be executed.
But the Core Issues advert isn’t “hate speak”. It is certainly homophobic – which I find offensive – but you can’t ban people saying something just because other people will find it offensive. By that logic, intolerant people could have asked for the original Stonewall advert to be banned on the grounds that they find promotion of gay equality offensive.
Others suggest that the ads should be banned because it promotes a “therapy” which doesn’t work. The equivalence with homeopathy was drawn: don’t ban the practice, but forbid it being advertised as a medicine.
The trouble with that argument is that no-one knows whether the “therapy” works or not, because nobody knows whether homosexuality is nature, nurture, or conscious choice. We all know people who have experimented with homosexuality in adolescence, but subsequently settled into being straight (and one of my oldest friends is a gay man who briefly flirted with straight sex). So in this sense, it’s possible for a homophobe with a crude mode of expression to say that those people were going through a “phase” and they can “get over it”.
There are stories in the press about people like Peterson Toscano who’ve had counselling to “cure” them of being gay and it’s caused them years of psychological misery. But there are others who claim that the therapy worked – and who is anyone else to say they’re lying?
Estelle said on Twitter “think of the pain those posters will cause to closeted kids” and she’s absolutely right. Similarly, I have a daughter and I worry about what advertising does to a young woman’s body image. But you can’t ban something because it might upset someone else.
What I find most worrying is that so many people are happy to ban or censor people saying things that offend them. Everyone has a right not to be physically hurt by other people. No-one has a right to be protected from hurt feelings.
Added 16 April:
It seems that I’ve mis-expressed myself, so just to be absolutely clear: I do not support the Core Values Trust and believe its “therapy” to be poppycock. But I can’t agree with stopping them advertising. As far as I can tell from the news reports, Boris Johnson didn’t ban the adverts because they are against any rules about truthfulness in advertising, but on ideological grounds. The Telegraph quotes him as saying
London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance.
It is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses.
The Independent wrote
But London Mayor Boris Johnson ordered them to be pulled at the last minute arguing that they were offensive. He was backed by Transport for London who said the adverts were not “consistent with TfL’s commitment to a tolerant and inclusive London.”
I stand by my opinion: although I completely disagree with the message that being gay is somehow morally wrong, or that it can be “cured”. By all means, ban the advertising because it contravenes a code, but it is wrong to withdraw such advertising simply because it might upset people.
A couple of other examples of the law protecting people from being a bit upset:
- Tweeter prosecuted for swearing – “A blogger and tweeter – Olly Cromwell – was found guilty on Friday, 13th April, simply for swearing at a Bexley, London, councillor in a Twitter message. The prosecution alleged he called a senior Bexley councillor a ‘cunt’ and are seeking a custodial sentence of 45 days for each letter of the word.
Student jailed for racist Fabrice Muamba tweets – “A student has been jailed for 56 days for posting offensive comments on Twitter about the on-pitch collapse of Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba … District judge John Charles told Stacey: “It was racist abuse via a social networking site instigated as a result of a vile and abhorrent comment about a young footballer who was fighting for his life. At that moment, not just the footballer’s family, not just the footballing world but the whole world were literally praying for his life. Your comments aggravated this situation.”
It’s difficult to see how a racist tweet “aggravated this situation”? Did it cause the heart attack to be more severe? Did it somehow reduce the efficacy of the “literal” prayers? It seems odd that one racist can outweigh the prayers of “the whole world”. The man’s a racist idiot. But being a racist idiot isn’t against the law. His opinions are offensive. But so what? He didn’t incite anyone to hurt other people, so what does sending him to prison achieve? Unless the judge has seen American History X and believes damascene conversions happen in real life, the custodial sentence sends a message: keep your opinions quiet. And that is highly undemocratic and dangerous to a free society.