I would love to take a break from writing about gay-related issues, but it’s hard to keep silent in light of some of the things taking place here in America and in the UK.
Consider this brazen case of censorship in London, coming straight from Boris Johnson, the mayor. In 2007, gay activists in England launched a campaign “to tackle homophobic bullying in schools” with a simple message: “Some people are gay. Get over it!”
According to the Stonewall.org website, “After the launch, 600 billboard panels, kindly donated by Titan Outdoor Advertising Ltd, depicted this legend in giant, tabloid-style capital letters, on a bright red background at sights in England, Scotland and Wales. In September 2009 the simple, striking poster campaign appeared on 20 major railway stations advertising screens and on 3,500 interior bus panels in November 2009 for Anti-Bullying week.”
In response, an ad campaign was recently launched by Core Issues, which describes itself as “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.” The Core Issues group purchased ads to be carried on a number of buses reading, “Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!”
This was too much for Mayor Johnson, who explained, “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.” What a remarkable statement.
Aside from the fact that the ads did not say that “being gay is an illness that someone recovers from,” it is absolutely outrageous that the mayor of London – “one of the most tolerant cities in the world” – would deny the right of free expression to those who identify as “not gay, ex-gay, or post-gay,” especially in light of the ubiquitous “Some people are gay. Get over it!” campaign.
Some observers suggested that Johnson had ulterior motives in his actions, specifically, his own campaign for reelection, and his main rival in the upcoming election, Ken Livingstone, criticized Johnson for even allowing the ads to be booked: “London is going backwards under a Tory leadership that should have made these advertisements impossible. They promote a falsehood, the homophobic idea of ‘therapy’ to change the sexual orientation of lesbians and gay men.” Yes, censorship is alive, well, and being fully justified in “most tolerant” London.
To add insult to injury, after Alexander Boot, a regular opinion columnist for the Daily Mail, published an article entitled, “So attack on free speech is a sign of tolerance,” there was an outcry from the gay community, branding it a “startlingly homophobic column.” The Daily Mail responded by pulling the article.
It appears then that even criticism of censorship is to be censored, with one Facebook comment asking, “Actually isn’t the article a crime or against the law? Because of laws against homophobia or incitement to hatred?"
Turning now to Rhode Island, we move from the outrageous to the absurd, from censorship to moral insanity.
Two weeks ago, a 17 year-old student-artist at Pilgrim High School painted a mural depicting the stages of a boy’s life, from childhood, to teen years, to graduation in cap and gown, to marriage and family. The last image showed the boy, now a man, standing with his wife and son, with wedding rings over the couple’s heads.
This was too much for the school, and the administration decided to paint over the last image, since “some of the members of the Pilgrim High School community suggested that the depiction of a young man’s development from boyhood through adulthood as displayed may not represent the life experiences of many of the students at Pilgrim High School.” I kid you not!
How dare this young artist depict an image of a traditional family, since this “may not represent the life experiences of many of the students.”
Do you see why I call this moral insanity?
The artist, Liz Bierendy, herself raised in a single-parent home, explained, “I felt bad because I didn’t want to offend anyone. I was scared that maybe it would go out to our homosexual community and I didn’t want them to get in an uprise because I was not trying to preach that’s the right thing to do at all.”
Can you imagine this? She “didn’t want to offend anyone” and she was “scared” that it would provoke a negative reaction from “our homosexual community.” And all this over an image of a married couple with their child. What has become of America?
The school ultimately let Liz decide how to complete her mural, and she stood by her initial decision. But as long as incidents like these continue to happen – here and in other parts of the world – I’m going to continue to write about them.
The best way to combat censorship is to speak out more loudly and clearly, while the best way to combat moral insanity is to expose it.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.