Free Speech or Hate Speeech?

Guest post:

My stomach churned today, as I read the comments of Maria Cole in an article tucked into the inside of the Independent Record entitled “Journalism school rejects conservative Cole lecturer.” First, while the title of the article is true, it is also misleading. The Dean of the School Of Journalism at the University of Montana, Larry Abramson, declined to sponsor Mike Adams from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington, because of his hostile, offensive remarks about some classes of people, including LGBT people and feminists. Abramson did not reject Adams because he is conservative.

Cole accuses Abramson of chilling free speech. She claims she chose Adams for her Jeff Cole Distinguished Lecture series in order to “spark civil discourse,” and asks rhetorically, why would she bring a “hatemonger” to campus. First, Adams routinely makes inflammatory remarks about women, transgender people and “LGBTQIA” people, by referring to them as “mentally ill,” the “A” having “something to do with the buttocks,” and women “reclaiming the “c-word.” This cannot be characterized as “civil discourse” under anybody’s definition of the term.

Second, Cole’s rhetorical question is worth asking: Why would she bring a hatemonger to campus? And, perhaps more importantly, why would the School of Journalism sponsor it? Lauding Adam’s comments about other classes of people as “free speech” is an insult to the first amendment, the purpose of which is to allow for dissidence, and indeed encourage civil discourse. Adam’s manner of speaking simply does not comport with this purpose, as it seeks to dehumanize and marginalize people simply because of who they are. This is hate speech.

As George W. Bush said yesterday, it is the kind of speech that can be characterized as “discourse degraded by casual cruelty.” Adam’s comments deny “the image of God we should see in each other.” As the former president said, it “is blasphemy against the American creed.”

And, Cole calls Adams a “strong Christian.” The word, “Christian” is not a noun. It is an adjective. As author, Dr. Benjamin L. Corey writes, the term, “Christian” “is used to describe people who actively did what Jesus said to do. Essentially, the word meant ‘little Christs.’” I was raised to believe that I should be “Christ like.” Referring to transgender people as “mentally ill” is not Christ like. In fact, Jesus did not refer to transgender people as mentally ill. While there are many different versions of the Bible, basically, Jesus said if you can accept being transgender, you should accept it. Matthew 19:12 NIV. People may quibble about biblical interpretation, however, the inescapable truth is that, given the opportunity, Jesus did not judge or condemn transgender people. If Jesus did not judge or condemn transgender people, why is it alright for any “Christ like” people to judge or condemn them? It is certainly not acceptable for a “strong Christian” to do so.

It is high time we as a society draw a sharp distinction between free speech and hate speech. Not that we could, or should outlaw hate speech, but our publicly funded institutions sure as heaven should not sponsor it.

Roberta Zenker
#istandforyou

The MT Office Of Public Instruction Erases LGBTQ Protections

According to my sources, all LGBTQ language has been scrubbed from the Montana Every Student Succeeds Act- meaning they only want non-LGBTQ students to succeed.

This is blatant discrimination at its finest- the OPI has decided “let’s hit our most vulnerable students with a complete denial of reality”. This cannot stand. I urge you to express your displeasure at this move by writing the OPI  here: ESSAinput@mt.gov .

This is institutional bullying- and we cannot let this stand.

Update from Kim Leighton, Pride Foundation, Montana staff:

Approximately 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as #LGBTQ with the number one reason being family rejection. Parents or legal guardians often kick their children out of the home once they come out, simply for who they are and who they love; or the home becomes so untenable they are forced to leave. This is both heartbreaking and alarming as approximately 7% of the total youth population identifies as LGBTQ.

After nearly a year of working with allies at OPI to get inclusive language specific to the disproportionate impact of youth homelessness on LGBTQ youth, we’ve learned that the draft of the Montana State ESSA Plan has removed all LGBTQ language. The erasure of queer youth from an entire policy is unacceptable. Pride Foundation is working with service providers, partner agencies, organizations and national partners to address this. We will keep fighting to make sure queer youth experiencing homelessness are heard, seen and valued across these policies.

The public comment period is open until August 11th. You can submit comment at the following link: ESSAinput@mt.gov .

 

Found on the internet…

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MSU Lavender Graduation Ceremony

I was asked to be the keynote speaker for the first ever MSU Lavender Graduation- an honor and privilege. This was my introduction (which I loved), followed by the address I gave today.

Fr. Greg Smith, a native Montanan and a licensed mental health counselor has been called the “Gay Godfather of Montana” for his work in advancing LGBTQ rights in the state- especially among faith groups and with spiritual leaders. He has worked for over 25 years in HIV prevention and was an original member of the Montana Governor’s AIDS Advisory Board. Originally a Catholic priest, he now works as an Episcopal priest and therapist in Bozeman where he lives with his husband, Ken and their two dogs, Bandit and Phyllis.

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When Ariel told me that the graduating LGBTQ and allied students had chosen me to be the keynote speaker for this celebration, I asked the question that every gay man asks himself in this situation, “What am I going to wear?”

It wasn’t that hard. I decided to wear my clerical collar.

Mostly because we have been subjected to a lot of hateful and ignorant and vicious attacks from people dressed like me. I’m hoping to correct some of that. I’m hoping that you’ll realize that not all Christians hate you. This gay Christian loves you.

It’s weird, but I remember the keynote speaker at my graduation from Twin Bridges High School very clearly because he was SO boring. I think he was an executive at Montana Power. I also remember the speaker when I graduated from Carroll- also because she was VERY boring.

So I vow to you today- I will NOT be boring….

Congratulations!

Achieving a degree is an amazing thing in our society. Achieving it when you have extra baggage (placed on you by society) is Extraordinary. Many of you have struggles that I personally know of- and many of you have struggles that I will never imagine. But the great thing about struggling with things- wrestling with things- it makes us stronger. But only if we learn from them- and that also means, sometimes, letting go. It is easy to cling to our pain- that’s called suffering by the way- but it’s much more beneficial to take our pain and use it to change ourselves- make ourselves stronger. More on that in a minute.

When I was a kid growing up in Twin Bridges, Montana, there were very few options for a geeky kid like me. I was too awkward and asthmatic for sports. I was allergic to everything in the summer, which meant I spent a lot of time indoors trying not to mucus myself to death. The one thing I always had were books. Because it was a small town, I had read everything I was interested in at the Library by the time I was in 6th grade. But one thing kept me going, and they arrived every month at McAlear’s drug store. Comic books.

I still love comics- not the lame Archie or Little Lulu, but the superheroes: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Captain America, Thor. They usually involved some lame secret identity that covered up the fact that they were fantastic. I call them lame because they were the people I identified with- and I thought of myself as lame because I couldn’t keep up with the other kids my age- and secret because I, too, had a secret.

I liked boys. A lot. And I knew the world wouldn’t approve. Especially my church. So I maintained this secret identity as Greg Smith, but in my heart, I knew I was really Superman. Someday, when all would be revealed, the kids who teased me and bullied me would learn the truth and cower before my magnificence…. It kept me going. Because sometimes, revealing a secret too soon is an unsafe thing to do- so many of us hold on- even after it really is safe to let go.

So, back to pain. Many of us in this room have experienced pain associated with our sexuality, gender, gender expression or just because we’re unusual. Pain is an important part of our lives- without pain, we might quickly die from an injury of which we are unaware. It’s essential for our survival. The only problem is that many of us live in our past pain- and that keeps us from moving forward. The trick here is to take your pain and make it work for you. Take that pain and use it to jumpstart compassion for others in this world- because that’s what we’re made for. Use that past pain to make a better future for yourselves and others. It’s exactly what your predecessors did- what my predecessors did.

I also need to tell you, as a religious leader, please don’t buy into hatred perpetuated by ignorant religious people.

I need to tell you that however or whatever you believe, God loves you very much. Just the way you are. No matter what Higher Power you believe in.

God loves you very much- just as you are. I believe it, because I feel it. And I feel it because it was ingrained in me from an early age- I see evidence all around me.

So the next time you hear some stupid argument about sexuality or gender from ignorant people, I hope you hear my voice in your head. God loves you- just as you are.

Because you are beautiful.

A few months ago, I had the very difficult task of eulogizing a young trans person at their funeral. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Because I know what that pain is like. I know what it’s like to believe that the world will be better off without you.

But as a person of faith I have to tell you outright- that thought is a lie. You were created to be exactly your real selves- the person you are right now.

This world is not better off without you. It needs you. YOU. I believe God made you for a beautiful reason. That’s yours to discover, that’s the adventure of life. It’s yours to create. Believe in your own power.

Why?

Because- even if you have to have a secret identity sometimes- you are heroes.

You know this.

Somewhere deep inside you, you see it. And when you have a hard time seeing it, find those confidants who will remind you. Every Superman needs a Jimmy Olsen, every Batman needs an Alfred. And if you can’t find anyone, call me. I’m happy to remind you.

So, today, as you receive your lavender cords to wear at the official MSU graduation this weekend, know that in my heart I’m officially giving you your capes and golden lassoes and utility belts to go out and change the world.

Please be the heroes our suffering world needs. Be the heroes the next generation needs- and maybe someday somebody will ask you to speak at their graduation!

I believe in you- and so do thousands of others.

 

Congratulations, Lavender Graduates!

Kris Hansen: Dishonest Legislator?

That’s the question being raised over at Logicosity. The author seems to be onto some possibly very serious violations of ethics and law- which we’ve dealt with here.

You may remember Kris Hansen being vehemently opposed to equality in Montana- now it seems she’s tied into the Gianforte craziness.

It’s a three-parter totally worth checking out.

Enjoy!

Survey on Sex Education in MT Schools

Click on this link https://umt.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_a3La6F7oXfOgFlH to take an ANONYMOUS 15 minute survey and have the opportunity to contribute to the movement for inclusive, comprehensive sex education and put your name in a drawing for one of TEN $25 Amazon gift cards.

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I have been asked to invite my LBGTQI+ friends, to take a survey asking about their perceptions of high school sex education classes in Montana. The University of Montana and the Montana State Public Health Department are interested in whether sex education classes are providing LBGTQI+ (sexual and gender minority) students with the information and skills they need to stay safe and healthy.

If you consider yourself to be part of the sexual and/or gender minority community, are between the ages of 18 and 24, and attended a high school in Montana we need your input.

This is an equal opportunity survey, so If you do not identify as a member of the sexual and/or gender minority community, but are between the ages of 18 and 24 and attended high school in Montana, we welcome your participation as well.

Joseph W Laythe, PhD

When I first met Joey Laythe, At Carroll College Freshman orientation in the fall of 1983, I didn’t like him.

He was loud, he was brazen, he was funny and he had more energy than I did.

Competition.

Because I, too, am loud and brazen and funny.

Later, we became pretty good friends. I would say, that we learned- as all friends do- to join forces.

We had some pretty good times at Carroll College. In particular, was the time Joey almost got us arrested. Another was when he threw a paper airplane in Fr People’s class when Sr Mary Sarah Fasenmeyer fell asleep during Fr People’s tenure check. Behind her head. Right at me.

While she was sleeping.

But I digress.

Joey annoyed me. And I’m pretty sure I annoyed him. Because we were a lot alike.

And I think we really only realized it a few years ago.

Through Facebook.

Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg.

Joe supported me through a really weird time in my life, so I figured it was the least I can do to be here, when he asked me in October.

We saw the world in much the same way. We saw the world as a place in need of education, in need of healing- in need of love. In need of kindness and understanding. That is the pinnacle of my faith- and we connected there.

Neither of us would happily put up with willful ignorance. Neither of us could put up with injustice.

Neither of us could stand idly by when people were being injured, manipulated or exploited.

We mutually liked every Facebook post the other made.

These are the human ties that aren’t maybe created through birth, or circumstance, but by common purpose.

We had some of the same mentors at Carroll- some of the most formative years of my life- John Downs, Fr. Gene Peoples, and although I never took a class from him Dr Robert Swartout- a man who inspired generations of historians. And someone who especially inspired Dr Joseph Laythe- to be a teacher, an academic, and a good human being. They all did. That was the magic of Carroll for me. We were surrounded by exceptional human beings with great hearts- who inspired us to be exceptionsal human beings-stretch ourselves beyond the obvious into eternity.

All I ever wanted was to be a priest. All Joe ever wanted was to be a teacher. A funny, irrepressible academic with the heart to change the manner in which his students would perceive the world around them. And the brilliant brain to teach them the facts that motivated his heart. Along the way, he added some additional wants- being a husband to Chris and a father to Lydia and Izzy.

This was his world.

And now, it’s ours.

“We all have a story. If you’re not friends with your mailman, you’re missing something”- John Downs.

“Jesus was the ultimate example of powerless love”- Fr. Gene Peoples.

I hold these things close in my life today. For me, it’s what Christianity boils down to.

Jesus rejected the love of power for the power of love. He spent time with the small people of society- those estranged and downtrodden and misunderstood. He ate with sinners- prostitutes and tax collectors and Pharisees and common people- they were all the same to him. People who needed to be seen as people.

Today, we make people into things. Murderers, terrorists, gays, Buddhists, Muslims, Republicans, Democrats, Hoosiers, Buckeyes, North Dakotans, poor, diseased, addicts, transgender, prostitutes, anything but human.

Jesus makes us see the human.

Joey asked us to please see the human beings beyond the labels. And today, I beg you- please, never forget, we are not things. We are people. It may be the best way to honor our husband, our father, our teacher, our friend.

It’s how I will remember him. Last week at Mass, I came across the following from Bridges of Contemplation- Lent and Holy Week with Thomas Merton, where the author said

“Life and death are identical twin sisters born within every human being. We are all kin as we travel the uneven roads of our common journey through life. Yet being kindred- why are we so unkind toward each other?

Why do we find it so hard to see each other’s dilemmas as being identical to our own? Why do we so often accept unkindness as the order of relations among us? For us to live unkindly to each other is to live unnaturally.

How do we live kindly in an unkind world?

Humility teaches us kindness. Humility prevents our taking the first places at life’s banquet, prevents our excessive consumption of resources while sisters and brothers on other continents or down the street cannot feed their children.

Humility helps us step down from the pedestal of individual destinies to share life with the crowd.

Humility helps us to see how easy it is to lose everything we hold dear in an instant; our house, our status, our families, our very selves lost in the distractions that keep us from realizing our kindness with one another.

Lent is an occasion for us to reorient our priorities, to attend to the least privileged first- to allow the lame lead us in the procession by their slower pace and with rhythms that appreciate how we must all proceed carefully or suffer soul-death alone.”

I will honor my friend by being careful with other humans beings in my life.

I will treat them with respect and dignity and kindness and humor and understanding.

I will treat them with love.

Because, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

I used to think that really enlightened people took their pain and changed the world; Nelson Mandela. Gandhi. Mother Teresa. Vaclav Havel. Peter Abelard. Victor Hugo. Joan of Arc. Francis of Assisi. Charles Dickens, Alexander Graham Bell, Oscar Romero, Stephen Bieko. Father Damien of Molokai. Dorothy Day. Raymond Hunthausen.

Like I said, I used to think these people took their pain and changed the world. But now, I’ve changed my mind.

I think these people took their pain and changed themselves.

And that changed the world.

That’s what our Joey did.

That’s what we are to do.

We are here to take our pain- a very ordinary part of our human lives- an unpleasant part of our ordinary lives- and change the world.

We are here to take our pain and change the world.

Into something extraordinary.

That’s building the Kingdom of God.

That’s honoring our husband, our father, our teacher, our friend. Because that’s what he did.

We take our pain, and we change the world- by being kind to one another.

Please be kind.

Above all things.

Even- and especially- when people can’t pay you back.

Or even, when they almost get you arrested- especially then- they might become your dear, dear friend.

Be open to surprises.

That’s life.

Amen.