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Gay-condeming tees: Apparently in this spring

by Jeremy Hooper

Reversing two lower court rulings, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled yesterday that the Naperville, IL, student who wants to wear a shirt to school reading "Be Happy, Not Gay" has a right to do so:

Court: Student can wear anti-gay T-shirt [Naperville Sun]

In the ruling, Judge Richard Posner (a conservative-leaning Reagan appointee) reportedly said:

"We cannot accept the defendants' argument that the rule is valid because all it does is protect the 'rights' of the students against whom derogatory comments are directed," states the court's opinion, authored by Judge Richard Posner. "Of course a school can - often it must - protect students from the invasion of their legal rights by other students. But people do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or for that matter their way of life."

And while we are big champions of even unpopular speech and expression, we couldn't disagree more with the logic. As we've stated several times in the past, the difference between the pro-acceptance shirts and the anti-gay ones is that the former gives a positive message of tolerance while the latter specifically shuns an already vulnerable group. It is one thing to express your speech, and another to express condemnation. The school has a duty to place limits on what is acceptable within the walls of their building (which is a very different thing than the government placing limits on expression). This message is abusive to gay students or children of same-sex parents, and is an irresponsible garment that could easily incite confrontation. If any other minority sect were targeted in such a way, there would be little to no debate regarding the shirts' legitimacy!

"Be Happy, Not Christian." "Be Happy, Not Black." "Be Happy, Not Jewish." "Be Happy, Not a Hetero." "Be Happy, Not a Woman."
"Accept Everyone." "Love Thy Neighbor." "Support Equal Rights." "Be Who You Are." "Live Out Loud."

There is a big difference between the side embracing positive energy and the one embracing divisive antipathy. It is wrong and even dangerous to make it sound like a two-sided political divide in which both messages are deserving of equal credence! If the students want to promote heterosexuality in a positive, rather than disparaging, manner, there would be no discussion. But that is not the situation. They have countered peaceful respect for all with militant disrespect for some, and done so under the guise of equal viewpoint expression. As we debate free speech, the disparity between the messages should not get lost!

**AFTER THE JUMP: These are the "confrontational" shirts the pro-gay side is wearing for the "Day of Silence" (the day the anti-gay tees are meant to counter). You decide if the messages are in anyway similar:

Picture 18-25

*ALSO: When an earlier ruling was cast against the student who initially tried to wear this shirt, Heidi Zamecnik, this writer exchanged emails with her. Here are the sort of views that lie behind the shirt (which Heidi gave me permission to reprint):

....the statement "be happy not gay" is a play off of words, and it's truly not that offensive of a statement as people make it out to be. And gays are not born that way, so I don't have to view in that way... and gays are not a race. They are a sexual orientation. It's a choice that they make. It's not like how you're born with brown hair or you're born black or white - you choose to be homosexual.

But that's just it. If their beliefs are allowed, why aren't mine? Their views can be, and are, offensive, but yet are allowed. If the other side was allowed along with theirs, then I wouldn't mind. But it's not.

**UPDATE: Here's the full ruling:

space gay-comment gay-G-A-Y-post gay-email gay-writer-jeremy-hooper

Your thoughts

I guess she knows. After all, what she says three times MUST be true. QED - therefore, it's been proven.

And all this time I never knew.

By the way, Heidi, did you date any boys in high school? Why did you choose boys instead of girls? I mean, I'm just ask'in.


Posted by: dave b | Apr 24, 2008 12:50:59 PM

So...the judge's ruling would make it ok for someone to wear a tee that says "Be Gay not a religious bigot."

Posted by: Kerry | Apr 24, 2008 12:55:02 PM

The parts of the Bible that say that Christians will be persecuted are complete and utter horse crap. Complete And Utter Horse Crap. Maybe they were back in the dark ages or something, but not now. Not only are Christians not being persecuted, but they are doing the persecuting and are handed the full grace and benefit of American free speech. And I am so sick and tired of it, I can barely stand it. Sick And Tired. There is a generation of kids who are going to grow up to know Christianity as some nasty, out of touch, hateful BS. And that doesn't seem to bother many people. Un-effing believable.

Posted by: Larry | Apr 24, 2008 1:34:32 PM

You might want to get a lawyer to help you through these cases, and I say that as someone who generally agrees with your analyses and shares your political positions. Your exactly right that Posner made the wrong decision but wrong as to why. Posner was correct that there is no "right" not to hear derogatory comments. Any reason to shield students from derogatory comments must be educational (not Constitutional). The error he made is late in the opinion when he concludes that the saying "be happy, not gay" is not particularly derogatory. "Be x not y" implies that no y's are x, which in this case is to say there is something about being gay that is innately unhappy. If that's not derogatory, I don't know what is!

Posted by: Matt | Apr 24, 2008 2:02:15 PM

Matt: I find your first two lines a bit insulting/patronizing. And I think you have sort of misrepresented what is said in the post, or at least haven;t demonstrated exactly where you think I'm "wrong."

There are different ways of looking at this situation (as demonstrated by the varying rulings).

Posted by: G-A-Y | Apr 24, 2008 2:14:49 PM

You KNOW that if anyone wore a Be Gay, Not a Religious Bigot to school the fundies would be up in arms and say that since religion is protected in the "Con-sh*t-on-every-institution-that isn't Christian," that to wear a shirt like this would be attacking Christians and shouldn't be allowed!!

Posted by: stojef | Apr 24, 2008 7:06:55 PM

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