I watched a video yesterday about a group of people who went to D.C. to hold a Trump Support rally. There was a woman from Chicago who talked about her reasons for attending the rally. She was afraid for losing her freedom of speech. She spoke of people who—after finding out she voted for Trump—did everything they could to take business away from her, and how she can’t speak openly for her support without any kind of backlash from her community. I don’t know the woman’s full story, and I have only heard her side. Without the full story it is easy for anyone to be sympathetic. After all who wants their constitutionally granted freedom of speech taken away from them? I know I don’t. I’m liberal, and as much as I loathe the rhetoric of the conservative side of politics, I do respect their right to speak. However, I draw the line when that speech incites hatred, marginalization, injuring, or killing a group of people based upon the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, and sexual orientation.
I am also filtering her sentiments through my own experiences as a bisexual male living in central Indiana—specifically, Indianapolis. Living downtown, and frequenting my old neighborhood in Irvington, and Broad Ripple, I do not risk any danger for being out and flamboyant. But outside of Irvington, Broad Ripple, and downtown I become susceptible to any form of bigotry.
While running an errand at Walmart off US 31 on Indianapolis’ south side, I was almost lynched by a group of white men in Jesus shirts. We got out quickly, and Ronnie took my hand to be my beard—to meet their arbitrary, and meaningless, criteria of masculinity.
While working at a cigar bar in Avon—a west side suburb—I was fired for being too flamboyant and too out. The customers did not like me because of who I am, and the manager was compelled, by popular opinion, to fire me.
What can be done about these two examples? Legally, nothing. Why? Because in Indiana any kind of discrimination or violence towards the LGBTQIA community is permitted. When Mike Pence was governor of Indiana he signed in the Religious Liberty Act permitting businesses to legally discriminate against anyone who wasn’t straight or cis-gender. Many businesses revolted against this hateful action, and placed signs in their windows telling any passerby that all are welcome. Because of public outrage, Mike Pence withdrew the act, but discrimination and violence still happens. Many Christians in Indy—some who I know personally—consider this persecution because Mike Pence, a professing Evangelical Christian, was not allowed to legislate his particular expression of faith.
That’s what I think of when I hear people like this Chicago business owner. I don’t hear someone’s freedom of speech being taken away. What I hear is bemoaning the response to her free speech. She doesn’t want to face the consequences for her right to speak freely.
With freedom and rights there comes a responsibility in exercise. You don’t get to go into a crowded theater, and yell “Fire!” causing mass panic and injury, and escape jail time. The consequences of arrest and imprisonment for putting people in danger are not a cessation of the right to speak freely. The same can be said for the speech inciting violence against those who are different than you.
In the United States we have the right to freely assemble, and we have the right to protest and rally over issues affecting us and our community. What we don’t have the right to do—regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum—is to kill and maim those on the other side. From what I have seen and read the people on the right are the ones maiming and killing those who disagree with them. Not everyone on the right is homophobic, racist, xenophobic, etc., but the ones who are violent have ties to the right.
I have compassion for this woman because she should be allowed to express her beliefs and political sentiments without being blackballed in her community. But I don’t know the full story, and dare not treat her pain unfairly because I, too, know what it’s like to be shut down for declaring an unpopular opinion in my immediate community. My assumption is, as a business owner, she targets people who are transgendered, have a different sexual orientation, and, quite frankly, are not white Christians. I might be correct, but I might not be, and I could be withholding compassion and lovingkindness from a decent human being who is acting out of fear. Who among us has done despicable things to another person because we were completely saturated by fear? I know I have. Without the fear, hatred has no life to distort our vision and decency.
I can say that I have genuine compassion for the woman in the video, but I won’t be disingenuous and say I did not feel any apprehension about her choice of words or the images or the images a group of people standing and worshipping the American flag. She’s afraid, I’m afraid, we’re all afraid, and our combined fear has created a powder keg in our culture with a short fuse. One little spark, and the right to speak freely will be the least of our worries.
The problem is not in the assumed differences in our political parties—there aren’t any—, the problem isn’t in our religious views, nor is our problem found in Trump. All these are symptoms of something greater that I—at the present moment—do not know. What I do know is pigeon holing people with our constrictive labels allows us to escape the work we have to do to improve the conditions of our world. If you have the courage to face another human being different than you, talk with them, get to know them, and find out you both want to be free from suffering and the root of all suffering and that you both want to be happy, would you be so willing to maim or kill them? I know I border on idealism with that question, but, based on my limited experience, I have met very few legitimately evil people. The rest are people doing evil things in an attempt to alleviate their own suffering and achieve their own happiness. I think the first step is to look outside ourselves in service to others ranging from a simple smile to standing with people of color at a Black Lives Matter Rally in St. Louis to protest injustice. The change begins when we hold our hands out to one another.