An interesting conundrum in the Washington DC area has two different groups of LGBT citizens lining up on opposing sides of a free speech issue. Stand For Marriage DC, an anti-gay group trying to reverse the recent decision to approve same-sex marriages in the nation's capitol, has started advertising on the sides of city buses.
This has Full Equality Now! DC up in arms. The group posted a statement to their website last week demanding that the bus authority remove the ads. Subsequently, another group of LGBT leaders (including the heads of local organizations like the ACLU, the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance and the LGBT Democratic Gertrude Stein Club) wrote to John B. Catoe, General Manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, urging him to ignore Full Equality Now! DC's demand and continue to run the anti-gay advertisements. These folks cite the First Amendment's right to free speech.
This brings up a problem we've seen rear its head here on Bilerico Project before. The ads are offensive and denigrate LGBT people by advocating that our rights should be put to a popular vote. They suck and God knows how many LGBT people will have to see the ad drive past or ride one of the buses for transportation. But at what point do we measure "offensive?" At what point do we say that our right to censor someone outweighs their right to speak? I'd have to fall on the side of free speech. The proper response to speech you don't like is to give your own better speech.
Oddly enough, Full Equality Now! DC's website now says the letter was only a draft meant to spark conversation and wasn't actually sent to the bus authority. Sadly, while the bus advertisements weren't getting much of a look before, after the story became about the dueling LGBT groups fighting over the right to free speech, the ads have gotten a lot more exposure from news stories, blog posts and wire reports. Stand For Marriage bought some cheap bus ads; we gave them the publicity they needed to get them seen. Stupid.
The back-and-forth statements are after the jump.
From the Full Equality Now! DC website:
''The bus is a particularly painful place for these advertisements to be located, as they cannot be avoided. Because of these advertisements, countless LGBT citizens are forced to stare down discrimination as they board the bus to go somewhere or are even passed by an advertisement on the street. The irony is that public buses were the birthplace of another struggle for equality under law not too long ago. For LGBT citizens to have to experience discriminatory messages as they go about their daily life is unacceptable and must be stopped. For this reason, we demand that WMATA remove all advertisements posted by Stand for Marriage DC as soon as is possible.''
The letter from various LGBT leaders sent to the bus authority signed by Mitch Wood, President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance; Arthur B. Spitzer, Legal Director of ACLU of the Nation's Capital; Jeffrey D. Richardson, President of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club; Aisha C. Mills, President of Campaign for All D.C. Families; Bob Summersgill, a Ward Three resident; Deacon Maccubbin & Jim Bennett, owners of Lambda Rising Bookstore; Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications, Inc.; Wayne Turner, Esq. a resident of Ward Six; and Robert A. Spiegel, Esq. a member of the ACLU:
It has come to our attention that the group Full Equality Now DC has launched an effort to persuade you to ban advertisements on Metrobuses or Metrorail by the group StandForMarriageDC opposing civil marriage equality for same-sex couples. (See the action alert from Full Equality Now DC, copied below.)
As supporters of civil marriage equality, we also embrace the principle of free speech enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which makes our own advocacy possible. Indeed, the then-named Gay Activists Alliance thirty years ago won a court battle against WMATA for the right to place educational posters in Metrobuses with the message, "Someone In Your Life Is Gay." WMATA is a quasi-governmental body and is thus subject to the First Amendment. We, the undersigned, therefore urge you to reject the misguided censorship advocated by Full Equality Now DC.
Free speech is not only for those whose beliefs we find acceptable. The proper response to offensive speech is more speech. Your proper response to Full Equality Now DC, therefore, is that those who object to ads by StandForMarriageDC are free to place their own.
Thank you for resisting pressures to favor or disfavor particular viewpoints, from whatever political direction they may come.
The clarification from Full Equality Now! DC:
The letter to WMATA previously posted on our website was a draft letter that has had several revisions over the past week and has yet to be finalized. To this day FENDC has had no correspondence with WMATA regarding the discriminatory Stand for Marriage DC ads. We posted the draft letter in the spirit of organizational transparency, to raise public awareness about the ads and to encourage community feedback on the matter. We regret not clarifying that the letter was a draft and that our intention was to gather community input before deciding how to move forward...
Full Equality Now DC stands by our position that we have the right to express our discontent with discriminatory advertisements, especially those placed on a publicly-funded transit system. Our intent was not to contest Stand for Marrige DC`s right to freedom of speech but rather to express our dismay at the content of their message as well as WAMATA`s decision to allow discriminatory messages on publicly funded buses. Furthermore we are hearten [sic] by the fact that our actions have created further dialog about LGBTQ rights and freedom of speech in the District.
So what do you think? Should the ads be taken down? What should we do about them? What's your solution?