I have been around the local gay scene for more than 20 years and have seen a lot of changes over these years.
I have seen this community grow in strength and courage, have seen the laws of our nation and province change to ensure the equality of our community and have watched as the general atmosphere towards our community went from bare tolerance to genuine acceptance.
Over the years, there have been instances in which people have objected to these changes and I have fully read their viewpoints and commented on them through this venue. Indeed, many of my commentaries have elicited letters to the editor from those opposed to my views and these have been published in this newspaper, as well. I had thought the level of discourse was always civil and that there was nothing that could shock me anymore; that was until I read a letter to the editor in the Newfoundland Herald.
Actually, I wasn’t aware of the letter until it became the lead story of the supper-hour newscast, so I reached for my copy on the coffee table and gave it a read.
While the content of the letter was difficult enough to read — with its call to arms for all “true” Christians to rise up to oppose the pagan homosexuals attacking the Bible-believing Christians and trying to impose all manner of sin upon American society — what truly hurt and shocked me was that I was reading such vitriol in the Newfoundland Herald.
I have purchased this magazine for years for the entertainment value and have always appreciated the local content, as it reflected our culture and way of life. I could not and still cannot understand how the rhetoric of a right-wing partisan from America attacking their president and everyone outside his version of Christianity was deemed appropriate content for our local publication.
I am a firm believer in freedom of speech and would not deny the author the right to his opinion, but I do question the appropriateness of publishing his virulent views in this venue. If The Telegram had decided to publish the same letter, I am sure there would have been an opposing editorial that would provide some balance and context to the letter; this was not the case here.
A larger concern is this magazine likely sits on the coffee tables of thousands of households in this province. And with the publishing date a week before the television listings begin, will likely sit there for almost two weeks.
The Herald is not just an adult magazine; it is seen by family members of all ages, including impressionable children and teenagers. They do not always have the capacity to understand the culture wars going on in America and may likely just absorb that homosexuals are rampant sinners and enemies of Christians.
Can you imagine the impact of such a message on young LGBTQ people reading this article, especially if they live in a family that regularly attends church? While adults like myself are able to express my outrage over the letter, they do not have a voice and will suffer the hurt, shame and self-hatred that such a letter will engender. This kind of damage is difficult to reverse, can last for years or even a lifetime and is a prime contributor to the higher suicide rate among LGBTQ teenagers.
The response to the article has been strong and vociferous, both from within the LGBTQ community and the community at large. There has been widespread condemnation for the content of the letter and to the Herald for publishing it in the first place.
Representatives of Western Pride in Corner Brook launched a complaint with the RNC, labelling the article hate speech and requesting the Herald be investigated for spreading this message. Herald managing editor, Pam Pardy-Ghent, later took to the public airways to apologize for printing the letter and acknowledged the hurt it had caused members of the LGBTQ community. She printed another apology in her editorial in a subsequent edition and promised to publish letters providing an opposing view. Her apology was accepted and the hate crime complaint has been dropped.
I hope the Herald has learned from this controversy and the dialogue that has been opened over this issue can continue in a more civilized manner. I would hope what is published in this magazine most often will come from a local source and will reflect what is prevalent in our society and culture. While we need to protect people’s freedom of speech, we should also be aware that language has the ability to harm and that there sometimes need to be limits placed on what is published in magazines such as the Herald.
I guess if the writer of this letter had been a racist opposed to white people marrying black people and used the same type of language and rationale, there would be no question that it would ever get published in the Herald; nor should it.
Brian Hodder is a past-chairman of Newfoundland Gays and Lesbians for Equality.