“I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment,” said Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal in a statement defending Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s right to homophobia. Believe it or not, I sympathize with Jindal’s frustration: I remember when politicians understood the First Amendment.
Sarah Palin also weighed in on A&E’s decision to suspend Robertson from Duck Dynasty indefinitely: “Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”
This is nothing new. When Alec Baldwin was fired from MSNBC after calling a photographer a “cock-sucking fag,” he blamed the “fundamentalist wing of gay advocacy.” Baldwin supporters called GLAAD’s behavior “bullying.” And so, the words that the LGBT community was once forced to defend itself from — “fundamentalists” and “bullying” — are turned around on it. LGBT activists are challenged on their “tolerance.” The unsubtle implication is, you gays are just as bad as the homophobes you’re always complaining about.
That just isn’t the case. The worst thing that will happen to Phil Robertson is that he won’t get to appear on his reality show. He will not be physically assaulted for his views on gay people, the way that gay people might simply for being gay. The same goes for Alec Baldwin, no matter how sincerely he views himself as a victim. He may have lost his MSNBC series, but he won’t get brutally beaten while enduring an onslaught of gay slurs — “cocksucking fag,” perhaps.
For people who have encountered actual intolerance — in the form of schoolyard bullying, workplace discrimination, or physical violence — the perversion of these words is that much more repugnant. But the point Palin and Jindal are trying to make, however misguided, is one that comes up again and again: The “real” intolerance is in censoring people who have opinions that are not “politically correct.” Bigots should have a right to air their bigotry without consequences, because that is what this nation was founded on.
The truth is, “free speech” has never meant what A&E’s critics would have you believe. When you air your bigotry publicly, you are subject to repercussions. You have every right to rail on against the minorities you feel most victimized by — but don’t be surprised when you lose friends, respect, or your job.
And yet, there remains a concerted effort to turn the conversation in on itself. People like Palin and Jindal hope that they can distract from the truth with cries of “free speech” and “politically correct.” What really happened is that a reality show star made comments that were dangerous and shameful. His employers decided to suspend him. And two politicians attacked those employers, because in their minds, it’s more important to propagate a misunderstanding of the First Amendment than it is to engender a culture where LGBT citizens feel safe.