In “A Pulpit for Bullies” at Real Clear Politics, Anthony Esolen, a professor of English at Providence College in Rhode Island writes:
On October 20, 2011, the Gay Straight Alliance at Howell High School planned to take part in a national “campaign aimed at raising awareness of the bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth.” The court acknowledges that the day is also called “Spirit Day,” which, the plaintiffs contended, is so-called to foster acceptance in the public schools of the homosexual lifestyle. The Gay Straight Alliance made up flyers to be posted all around the school, urging students to wear purple on that day as a sign of their solidarity with homosexual teenagers. The principal approved the flyer.
Wendy Hiller, one of the teachers, printed a batch of purple T-shirts, reading “Tyler’s Army” on the front and “Fighting Evil with Kindness” on the back. She had, in the past, worn a black shirt reading “Tyler’s Army.” The name refers to Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers who took his own life after his roommate had secretly filmed him in a homosexual encounter. Hiller, says the court, in evident agreement, did not believe that the shirts would be controversial, since the topic was bullying and not homosexuality. Hiller sold some of the shirts to other teachers at cost.
Jay McDowell, an economics teacher, bought one of those shirts and wore it in class that day. McDowell then showed his students a video about a gay teenager who committed suicide, and devoted the rest of the class period to discussion.
Daniel entered McDowell’s classroom for the sixth period that day. McDowell noticed that one of the girls in class was wearing a belt buckle with the Confederate flag. He ordered her to take it off, because it offended him. Daniel then asked the obvious question. Why should it be all right for so many students and teachers to wear the purple T-shirts, but not all right for the girl to wear the belt buckle?
Consider the great difference here in boldness and specificity and intention. The belt buckle expresses a feeling of pride or affection for the American South. It is small. It does not demand to be noticed and read. It does not say anything. It is not a part of a school-wide campaign. It is not as if the student, together with others throughout the school, wore it on her shirt, with the words, “The South shall rise again.” It is also a private thing; she is just one student.
McDowell then, predictably, told Glowacki that the Confederate flag was a symbol of hateful things, like “the slashing and hanging of [African Americans].” It was discriminatory against blacks. Glowacki responded that the purple T-shirts were discriminatory against Catholics. This prompted a heated exchange. The young man is no theologian, and the teacher no moral philosopher. McDowell says that he told Glowacki that it was all right if his religion said that homosexual behavior was wrong, but that Glowacki could not say that in class. He also says, missing the illogic and the aggressiveness of his statement, that he told Glowacki that to say “I don’t accept gays” is like saying “I don’t accept blacks.” When Glowacki replied, “I don’t accept gays,” McDowell threw him out and began disciplinary action against him.
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Homosexual activists do not say that Clementi was merely the victim of a nasty roommate. Their point—as the students at Howell High School no doubt were made well aware—is that Clementi was the victim of a general disapproval of his behavior. That is, any disapproval of the homosexual life is to be construed as homophobic, without regard to reasons or persons. That is precisely the message conveyed by the purple T-shirts.
The message may be unfolded thus. If you do not wear this shirt, or if you do not approve of the life it celebrates, you are evil. You’re a bully. You want people like Tyler Clementi to die.
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