Sunday, July 19, 2009

Xavier High School, villification, and freedom of speech

Somewhat unusually for a GLBT person it seems, I'm opposed to the criminalisation of "hate speech". That includes opposition to the villification laws that exist in New South Wales and other Australian states. That means that on principle I must oppose the decision by Gary Burns to use villification law against Xavier High School in Albury after they printed a letter to the editor in their Alumni magazine from "former homosexual" Matt Price entitled "Imagine a world free from homosexuals".

Gary Burns is suggesting that this can only be interpreted as a call to murder gay people. I disagree: as an ex-gay, the author of the letter most likely thinks that "a world free of homosexuals" is more akin to the idea of "a world free of unbelievers" that the Catholic church presumably aspires to through its prosetylising. It can be interpreted as a call to conversion of homosexuals to heterosexuality rather than a call for elimination. Admittedly, other people might not think so.

It's especially difficult to judge as the full text of the letter is no longer available online. As Channel Nine reports, the online version of the newsletter in question has changed the text in question to remove all references to homosexuality. Price's letter now reads as the following inoffensive pablum:
Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. My family
moved from Sydney and then to Howlong, but my
parents divorced when I was in Year 7.
I started at Xavier North Campus in 1985. I stayed until
Year 11 when I transferred to Albury High, doing Year
11 again and completing my Year 12 certificate. Later
I was accepted into Sydney University to become a
Registered Nurse.
I have been a Registered Nurse since 1994 and have
pretty much worked full time since then. I am currently
living in Noosa and my mother is here also. I am really
pleased to say I am going regularly to church where I am
a reader. It is enjoyable and I can lead/heal my spiritual
life in the way I was guided as a child. “The Truth Will
Set You Free” is what Xavier taught me.
I have a surfboard which I’m still trying to learn, but I can
get up! I had a friend that I used to catch the school bus
with from Howlong – his name was Paul Lavis. I have
not heard from him since I left school. If you hear his
name in passing could you say Hello to him for me.
God bless! Yours,
Matt Price

According to SX News, a local paper called the Border Mail may have posted the original letter under the heading "world of sex and drugs", alongside an article entitled "gay activist demands cash from schools" which trys to paint Xavier High School as the victim. But again, neither of those two articles are available from the Border Mail website. There is an online copy of a letter to the editor of the Border Mail complaining that the Border Mail's coverage of the situation was inaccurate and misleading, but nothing more.

My approach to issues like this is that it is better to publicly expose bigotry as bigotry rather than try to censor it. I mean, it's kind of hard to publicly demonstrate just what's wrong with the letter when nobody's able to read it. Presumably it's out there somewhere, even if it's not online. If I find something, I'll post it. Otherwise....

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