Trigger Warning for extreme homophobia, including homophobic language and death wishes, as well as discussions of suicide.
Last Wednesday, as many of you are likely aware, there was a call to wear purple in response to the recent spate of publicized suicides by LGBT youth who had been extensively bullied, and the event was dubbed Spirit Day. Many activists who have been working on these issues for a long time have pointed out that these suicides are nothing new but are only now receiving media attention, and that most of the publicity has surrounded the loss of white gay men to the exclusion of trans* youth, bisexual and lesbian youth, and queer youth of color. There were also criticisms of Spirit Day specifically.
But while it would seem that all people could support not bullying people to the point where they feel there is no way out but to kill themselves, the day also inevitably brought out “criticisms” from homophobic and transphobic bigots who think that LGBT youth killing themselves isn’t really such a bad thing, after all.
One such bigot who spewed his homophobia1 wherever he could was Clint McCance, who is notable because he is not just a private citizen/bigot, but a board member for Midland school district in Arkansas.
“Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE.”
After being challenged by a commenter, this was Mr. McCance’s reply:
“No because being a fag doesn’t give you the right to ruin the rest of our lives. If you get easily offended by being called a fag then dont tell anyone you are a fag. Keep that shit to yourself. I dont care how people decide to live their lives. They dont bother me if they keep it to thereselves. It pisses me off though that we make a special purple fag day for them. I like that fags cant procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other aids and die. If you arent against it, you might as well be for it.”
“I would disown my kids they were gay. They will not be welcome at my home or in my vicinity. I will absolutely run them off. Of course my kids will know better. My kids will have solid christian beliefs. See it infects everyone.”
In his post, McCance doesn’t just make light of queer youth killing themselves as a result of a homophobic society that supports extensive shaming, shunning, harassment, and violence; he suggests that such youth killing themselves is a natural response to a non-heterosexual orientation, and a deserved one at that. He argues that harassment directed at gay people is deserved and asked for by the very act of being gay. And the context of his statements further suggest that “if they all commit suicide,” this would be a good thing and a benefit to society — a breathtaking display of hatred.
I’m inclined to state here that suicide is no joke, but the fact is that I don’t think McCance ever meant his statements to be taken as one. He seems deadly serious in his convictions — and I place a particular emphasis on the word deadly. Because words have an impact. Words matter. They matter, as we’ve been tragically shown over and over again, when slurs are being screamed in your face and devaluing your very personhood every single day. They matter when they’re threatening you with violence. They matter when they’re telling you that you’re better off just not existing. They can matter very, very much when you’re thinking of killing yourself, and a person in a position of authority over the policies of your own school says that your identity is so repulsive to him, he hopes that you do.
Words matter, too, because they back up real attitudes. Many parents do actually disown their children because of their sexual orientations or gender identities. Kids end up homeless all the time for this very reason. Or they stay closeted and terrified and hate themselves because they fear exactly this happening, usually with very good reason.
And many people do believe that gay people who contract HIV/AIDS deserve to die. We saw the effect of this attitude most prominently in the United States when the AIDS epidemic first hit during the Reagan era, and countless people died painful deaths hated, alone, and afraid. People still die disowned by their families in the U.S. today, and human rights violations against HIV-positive people are a worldwide epidemic. Precisely because of attitudes like the one that Clint McCance expressed above, that people with HIV deserve to die — and, even worse, that HIV is a legitimately serious, deadly disease whose existence is both beneficial and thrilling to those who do not have it.
McCance’s words matter not just because the ideas behind them they have a concrete real world impact, but because he is in a position of authority, in one of the currently least appropriate places I can imagine. He is an elected official, and he works for a school. While the suicides of LGBT students are currently making the news in unprecedented numbers. At a time where it’s possible that homophobia (and transphobia to a lesser extent because of lesser coverage) and the bullying that accompanies it might just be starting to be taken seriously by mainstream U.S. — or at least one can hope — a school board member is telling LGBT students in his district that they are worthless and disgusting, and that he literally hopes they die.
I reached McCance on his cell phone this morning about 8:30 a.m.. “I really can’t comment right now,” he said. He said he planned a meeting with a lawyer this morning and didn’t want to say anything further until he’d had that meeting. He did comment that the matter had “been blown out of proportion.”
Blown out of proportion. People are dying because of the kinds of things he said, he not only refuses to mourn but actually celebrates their deaths, and then claims the issue has been blown out of proportion.
The Arkansas Department of Education strongly condemns remarks or attitudes of this kind and are dismayed to see that a school board official would post something of this insensitive nature on a public forum like Facebook. Because Mr. McCance is an elected official, the department has no means of dealing with him directly. However, the department does have staff who investigate matters of bullying in schools and we will monitor and quickly respond to any bullying of students that may occur because of this, as we have with other civil rights issues in the past.
Of course, condemning the remarks as simply “insensitive” suggests a serious case of Not Getting It.
The Arkansas School Board Association said:
Members of the Arkansas School Boards Association Board of Directors and staff were appalled to read the comments purportedly made by the Midland School Board member in which he denounces gay students. Our organization expects school board members to support the education and promote the welfare of all students in their districts. With 1,500-plus school board members in Arkansas, we are saddened that the comments made by one individual will reflect poorly on other board members who work hard on behalf of the children in their communities.
ASBA has no tolerance for bullying or attacks on children, and we certainly would not tolerate such actions, either physical or verbal, by adults.
When school board members take the oath of office, they swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Arkansas. ASBA expects board members to adhere to state and federal laws, and bullying would certainly fall under those statutes.
A concern for those officials who don’t actively want LGBT students dead over those LGBT students themselves also suggests misplaced anger and sadness.
While an elected official cannot simply be fired, it’s unclear whether there is a process to remove from office those officials who do not uphold the duties of their jobs, and/or flagrantly violate them — as wishing harassment, violence, and death against students within a school board’s district would indeed seem to fit the bill with regards to a school board member. But if not, one would think that at the very least, these governmental bodies and his co-board members could and should make a loud public demand for his resignation.
A protest was apparently held this morning. It should really go without saying that in light of these comments, an apology is frankly and patently not good enough. Nothing less than McCance resigning or somehow otherwise being removed from his position on the school board is an acceptable response to an incident that should have never occurred, and in a world that took the safety of LGBT youth seriously, never would have. And until everyone else holding a position of authority over Midland school district does everything in their power to not only renounce the remarks but ensure that McCance no longer has a job on the board, they too are liable for and implicitly endorse what he had to say, and any effect it has on their students.
UPDATE: Clint McCance has resigned.
- While one can probably safely assume that he hates trans* people just as much if not more than he hates cis people who are not straight, he did not specifically mention or allude to them anywhere in his statements. This does not, however, mean that his words will not have an impact on trans* youth. ↩