By Darius Kemp In early May, the United States House of Representatives passed the Matthew Shephard legislation, by a margin of 75 votes, that would include sexual orientation into current hate crime laws on the federal level. A growing chorus of individuals has begun to hate the legislation instead of hating the horrible crimes of intolerance that people commit. The bill now moves over to the Senate for serious consideration. However, the passage of the bill in the House has fueled the disturbing rhetoric of opponents to the bill, and in turn this has worried its supporters. Over the past few weeks the recriminations have begun on both sides. World Net Daily (WND), a conservative reporting organization, refers to the amendment as the “Pedophile Protection Act” and argues that this amendment will criminalize the acts of people that speak out against or protect themselves from pedophiles, flashers or other “deviants.” They have mischaracterized the medical definition of sexual orientation and have included sexual acts, such as incest, into the law when the legislation does not mention anything of the sort.
What are our choices when we encounter mean-spirited and hate-laden comments in response to news articles online? It’s a question we’ve been debating at the water cooler here at The Working Group, and one that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I scour the web daily for news of hate crime hot spots and stories of resistance. We wanted to open up the conversation to the NIOT community. Do we urge our newspapers to adopt more stringent comment policies? Should we join the conversation or ignore it, and if we ignore it, what message are we sending? Sadly, the examples of offensive speech and bigotry I’ve been encountering online are ample.