Silence is deafening. We have to take a stand on what matters or leave our future to chance. Today, there are so many causes that deserve our attention and support that sometimes it can feel overwhelming. But at the same time, when an issue arises that stands as a clear afront to our values, fighting back comes as second nature.
Recently I found myself in Florida, having dinner with my colleagues after one of our strategic council meetings. Just a few weeks prior, the Florida governor had signed the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation into effect, banning teachers from holding classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity. This came on the heels of reports of book bans across the country, in essence “erasing” gay and transgender youth from the U.S. education system. At the same time, MM+M had reached out asking Spectrum to submit a book cover for their Agency 100 showcase, telling the world what we’re about. My colleagues and I looked at each other around the dinner table and knew immediately what to do.
In celebration of Pride Month and in defiance of disturbing legislation threatening the LGBTQ community—as well as our rights of free speech and press—our book cover is all about, “Saying Gay in the USA.” In addition, we’ve put together an educational coloring and activity book for all ages to help individuals learn about sexual identity. If some states choose to erase an entire population from their story, we’re here to help color them back in.
The time is now
We’ve witnessed what happens when not enough people speak out against threats towards marginalized people—extremes come to pass.
If we think back to a few years ago, it seemed like we were finally making positive strides forward to be a more liberal and open society. Unfortunately, we are now seeing attempted action to chip away at the rights of LGBTQ people, bill by bill. Bills are meant to expand freedoms to the greatest number of people. “Don’t Say Gay” and book-banning bills are trying to limit freedoms. We must speak out now.
Hate Speech vs Free Speech
As someone who has spent their entire career in public relations and media, I’ve seen the role the press plays in writing our future. Many types of communication can fall under the umbrella of “press” today. Do we qualify news sites and books as press? How about unvetted websites and social media? The intention behind the communication may determine our answer.
Media is a vehicle of information. Hate speech is not. Hate speech-fueled propaganda is used to form agendas and inject poison into our society. The combination of this propaganda and algorithms is driving more and more divisive beliefs and reinforcing vitriol and fear. Those who have worked in the industry and know the difference between objective media and hate speech need to come together to shine a light on these issues.
“Don’t Say Gay”
At best, proponents of “Don’t Say Gay” bills will say it’s inappropriate to have discussions about LGBTQ issues with young children. At worst, they accuse opponents of the bill of sexualizing kindergartners and supporting grooming. These are scare tactics. There is a difference between free speech and hate speech and lies. We need to bring our critical thinking into play before listening to trolls and fabrications.
These bills paint LGBTQ people as “other” and dangerous. In actuality, conversations about LGBTQ topics simply seek to normalize people, feelings and lifestyles. They cultivate empathy and understanding.
If these bills become laws in multiple states, this country may be at risk of raising another generation riled with hate and prejudices—setting us back 30 years. We need to ensure the United States is a safe place to love who you want to love.
Books under siege
When I heard about this rise in book bans, the first question that came to my mind was, “What are people so afraid of?” Providing children with a broader view of the world and access to perspectives unlike their own? That’s not frightening. That’s education. (I hope I don’t have to justify that a child won’t become gay from reading a book.) Books can help readers understand other people, perhaps those who come from different backgrounds.
The books under review are subtle and written in age-appropriate ways. By discovering an array of books, children can form a full picture of our society and learn to be balanced and thoughtful human beings. If we take books and education away, we reinforce skewed, fringe views and values. We should be feeding children’s thirst for information—not limiting what they are allowed to learn.
How to take action
We cannot and should not be afraid of educating children and opening their eyes to the diverse world we live in. Children are often more resilient and accepting than adults. If you have children, have open conversations and encourage them to come to you with questions.
Even if you have stayed silent in the past, it’s never too late to take a clear stand. Speak up in defense of the LGBTQ community. Challenge what is happening, both in your local community and across the country.
For every download of “Saying Gay in the USA”, Spectrum will donate $5to the American Library Association’s (ALA) campaign to Unite Against Book Bans, where your support will go directly to helping the ALA in their mission to preserve and protect free access to information.
There are realities about our world and our history that people should be uncomfortable with. As a country, we haven’t always made the right decisions, and it’s our responsibility to address those choices and work together to make better ones. We should all embrace being uncomfortable and reevaluating our views. If you’re afraid of that, ask yourself why.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Jonathan Wilson, Owner & CEO.