Let's Stop Pretending That Destructive Nonsense Deserves Airtime

book with shredded pages closed on desk
book with shredded pages closed on desk

The Fall 2015 edition of Northwestern, Northwestern University's quarterly alumni magazine, featured an article entitled "Expanding LGBT Research." It was an innocuous report on the work being done by psychologist Brian Mustanski, who is the director of Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program and the co-director of the new Third Coast Center for AIDS Research. Thanks to an $8.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Mustanski is leading a five-year study at Chicago's Center on Halsted, investigating the biological, behavioral and social factors behind the finding that, even after all these years, forty percent of gay and bisexual men between the ages of thirteen and twenty-nine may contract HIV by the age of forty. What a worthwhile study! Cool. Moving on.

Not so fast. Of course, lurking behind a dark corner, as always, is an old crazy Christian man to spoil our gay fun. Enter Lake Forest, Illinois' own Warren E. Anderson, his arrival underscored by the furious pulse of a Ted Nugent tune. The aforementioned article, which was full of only encouraging news, somehow ticked off Warren the Stuck-In-The-Past-Osaurus. (A Stuck-In-The-Past-Osaurus is a breed of dinosaur that sees red when it finds itself unable to "Make America Great Again.") Lucky for our septuagenarian villain, Northwestern welcomes letters from its readers, and Bigot Anderson -- which is what I will henceforth be calling our buddy Warren -- sent in the following epistle:

The article 'Expanding LGBT Research' leads me to believe that many so-called medical professionals never took epidemiology 101. The National Institutes of Health is giving $8.7 of taxpayer money to Northwestern so that researchers can explain why 40 percent of gay and bisexual men will become infected with HIV. Let me explain the mystery. Very few monogamous people contract HIV. But those in the LGBT community tend to be notoriously promiscuous.

Our culture is abandoning truth, calling good evil and evil good. Thus we are overcome in our obsession with tolerance and political correctness. We refuse to be objective in understanding the HIV problem.

Northwestern imparts knowledge to its students, but wisdom is in short supply. Sin distorts the thinking of society and its citizens. Our school was founded by people who recognized that true wisdom comes from God and what He has revealed in the Bible.

Unsurprisingly, Bigot Anderson's letter was widely shared on social media. I myself first heard about it on Facebook, and I was enraged. Bigot Anderson's letter oozes with sex negativity, as he pathetically attempts to portray homosexuals as boogeymen. Take a gander at American queer history, and you'll see that, as we were fighting for LGBT+ civil rights, our opponents were suggesting we were child rapists, or comparing us to zoophiles, or claiming that all of us eat poop. Bigot Anderson is using the oldest trick in the gay bashers' handbook.

I'm an atheist Jew. This means two things: I think ultra religious people like Bigot Anderson are coo-coo-ca-choo, and I love to complain to the management when I feel I've been treated unfairly. (I'm convinced that the line, "And God said unto the Israelites, 'Ask to speak to the manager,'" was originally in the Torah but got cut for time.)

Take my mother. (Please.) My mother uses Tide detergent. Always has. Recently, Tide came out with a new product, which my mom tried, only to find that said product stained one of her blouses. Terrible, right? Now, a Gentile would accept the fate of their blouse as the sacrifice that one must sometimes make when trying something new. Ob-la-di. Ob-la-da. Life goes on. But not a Jew. My mother, a Jewish princess reared in New Jersey who "saw Bruce in Asbury before he got big," called Tide to complain about the stain. Their new detergent was terrific, the people at Tide explained, but my mother had unfortunately bought a faulty batch, so the schmucks at Tide SENT MY MOTHER AN AMERICAN EXPRESS GIFT CARD TO COVER THE COST OF A NEW BLOUSE.

Emboldened, my mother bought a new bottle of this cutting-edge detergent and put it in the wash, but guess what: another shirt got stained. A tragedy, really. Now, a Gentile would accept the fate of their blouse as the sacrifice that one must sometimes make when using a product that they know stains clothes. But not a Jew. My mother called Tide to complain yet again, and those schlemiels SENT MY MOTHER ANOTHER AMERICAN EXPRESS GIFT CARD WITH WHICH TO BUY MORE FREE CLOTHES.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking now the story is pretty much over. Now will come the denouement, where Aaron's mom will learn the fairly obvious lesson -- don't use a product you know sucks -- and she will go back to using the old Tide. But boy would you be wrong. No, my mother did not pour the clearly cursed detergent down the sink. Once again, she used it. Once again, clothing was ruined. And, once again, no ob-la-di. No ob-la-da. No shrugging of shoulders. The Strong Jewish Woman picks up the phone and complains to Tide, and Tide, seeing in their files that this woman with a lot of time on her hands has called with the same complaint twice before, reflexively sends her another American Express gift card. ANOTHER AMERICAN EXPRESS GIFT CARD! Astonishing, I know, but this is how Jewish people roll when we feel we've been treated unfairly. I can't even count the amount of movies I've seen for free, using vouchers I received after complaining to the management about crummy service.

Upon reading Bigot Anderson's letter to Northwestern, I knew that it was my duty as a child of Israel to write Northwestern's editor, Stephanie Russell, a letter of my own. I titled the subject of my e-mail "Shame" to make my wrath extra clear:

Ms. Russell,

In reading the Feedback section of the recent edition of your Northwestern magazine, I was appalled to see that you thought it acceptable to publish bigot Warren E. Anderson's letter responding to LGBT research. You, ma'am, should be ashamed of yourself. Judging from Anderson's graduation year, I am comforted by the fact that this bird-brain and other bird-brains like him will hopefully all be dead soon, but you, Stephanie, manage to not only promote Bigot Anderson's brand of misinformation but also to promote his brand of hate by publishing his offensive letter.

Now, I don't know you. You might agree with everything Bigot Anderson says. But I assume that someone in your position at an institution like Northwestern does not agree with what Bigot Anderson says. However, even if you do agree, you should know better than to publish a letter that is riddled with lies and based not at all in truth. Bigot Anderson says that 40 percent of gay and bisexual men will become infected with HIV. That is complete and total, hot, stinking bullshit and you know it. Why publish what this crazy bigot has to say? You are only perpetuating his dangerous ideology, which serves no purpose other than to further stigmatize an already stigmatized group, a group to which I belong. I have been called a "faggot" out in public going about my day eight times in the past two years. Most of the time, it happened when I was surrounded by groups of strangers and not one of them ever came to my defense. Bigot Anderson's frightening, bonkers opinions only work to make that kind of occurrence more likely and more acceptable, and your publishing of his letter does no better.

Shockingly, Bigot Anderson says one accurate thing in his insane letter: "Thus we are overcome in our obsession with tolerance and political correctness." This is something to which you are contributing. Our culture is strangely obsessed with giving equal airtime to two sides of an argument when one side is based in truth and the other side is total baloney. Just because Bigot Anderson is loud and angry and nuts, that doesn't mean that you should publish his thoughts as if they are valid. The world doesn't become a fairer place when you make false equivalencies. It isn't politically correct to be tolerant of this ultra-religious, gay-hating nutbag. That's not what tolerance means, and you know that.

Shame on you. I am disgusted by your behavior in this edition of your magazine, and you better believe that I will never make a single charitable contribution to the University's alumni organizations ever again. I will also make it my business to encourage all of the alumni I know to do the same. That is, until you apologize for this grave error you have made and refute Bigot Anderson's ridiculous claims in the next edition of your magazine. We live in 2015. Gay people are nothing to be afraid of. Stop publishing things that make it seem like we are. I repeat: you know better.

Quite sincerely,
Aaron Ricciardi

And can you believe it? She responded:

Dear Aaron,

Thank you for your email regarding the letter by Warren Anderson that was published in the winter 2015 issue of Northwestern magazine. I appreciate your taking the time to write.

You raise a good point about whether we should have run Mr. Anderson's letter as it was written, and upon reflection, I agree with you that we should not have done so. It was an error in judgment on our part, and I apologize for that. Northwestern magazine's letters to the editor column is named "Feedback," and, as is printed in the magazine, the opinions expressed are not those of the editors or the institution, but of the letter writers. Nevertheless, the letters we print should not attack any individual or group of people in the manner that his letter did. We will review our guidelines regarding letters to the editor to ensure that this does not happen again.

Again, I apologize for the pain that Mr. Anderson's letter and our decision to run it have caused you.

Stephanie Russell
Northwestern magazine

This all might seem like a trifle to some. A university's alumni periodical published a letter from a wacko in ten-point font. Big deal. But I wasn't the only one who wrote in to complain. Russell heard from many other Northwestern graduates, and now eight of our letters are on display where Bigot Anderson's hateful rhetoric once was. Because of all the letters she received, Russell has changed the publication's policy on the kinds of letters they will publish. It's an example of how fighting for what you believe in can lead to actual change.

In my letter to Russell, I bemoaned our culture's obsession with "giving equal airtime to two sides of an argument when one side is based in truth and the other side is total baloney." As we start this election year, I think our collective resolution should be to adopt the same attitude as Northwestern did in regards to their Feedback column. Let's stop pretending that destructive nonsense deserves airtime.

Bigot Anderson's vitriolic, backward worldview -- the kind of thinking which ends up legitimizing the systematic discrimination of queer people -- is nowhere near as important as the noble efforts of AIDS researchers. The burden that the legalization of gay marriage places on the religious freedom of right-wing Fundamentalist Christians -- whose lives, for the record, are entirely unaffected by gay people committing their lives to each other -- is nowhere near as great as the burden that preventing gay people from marrying places on actual gay people. The occasional occurrence of police officers getting killed on the job -- which is frankly just a hazard of law enforcement--is nowhere near as dire as the epidemic of police officers murdering unarmed people of color and getting away with it. The threat of a Middle Eastern refugee entering the United States and carrying out a terrorist attack -- a threat which is practically nonexistent -- is nowhere near as alarming as the humanitarian crisis posed by millions of homeless refugees fleeing warzones. Hillary Clinton's slightly foolish server set-up is nowhere near as troubling as Chris Christie's staff's strange, vindictive bridge closing, and nowhere near as horrifying as Donald Trump's endless onslaught of misinformation.

Balancing two unequal sides of an issue is part of how our popular news media functions today. "Fair and Balanced" Fox News is the master of this sort of deceptive truth-twisting. This comes, I think, from our having only two major political parties. Perhaps this is why George Washington and John Adams warned against such a system.

There was no reason for Russell to publish Bigot Anderson's stupid letter. She shouldn't have done it, and now she knows that, which is progress. But, when it comes to newsmakers like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or any of the countless anti-gay rights groups with "Family" in their name, their megaphones are simply too loud. The media can't not cover them. But the media can end their pointless, labored charade of impartiality. For months, reporters have been talking on loop about how Trump is "striking a chord" with angry voters. But we've rarely heard reporters drive home the message that Trump is a pathological liar.

There will always be those who swallow demagoguery no questions asked. These people are the base of the far-right wing. But, for the rest of the country who actually respond to reason, they deserve to be told if a public figure is saying something completely unfactual. If Trump pulls some bogus claim out of his rectum, the story shouldn't read, "Trump said this today." Instead, it should say, "Trump said this today, and it was not true at all." That wouldn't be biased; it would be honest.

This is the real problem we have with political correctness in this country, Donald. Our journalists should be following in the footsteps of Edward R. Murrow (and Jon Stewart) and calling out bullshit when they see it, just as the alumni of Northwestern did in response to Bigot Anderson, and, as a matter of fact, just as our president did in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

Good night, and good luck.

Visit the websites for the Third Coast Center for AIDS Research and the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program to support their programs and learn more about their work.