The Rising Cost of Hate Speech

By Jason A. Michael

By now, many of you have heard about the Kim Burrell scandal and her canceled appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." (And if you haven't, I wrote about it in this very issue and would be happy to fill you in if you visit INSERT LINK HERE).

As soon as I heard about Burrell's homophobic rant I took to Twitter and tweeted both Ellen and Pharrell Williams, who had been scheduled to perform a duet with Burrell on Ellen's show. Then I took to Facebook and asked everyone I knew to do the same. I signed a Change.org petition to similar effect and passed the link on to my friends.

People from all across the country did the same and, thankfully, Ellen listened. She tweeted simply that Burrell would not be appearing on her show. She offered no additional commentary and released no other statement on the matter.

Now, that was seriously fine with me. It was an appropriate ending to an unfortunate incident. Ellen could now go back to the business of producing a quality television show and Burrell could back to well, quite frankly, I don't care what she went back to so long as she was gone from my sight.

Others, however, disagreed.

On my Facebook threads, certain friends said they wished Ellen had gone ahead and had Burrell on the show so she could have confronted her. And Huffington Post contributor Jarrett Hill wrote an entire commentary on what he called "the missed opportunity to talk." He felt that Ellen could have created a safe space for dialogue that could eventually change hearts and minds.

But I see things differently. I believe the time for talking is done. You simply cannot have a meaningful conversation with someone who calls gays and lesbians "perverted." Those are not the words of someone wishing to have a positive exchange on the topic and possibly be enlightened. Those words amount to only one thing: hate speech. And it should not be tolerated. Not on Ellen's show. Not on any television program. Not anywhere in the country.

The time for that kind of talking is over. If you cannot speak to me respectfully then you cannot speak to me at all. You don't get that privilege. If you're going to call me names, you'd be better off keeping that nonsense to yourself.

This is 2017, and there will be consequences.

Just ask poor Kim Burrell. Not only did she get dropped from Ellen's show, but her radio show was canceled as well. And, again, I say this is as it should be. Kim Burrell is clearly not interested in meaningful dialogue. Quite the opposite, she's content to use her Bible as a weapon and wield it against gay men and women who are not only part of the rich fabric of this country but, I suspect, also among the members of her own church.

I think Ellen's decision to cancel Burrell's appearance spoke volumes. It said, "I will not let you bully my community." It said, "I will not give you a platform from which to spew hate." That's no longer acceptable. Not even in the name of God.

The whole "love the sinner, hate the sin" justification has been debunked as nonsense. You cannot hate my homosexuality yet still love me. It isn't possible. The two are intrinsically intertwined. You cannot separate one from another because were I not homosexual, I would not be the person that I am.

So make no mistake: if you are attacking my homosexuality, then you are attacking me. And there's no love involved in that. Frankly, I don't care if you love me. Maybe that's an important distinction to people like Kim Burrell, ministers who must claim to love people even as they cut them down to size for their sins. But keep your love. You can have it. All I ask for -- scratch that -- all I demand is your respect. You can do the decent thing and give it to me freely. Or you can take the long road like Ms. Burrell and wait for the consequences. But be sure now, there will be consequences.

If you attack us, we will attack back. If you dare denounce our moral turpitude, we will come after your livelihood. We will no longer be your patsies. Preaching our demise will no longer fill your collection plates. There are too many of us now. Too many who've come too far to turn back.

This is 2017, and we will no longer debate our equality. Instead we will demand you recognize it. That, to me, is the message Ellen sent by disinviting Burrell to her show. Her statement was brief. But she said a mouthful.

Jason A. Michael is a Essence magazine bestselling author and has been a contributing writer to Between The Lines since 1999.
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