The color orange is going through a social transformation. In 2015 the television series Orange Is the New Black featured the manifestation of social ostracism in terms of the orange of prison uniforms.1 Then in 2016 orange became a Republican color in the person of Donald Trump whose complexion drew popular criticism and ridicule as one who spent too much time with artificial tanning.2 But something about orange draws attention to itself much like the diatribes of the one elected to the presidency: it’s bright; it’s brash; it screams and often seems reluctant to harmonize without raising a ruckus. It draws attention like few colors can, for better or for worse; and during this past week it was used for worse on both sides of the Atlantic to incite hatreds much like the Trump message exploited raw hatreds in his presidential campaign.
We first saw this in Spain where authorities in impounded an orange bus whose message in Spanish translates:
“Boys have penises, Girls have vaginas.
Nobody can change sex.
It’s biology, not bigotry.”3
The authorities knew, as did every thinking person, that the message could only target one demographic: transpeople. It clearly was a message intended to foster anti-trans prejudices and encourage discrimination. Another bus shortly went into service in the United States. Its color was the same orange. The message was similar:
Boys are boys … and always will be.
Girls are girls … and always will be.
You can’t change sex.
It’s clearly a contradictory message. One cannot respect all and disrespect transpeople which this clearly intends. Implied by the same message is the idea that transpeople, simply by existing at all, are a standing disrespect to biology and the social order. It’s a declaration much like the displacement exhibited throughout the Trump campaign to counter all opponents with the same social sins it commits itself and that the one who screams the loudest wins. It makes the difference between free speech and the licentious speech that makes propaganda.
The so-called “Free Speech Bus,” is operated by Ignacio Arsuaga of Spain’s Roman Catholic group Citizen Go and Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).5 The provocation obviously intended not only mirror much of the attitudes of the Evanglical Dominionists endemic to the Trump campaign, but bring back memories of the practices of Westboro Baptist. Westboro, famous for anti-LGBT picketing of various events, even the funerals of servicemembers, has been known to bait others into violent acts through open taunts, then turn around and sue the ones who take their bait.6
Westboro Baptist, like the “Free Speech Bus” exploit the First Amendment respecting free speech for the sake of church ambitions. But “free speech” doesn’t license all speech. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean one should shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, call in bomb threats, or distribute fliers against a company in front of that establishment in an effort to put that company out of business. Each of these acts have resulted in the prosecution of the perpetrators. There’s good reason for this.
The good reason is that free speech demands something else: responsible speech. It’s the difference between trusted news sources and fake news. It’s the difference between speeches intended to incite riots and those that inspire crowds in peaceable assemblies to rise above hatreds. It’s a difference predicated upon simple ethics: that having the right to do this or that demands respect for the rights of others.
But proponents of the “Free Speech Bus” don’t respect any rights but those of its own party. That alone negates the claim that proponents are exercising free speech. If the rights of others aren’t respected, “free speech” becomes licentious speech.
Religionists need not presume control over what can be said simply upon the whim of a party, especially when it comes to inciting others against a minority. No demographic in world history has ever been more persecuted than the trans demographic. Pope Benedict’s claim in 2010 that Christians are the most persecuted is propaganda.7 Christians may face persecution. But Christians themselves do a lot of persecuting, manifest in denial of aid, shelter, family, services, or immigration to those they demonize: from Muslims to Pagans to Hindus, to stigmatized ethnicities and demographics including the trans demographic.8
There’s no country on Earth where transpeople have not suffered brazen violence and murder, denial of medical care unrelated to transition, blacklisting, and denial of a place to sleep… all specifically because we’re transpeople. In many areas of the world we continue underground because of the hostility of the nations in the name of religion. Clearly this is the state of affairs the “Free Speech Bus” promotes. It’s a message obviously intended to demonize transpeople, to encourage popular prejudice and discrimination against the same, even violence and murder.
Face it. We’re nothing new. Transpeople have existed from prehistory. Mythologist Joseph Campbell in the Historical Atlas of World Mythology thought that transpeople begin in the late Pleistocene epoch if not before.8
State sanctioned violence against transpeople can only force transpeople underground. It’s not possible to remove 25 million transpeople from the planet without blasting the entire population into near extinction while saving a select few “straight people;” and even in recovery there will be a corresponding recovery of transpeople. Transpeople have always been a minority feature of humanness and always will be. No amount of erasure can prevent that.
But sadly, certain people, presumably trans activists, took the bait.
On March 24 reports of vandalism against the “Free Speech Bus” hit the news like the shattering of the bus’ windshield and graffiti that included “Trans Liberation” and “Trans Rights Now.”9 On Facebook, no shortage of commentators praised the vandals and even recommended further action against the “Free Speech Bus” from pelting it with eggs to shadowing the bus with another with a counter protest message.10
Edge Media Network reported the following:
“We filed a police report and there is video surveillance,” Brown told Breitbart. “They should be punished to the full extent of the law.
“It is a hate crime … if it was motivated by our religious or political beliefs, it is under the statutes to be prosecuted as a hate crime,” Brown opined.”11
Of course, hate crimes have a specific legal designation. It isn’t enough to prove that someone committed a crime. One must demonstrate that the crime committed was intended against a specific demographic to instill fear in the targeted demographic.12 Clearly, the vandalism targeted the message aimed at fostering public sentiment opposing transpeople, not the Roman Catholic Church or Evangelicals. That does not constitute a hate crime despite Brian Brown’s opinion.
But can the crimes be otherwise prosecuted? Certainly they can. Police are investigating the incident as “criminal mischief.” It doesn’t carry the gravity of a hate crime and chances are a court will take provocation into account in sentencing. Because of provocation, a court would lean toward leniency, barring any anti-transgender prejudice from the bench.13
Can individuals found through video surveillance be sued? Definitely, and that’s exactly where participants were unwise. Just like the work of Westboro Baptist, any participant in the process of transition can easily be prosecuted into deep and pernicious poverty, rendering them incapable of completing transition. Very likely, the proponents of the “Free Speech Bus” would only be happy to withdraw litigation in the case of “repentance” of the vandal, not so much a repentance from vandalism, but also in a forced denial of one’s own identity as a transperson with possible enforcement of reparative therapy through the terms of a lawsuit or simply as an imposed condition to call off a lawsuit.
Transpeople need to keep this in mind in counter-protests, precisely because we as transpeople have the most to lose. Proponents of the “Free Speech Bus” and other like attempts to incite the public against transpeople really do want to present us to the world as “violent” and “dangerous”. Vandalism plays right into their hands.
On the other hand, counter protests must do the same. If one assaults our people, the perpetrator needs to be sued in the same way and the fact broadcast. It demonstrates how those advocating spiritual violence will turn to physical violence sooner or later. Public sentiment will almost always fall toward the victims in a conflicting cause.
After all, when the sacred texts of Romanists and Evangelical Dominionists teach, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” their spiritual violence reflects neither power, love, nor soundness of mind.14 With such moral dissonance so prominently displayed by various churches and parachurch organizations, a lot of members have found themselves drained from the spiritual support they sought in the first place. That drain translates to a deepening disposition of anger and bitterness, arrogance, and even decline of membership.
The “Free Speech Bus” may have skipped a stop in Connecticut because of repairs. But when it hauled into Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined protesters in favor of transpeople. The ethical problem of the “Free Speech Bus” hasn’t been lost upon Bostonians any more that it has upon New Yorkers or Spanish authorities.
While the bus may eventually be taken to other areas of the country, the basic principle remains as a lesson to all who protest a message of prejudice. It’s right and noble to protest. But one must be careful not to give further belief that the stigmatized people are dangerous by resorting to dangerous activities in response to baiting by those who stigmatize. After all, those who stigmatize need to be seen as the genuinely dangerous ones. Let them commit the crimes… and they will sooner or later.
For the color of orange can only remain a color of hate when unmitigated by other colors and other attitudes. Orange still pops out when balanced by the coolness of blue and harmonizes with other colors when included in the rainbow of the LGBT flag. The color doesn’t need to be hijacked and subverted to something oppressive or fascist.
The “Free Speech Bus” will fade into the trash heap of history sooner or later. Transpeople won’t for as long as humanity continues. The former has clearly doomed itself to failure except in isolated lawsuits… a paltry return on an investment in gas and orange paint.
- Nicholson, Rebecca. Orange Is The New Black, the story behind TV’s breakout hit (June 7, 2014) Web: The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2014/jun/07/orange-is-the-new-black-the-back-story. Retrieved March 28, 2007
- Mencimer, Stephanie. We May Have Unlocked the Mystery of Trump’s Orange Skin (November 4, 2016) Web: Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/11/why-donald-trump-turned-orange. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
- (n.a.) Madrid judge backs ban on Catholic group’s anti-transgender bus (March 2, 2017) Web: BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39139750 . Retrieved March 25, 2017
- S. bus
- (n.a.) Anti-LGBT Mouthpiece Calls on NYPD to Prosecute Hate Bus Vandalism as Anti-Religious Hate Crime (March 24, 2017) Web: Edge Media Network: http://newyork.edgemedianetwork.com/news//news//212622/anti-lgbt_mouthpiece_calls_on_nypd_to_prosecute_hate_bus_vandalism_as_anti-religious_hate_crime . Retrieved March 25, 2017
- Carr, Jodan. Countdown to Westboro Baptist Church at Stanford: The Law and WBC (January 27, 2010) Web: Stanford Review: https://stanfordreview.org/countdown-to-westboro-baptist-church-at-stanford-the-law-and-wbc-87fd1470c7ca . Retrieved March 18, 2017.
- Associated Press. Pope: Christianity Is Most Persecuted Religion (December 16, 2010) Web: CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/pope-christianity-is-most-persecuted-religion/ . Retrieved March 28, 2017.
- Campbell, Joseph. The Historical Atlas of World Mythology (1983) Alfred Van Der Markk Editions; 1st ISBN-13: 978-0912383002. Vol. 1, p. 142, citing Herman Baumann.
- Eversley, Melanie. Bus with anti-transgender message is vandalized in NYC. (March 23, 2017) Web: USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/03/23/bus-anti-transgender-message-vandalized-nyc/99560530/ . Retrieved March 28, 2017.
- Witnessed by the writer on Facebook.
- (n.a.) Edge Media Network, previously cited.
- (n.a., quoting the office of the Los Angeles District Attorney) What is a hate crime? (n.d.) Web: UC Berkeley Division of Equity and Inclusion Centers for Educational Justice Community Engagement: http://ejce.berkeley.edu/report-incident/what-hate-crime Retrieved March 28, 2017
- Eversley, USA Today.
- 2 Timothy 1:7 KJV.
- Annear,Steve and Irons, Meghan E. Anti-transgender bus rolls into Boston, is promptly greeted by protests (March 30, 2017) Web: Boston Globe: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/03/30/free-speech-bus-rolls-into-boston-greeted-protests/ujfRVB33mfeNez6P0rvlLL/story.html . Retrieved March 30, 2017.