(“Ignorance meets Fearlessness… and Fearlessness wins.” – promoted by Bill Orr)
If you’ve been following the controversy over Franklin Township (Somerset) Board of Education President Ed Potosnak’s graduation speech last month, (Franklin Reporter here; Blue Jersey here, here, here; NJ.com here), you know that last night was the first board meeting after board member Patricia Stanley sent a letter to Ed, an openly gay man, and the rest of the board calling for his resignation because he dared to spend approximately 1:30 out of a seven and a half minute speech talking about how the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage-handed down that same day-affected his life.
Here’s the video of his speech:
Last night’s meeting was straight out of a Hollywood movie script-almost: Ignorance meets Fearlessness, and in a public showdown with unanimous community support for the protagonist, Fearlessness wins, Ignorance realizes the error of her ways, we have the Kumbaya moment, and everyone goes home happy.
Except there was no realization and no Kumbaya moment. Despite 90 minutes of impassioned statements from supporters both inside and outside of the township, many of whom expressed compassion for Stanley, she doubled down on her ‘opinion’ that Ed had somehow ‘hijacked’ the event (…with his gay agenda?).
Funny thing about opinions: they’re very easy to hide behind in the name of free speech. We heard several reminders of that from Stanley and one other board member who, while not agreeing with Stanley, repeatedly reminded us that she is entitled to her own opinion. But as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “You are entitled to your own opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” And therein lies the rub: Stanley confuses opinion with fact.
In a moment of synchronisity, a friend who attended the meeting with me posted this piece by Jef Rouner this morning that appeared in today’s Houston Press titled, No, it’s not your opinion. You’re just wrong.
Rouner reminds us that in a world in which policy is increasingly being shaped by opinion rather than facts, it’s important to distinguish ‘right’ opinion from ‘wrong’ (all emphasis mine):
There’s a common conception that an opinion cannot be wrong. My dad said it. Hell, everyone’s dad probably said it and in the strictest terms it is true. However, before you crouch behind your Shield of Opinion you need to ask yourself a two questions.
(1) Is this actually an opinion?
(2) If it is an opinion how informed is it and why do I hold it?
An opinion is a preference for or judgment of something. My favorite color is black. I think mint tastes awful. Doctor Who is the best television show. These are all opinions. They may be unique to me alone or massively shared across the general population but they all have one thing in common; they cannot be verified outside the fact that I believe them.
There’s nothing wrong with an opinion on those things. The problem comes from people whose opinions are actually misconceptions. If you think vaccines cause autism you are expressing something factually wrong, not an opinion. The fact that you may still believe that vaccines cause autism does not move your misconception into the realm of valid opinion. Nor does the fact that many others share this opinion give it any more validity.
What mucks it all up is when a narrow set of information is assumed to be wider than it is. There is a difference between a belief and things you just didn’t know. It’s easy to believe, for instance, that whites face as much discrimination as people of color, but only if you are completely ignorant of the unemployment rates of blacks versus whites …
Many, many, many of your opinions will turn out to be uninformed or just flat out wrong. No, the fact that you believed it doesn’t make it any more valid or worthwhile, and nobody owes your viewpoint any respect simply because it is yours.
So, when Stanley says,
“(I)n my thirteen years in professional music and theatre, I have known many, many homosexual men. I still have friends who are professionals in the business. But they always behave like mature gentlemen and are truly considerate of other people.”
… what she really means is that she likes her gay men (and by inference all non-heterosexual individuals) walking with their heads down and their lives in the closet, and that’s just wrong!
And when she says,
“You presented very personal information regarding yourself and your intimate life which was just uncalled for in that venue. It was inappropriate behavior at an inappropriate time.”
… we can infer that, in her opinion, no one should make any mention of their families or their personal lives or experiences in any way, shape or form when giving a speech such as this lest someone be offended.
The human experience is shaped by the human experience, and with the SCOTUS ruling, that experience just got a whole lot wider, deeper and richer, and that scares the bejeezus out of some people just the way it did when slavery ended, women got the right to vote and America became desegregated.
So, while Ms. Stanley is indeed entitled to her own opinion, her opinion does not entitle her to be a bigot. And that’s a fact.
ADDING: While there were many calls for her resignation, there were many (myself included) who expressed the hope that she wouldn’t resign; that this would be a teachable moment that would draw the board closer together in discussions about tolerance and sensitivity. Ms. Stanley has three more years to serve on the board. I truly hope she changes her opinion.