By Ethan Nichols, World News Editor
Following the tragic shooting in Colorado Springs last week, which resulted in five dead and 25 injured, it’s time we consider the role that speech plays in promoting violence.
The shooting in Colorado at ClubQ, an LGBT+ nightclub, was a hate crime. Pure and simple. ClubQ was a safe place for members of the LGBT+ community, and that safe space was violated last week when a gunman entered and opened fire.
We are living in a time when hate speech is on the rise. We are living through a time when anti-trans legislation is being passed at record levels. We are living in a time when the lives of LGBT+ individuals are being put on the line, and it’s simply unacceptable.
Many so-called free speech advocates argue that an individual’s right to say what they want is more important than restricting hate speech. I take issue with this.
I’ve heard many people here at Xavier argue that dialogue is the solution to increasing polarization. That dialogue is how we can make Xavier a more safe and more welcoming environment for people of varying backgrounds.
I disagree. I’ve sat through class after class where professors let homophobic and transphobic “discussions” take place, all for the sake of dialogue. What we’re doing by allowing these discussions to take place without moderation or mediation is creating environments that are not safe.
There must be a middle ground between affording students the opportunity to discuss and share ideas, while also creating safe spaces and stopping the spread of hate.
In May 2019, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres argued that hate speech does not equal free speech.
“Addressing hate speech does not mean limiting or prohibiting freedom of speech. It means keeping hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence, which is prohibited under international law,” Guterres said.
This is not a matter of free speech; it is a matter of ensuring that all students, in particular LGBT+ students, are provided with safe learning environments.
To create safe learning environments for LGBT+ students, we must ensure that hateful speech is not tolerated in the classroom.
We’ve seen, particularly in the wake of the ClubQ shooting, that hate speech can very quickly escalate to physical violence.
It’s important to note though that speech can be a form of violence.
LGBT+ youth are four times more likely to commit suicide, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among LGBT+ young people. While there are many factors that contribute to this, speech and the words we choose are a large part of it.
Research from the Trevor Project shows that LGBT+ young people report lower rates of attempting suicide when they have access to LGBT+ affirming spaces.
Words matter. They have an impact. The words we use to express ourselves can affect other people as well. By choosing to side with “dialogue” and “freedom of speech,” we allow for hate to be spread. Not all speech is made equal.
If your speech is resulting in mental, emotional or potentially even physical harm to be caused to another individual, maybe that speech shouldn’t be allowed, especially in a place where we should all feel safe.
I’m not interested in engaging in dialogue over issues of basic human rights and human dignity. Homophobia and hate have no place on this campus.
Xavier must commit itself to creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, and to do that, we must reject hate in all forms, even if it means we shut down dialogue in certain forms.