Education | Fashion Men | Gay Youth

Tyler Chase Harper and his Anti-Gay Shirt are Back

Tyler_chase_harperThose who have been reading this blog for a while may recall the story of bigot-in-training (actually, scratch the "in-training" bit) Tyler Chase Harper and the T-shirt he wore to Poway High School near San Diego. In 2004, Harper wore the shirt, which said "Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned'' on the front and "Homosexuality Is Shameful" on the back, to protest the "Day of Silence", a day in which students take a vow of silence to make a statement about tolerance of gays and lesbians.

The school principal told Harper he couldn't wear the shirt to school, and the case was picked up by the conservative legal organization Alliance Defense Fund and has been climbing up through the court system ever since.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that a high school "can forbid a high school student from wearing a T-shirt that denigrates gay and lesbian students."

In his ruling, 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote: "Public school students who may be injured by verbal assaults on the basis of a core identifying characteristic such as race, religion, or sexual orientation have a right to be free from such attacks while on school campuses. As Tinker clearly states, students have the right to 'be secure and to be let alone.'...Being secure involves not only the freedom from physical assaults but from psychological attacks that cause young people to question their self-worth and their rightful place in society. The 'right to be let alone' has been recognized by the Supreme Court … as the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.''

The issue is expected to eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Court Rules Against Gay-Bashing T-Shirts [la times]

Fashion Statement [tr]

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  1. Suck it, Tyler Chase.

    Posted by: DP | Apr 21, 2006 10:37:04 AM

  2. where is this coming from? no unmotivated 17 year old, no matter how "Christian", starts a hate campaign by themselves. either his parents/church are backing him, or he's a self-loathing closet case.

    Posted by: gordon | Apr 21, 2006 10:40:04 AM

  3. You hit the nail on its head, Gordon. He's a self-loathing closet case who is coached by his parents and backed by his Hatechurch.

    Posted by: Liam | Apr 21, 2006 10:44:36 AM

  4. That's a little hypocritical isn't it? While I hate what his shirt says, he has the right to his opinion. If all he's doing is wearing a shirt, why do they have to stop him? Was he beating anyone up or verbally assaulting them? This is the same thing as schools trying to stop kids from wearing pro-gay buttons or shirts. He may be a self-loathing closet case, but we still have the first ammendment.

    Posted by: MT | Apr 21, 2006 10:58:56 AM

  5. The kid doesn't have to be a closet-case to be a bigot.

    What's important to understand is that religion is being used as the excuse for his bigotry. Thus, if someone's religion considers any group to be "shameful," does that person have the right to wear hateful T-shirts to school. For instance, if someone is a member of the World Church of the Creator that believes Jews, African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and Gays are subhuman, does that person have a right to wear a t-shirt that is anti-Semitic or anti-Latino? Religion has been used to harrass and justify murder throughout history. The argument should be against misusing religion to justify hatred against anyone. That would bring more people to the table to fight this assault by the Religious Right.

    Posted by: noah | Apr 21, 2006 11:03:06 AM

  6. He's not saying homosexuals are shameful, he's saying homosexuality is shameful. There's a difference; not a big one, but there's a difference.

    I imagine many of the people who think this kid shouldn't be allowed to wear his t-shirt are some of the same who have applauded people heckling President Bush of late. If you want one person to have absolute freedom of political speech, you have to give it to everyone.

    Posted by: Cyd | Apr 21, 2006 11:47:19 AM

  7. Cyd
    Your first comment scares me a bit. You sound like it's OK to hate the sin - love the sinner and your gay.

    I agree totally with part two.

    Though having said that public schools are not a democracy and speech can be curtailed. Should someone be allowed to wear a tee shirt that says Jews are shameful, Women are property? Where does one draw the line? You get my point without getting to graphic.

    Posted by: Donald | Apr 21, 2006 11:54:42 AM

  8. Cyd is missing the point. I doubt that this hateful child selected "homosexuality" over "homosexual" based on a nuanced difference that he's probably largely unaware of.

    Besides, when is it ever right to allow a minority group to be subjected to bigotry. Yes, free speech should be encouraged, but not at the expense of personal safety and well being. To use Cyd's example, President Bush -choose- to run for public office and is being "heckled" for his policies and political decisions. No one is targeting him for being a Christian or a rich white republician.

    Posted by: Lance | Apr 21, 2006 12:00:14 PM

  9. Donald - Agreed. The freedom of speech is not absolute. I thought it was terrible to see Southern California school administrators look the other way when students left school in protest of immigration laws. Given your statement, I'm sure you agree.

    To me, it's "OK" to hate and love whatever you want. I think our political roles as gay men isn't to stop people from being allowed to hate us, but to stop them from WANTING to hate us. For many Christians, the sin vs. sinner argument is a powerful one and one that our "community" should be exploiting more.

    Posted by: Cyd | Apr 21, 2006 12:00:52 PM

  10. As a gay man, I find this t-shirt offensive needless to say. But, I have a hard time agreeing with the judge that young Mr. Harper should be prevented from wearing it in school. In this case, I think the t-shirt does fall under freedom of speech, and trying to prevent this kind of speech doesn't get rid of the attitudes that underlying, it just drives them underground, and if anything, intensifies them.

    That said, I also have to say the distinction between "homosexuals" and "homosexuality" that Cyd refers to in the previous post is somewhat specious (sounds like the same old "hate the sin, love the sinner" B.S.

    Being gay is about a lot more than just what I do in bed. For one thing, much of the hatred and discrimination directed against gay people is based on people's perceptions of their sexuality and gender presentation, and is not based on any knowledge of what people's actual sexual behaviors are. I've had people yell "faggot" at me while I was walking down the street in broad daylight, wearing very ordinary clothes and minding my own business. I doubt they stopped to consider whether I merely looked "gay", was homesexually oriented but didn't act on it, or actually expressed my sexuality. Seems to me that a lot of homophobia and antigay attitudes and behaviors are more about the amazing anxiety that so many straight guys have about their masculinity (what's the big deal, anyway?) and about reinforcing traditional gender roles and norms of behavior.

    And for all the "Christians" and others who think people choose to be gay, I would like to know precisely when and how you decided to be straight? Did you make a list of the pros and cons one day, and make an active decision to be heterosexual? Must have been a pretty tough choice!

    Posted by: Ken | Apr 21, 2006 12:07:33 PM

  11. Thanks Cyd much clearer on the love/hate issue.
    And yes we are on the same page with the walk outs. Though I had a twinge of guilty white liberal but common sense took over and the children should be held accountable for their actions.

    And to think I had my head handed to me in high school for leading a boycott of the cafeteria. But the late 70's were a more simple time.

    Posted by: Donald | Apr 21, 2006 12:19:31 PM

  12. Actually, you don't have the right to say anything you want on school grounds. The school has the right to regulate in order to accomplish it's goals - to teach students. I'll get my Tyler Is A Cultist Bigot t-shirt ready, in the event that the case in overturned.

    Posted by: Anon1 | Apr 21, 2006 12:29:01 PM

  13. Sorry - the Nazis can march in Skokie and Tyler should be allowed to wear his idiotic shirt.

    Wearing a "Homosexuality is Shameful" t-shirt is no more or less disruptive than wearing a "Homosexuality is Not Shameful" shirt to your high school would have been 50 years ago (and, in many locales, still is today.) The 9th Circuit's apparently liberal holding in this case is an example of the kind of bad reasoning that can come back to haunt the left when it's cited as part of the on-going attack of the right on the Constitution. You have to protect these rights for EVERYONE, because you never know when YOUR speech is going to be considered aberrant and offensive.

    MAYBE a shirt that said something like "Kill the Fags" would fall beyond that far edge of what's protected by the First Amendement -- but a shirt that simply states a political/religious opinion (however odious, offensive or dumb) is absolutely the kind of thing the First Amendment protects. The Ninth Circuit is wrong wrong wrong and I hope the Supreme Court makes that clear.

    Posted by: busterxxx | Apr 21, 2006 1:02:16 PM

  14. In case you didn't already figure it out, Poway is a fucking dump filled with discount tract homes, sun-bleached mini-malls and the occasional expoding meth lab. It's one of those inland desert suburbias populated by people who got the raw end of the California dream.

    Maybe if this little bigot is lucky enough he'll escape one day...maybe even get a scholarship to Bob Jones university.

    Posted by: Stephen | Apr 21, 2006 1:04:46 PM

  15. When talking to religious conservatives, from whose flock I was sprung, I like to remind them that when Jesus protested, it was always against religious types who placed unnecessary burdens on others. Not quite sure why that is lost on them.

    Apart from violating the rights of their targets and though it makes me cringe to observe or experience it, I have no problem with bigots revealing themselves as we work towards a society that learns what "content of character" actually means.

    However, being one who works with adolescents, I can see how the presence of the T-shirt message could disrupt the ability to instruct and learn in the classroom. Are there administrators who have discovered how to provide a healthy forum for debate that allows young minds to begin developing the ability to listen, reason and communicate? Most adults have seemed to have lost that ability. Not that there's any judgment in that!

    Posted by: Kevin | Apr 21, 2006 1:15:39 PM

  16. BusterXXX, you are wrong. If you allow him to wear that shirt, then you have to allow others to wear a shirt contradicting his views, and on and on and on. The point is that free speech is not an all the time everywhere proposition. It never has been. If the school board deems such messages to be detrimental and disruptive to the learning experience, then they can limit speech. That same rule might apply to and I Hate Bigots shirt.

    Your views is right on, in a non-school setting.

    Posted by: Anon1 | Apr 21, 2006 1:22:50 PM

  17. First, MT, while I fail to understand how you could imagine that written, publicly displayed words of hate on someone's chest has any functional difference from hate coming out of someone's mouth, actual legal precedent doesn't agree with you either. Messages on clothing have clearly been determined to be "symbolic speech." Even the ACLU, who I believe has sometimes carried the protection of "hate speech" too far, but understandably harvests the broadest interpretation of laws protecting same, writes on their site: "freedom of speech does not prevent punishing conduct that intimidates, harasses, or threatens another person, even if words are used. Threatening phone calls, for example, are not constitutionally protected."

    This Hitler Youth's shirt on the street might be primarily only obnoxious, but it is quite a different matter to force gay students to be trapped with him in their school environment. And it's illogical to equate his message with pro-gay buttons, etc. The latter is affirming "speech" whereas his is intimidating and harassing—though the theocrats would claim they are the poor shat upon, as a part of their Defend Acts of Hatred In the Name of Freedom of Religious" strategy.

    Legally swat them like the insects they are.

    Posted by: Leland | Apr 21, 2006 1:44:03 PM

  18. I agree with the school board and State Supreme Court. Offensive is offensive.

    The side I see is where this kids head is at. I have to agree that, at 17 years old, you DON'T know what the fuck is going on in your own head and because of that, it's SO easy to fall in with cult mentality. In my day, many teens were sucked into "Born Again Christianity" because it was comforting to them when the world around them was falling apart. At 17, even I spewed derogatory gay sentiment, because at that time I WAS a closet case and terrified to "look there" at my soul. It was SO easy to find others who spewed (not hateful, but crap head) rhetoric that made me not question myself so much.

    It IS the product of the community. Growing up in BLUE collar RED neck Pittsburgh, in the 70's, there was no "gay". You were pushed to be hetero, you were pushed to date the opposite sex. Gay was something you called someone who deviated in any way from that, and that deviation was wrong. I read the same with this "other end of the California Dream" community. Crappy neighborhood full of red necks. It's how this Tyler seems to cope.

    It's what you do until either 1) you knock up some local thing and have to spend the rest of your self-hating life working at Krogers to pay for diapers, pot and beer or 2) escape to a metropolitan center where you can finally let down this facade of crap-head mentality and listen to what your soul is really telling you.

    I hope for Tylers sake, he gets to see the bright lights of the big city.

    Posted by: Rad | Apr 21, 2006 1:58:43 PM

  19. God, it's hard to be a fair-minded Liberal.

    On the one hand, I support free speech rights for everyone - including such people as this little monster; but on the other hand, I don't think that it is appropriate in a school setting to allow such inflammatory messages to be displayed.

    There is no absolute freedom to speech in schools. Many of us discovered this when we expressed ideas out of the mainstream and were silenced by teachers or the administration. His wearing of the shirt with the hateful messaging was rightly disallowed because it would be disruptive.

    The only thing "shameful" is that he feels that he has a right and perhaps even the obligation to throw hatred around so casually.

    Posted by: Jonathon | Apr 21, 2006 2:16:35 PM

  20. Jonathon..............kudos to you.

    Posted by: Anon1 | Apr 21, 2006 2:19:27 PM

  21. Yikes! Yes, I agree with the judge. Yes, I agree that there should be unfettered freedom of speech. Yes, I think one can't expect to be able to yell fire. Yes, I think a bigoted little shit-ball fundamentalist prick should be smacked.

    Then I think about the purposes of public education one of which is to help young people shape themselves into upstanding citizens. One of the core democratic principles is tolerance of others and respect. The freedom to say "I hate you" exists, and Mr. Harper's T-shirt is borderline on saying he hates. His shirt certainly advocates intolerance (can one be ashamed of something one tolerates?--I'm genuinely unsure). Freedom to say "I hate" does not exemplify the toleration incumbent to a democracy, but it is a freedom that we have as a result of that democracy. A public school can restrict "I hate", I think, in order to foster toleration...even if it is a forced toleration during the hours of school.

    Incidentally, that raises an issue that I've been internally debating for years...forced toleration of others was what Tito did in Yugoslavia and then they started killing each other after he died. Sadam did it in Iraq and now they’re killing each other after he was taken. I’m of the mind that forcing someone to do something they find contrary to their beliefs is not necessarily a bad thing.

    Posted by: JT | Apr 21, 2006 2:20:08 PM

  22. In 2000, Sharon Underwood, from a small town in Vermont, expressed best the reasons we limit hate speech/acts in school settings in her letter to the local paper. I'm sure many have read it before. Its simple eloquence still moves me.

    "As the mother of a gay son, I've seen firsthand how cruel and misguided people can be.

    Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a gay son and I've taken enough from you good people.

    I'm tired of your foolish rhetoric about the "homosexual agenda" and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny.

    My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay. He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called "fag" incessantly, starting when he was 6.

    In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn't bear to continue living any longer, that he didn't want to be gay and that he couldn't face a life without dignity.

    You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don't know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn't put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse.

    ...If you want to tout your own morality, you'd best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it. For those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program, I'm puzzled. Are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that's not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can?

    A popular theme in your letters is that Vermont has been infiltrated by outsiders. Both sides of my family have lived in Vermont for generations. I am heart and soul a Vermonter, so I'll thank you to stop saying that you are speaking for "true Vermonters."

    You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn't give their lives so that the "homosexual agenda" could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

    He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn't the measure of the man.

    You religious folk just can't bear the thought that as my son emerges from the hell that was his childhood he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance. How dare he? you say. These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage.

    You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant. God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin. The deep-thinking author of a letter to the April 12 Valley News who lectures about homosexual sin and tells us about "those of us who have been blessed with the benefits of a religious upbringing" asks: "What ever happened to the idea of striving . . . to be better human beings than we are?"

    Indeed, sir, what ever happened to that?"

    Posted by: Leland | Apr 21, 2006 2:32:52 PM

  23. Personally, I think when you call this kid names like "Nazi," "bigot," and "funamentalist prick," and when you disparage his hometown, you are just as bad as he is.

    I wonder how many of us would think a shirt that says, "Rejoice in homosexuality" or "Jesus was gay and so am I," was OK. To some, that would be terribly offensive. If you want to limit this kid's freedom, you have to limit everyone's. And, to an extent, I think that's OK. Again, the freedom of speech is not absolute - that just goes both ways.

    Posted by: Cyd | Apr 21, 2006 2:49:44 PM

  24. Cyd, why is it that you bring up Bush in just about any comment post you make, regardless of what the original subject is about?

    Posted by: Mike | Apr 21, 2006 3:27:11 PM

  25. "Personally, I think when you call this kid names like 'Nazi', 'bigot,' and 'funamentalist prick,' and when you disparage his hometown, you are just as bad as he is."

    I fear, Cyd, you might also have a problem distinguishing Shit from Shinola. Lesson #1:
    "Shinola--Pleasant, fruity odor. Shit-- Unpleasant, poop-like odor." Lesson #2: "People don't care if you have Shinola on your shoes. Most people admire shiny shoes. People are offended and make funny faces when you have shit on your shoes."

    I suggest you continue learning to distinguish between the two, as well as between victims and victimizers.

    Posted by: Tagg | Apr 21, 2006 4:01:24 PM

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