The support for our petition for Apple to remove Exodus International’s inherently bigoted iPhone app has been overwhelming. As I hit “post” on this piece, the number of signers sits at 139,943. [If you haven't signed yet, do it!] We at Truth Wins Out are thrilled with the response, and we encourage Apple to listen.
However, there have been pieces and comments here and there which suggest that some people, even some ostensibly on our own side, don’t quite understand why we’re doing this, or why it’s important. Some of the complaints mention the First Amendment and/or censorship, neither of which are really appropriate critiques here. Other complaints suggest that, while those making them may indeed understand Apple’s policies against defamatory apps, they don’t quite understand the inherently hateful message of Exodus and similar groups, couched as it is in sugary, “loving” religious language.
So I wanted to take a few minutes to really break this down, and as my framework, I’ve decided to respond to a piece in Forbes by a writer named Victoria Pynchon, who I truly believe is completely well-meaning, but nonetheless doesn’t quite get it. Here is how Pynchon starts her piece:
I downloaded the Exodus App today to see whether it contained something akin to hate speech which has been variously defined as any communication which disparages a person or a group on the basis of some characteristic such as race or sexual orientation; or attacks or disparages a person or group of people based on their social or ethnic group.
At the risk of putting myself at the center of a firestorm of disapproval, I have to say that what I viewed and read on the Exodus app was not hate speech but simply the expression of religious beliefs with which I, and many other people, disagree.
Exodus International appears to be a non-denominational religious organization that believes homosexuality is a sin. It also promotes the idea that this sin can be relieved by establishing a spiritual relationship with Jesus.
Let us talk about “religious beliefs” for a moment. Many religious beliefs are uniformly harmful. The religious belief that black people should be the natural slaves of white people is/was harmful. We do have a First Amendment in this country which protects speech, protects against the establishment of a state religion, and at least endeavors to keep religious expression and the state separate. However, the free practice of religion doesn’t always extend any old place the religious want it to go. In short, your “religious freedom” ends the second it damages my constitutional freedoms.
Now, that was sort of an aside, because let us be clear that this issue has nothing to do with the First Amendment. No one is telling proponents of Exodus-style brainwashing that they cannot exercise their religious beliefs. However, Apple has a stated policy regarding their apps, which specifically excludes apps that are defamatory/hateful toward entire groups of people. Racist apps do not get in. Anti-Semitic apps do not get in. Perhaps some of the confusion, then, is in what precisely about Exodus and similar groups makes them inherently hateful, inherently bigoted, and inherently discriminatory against the entire LGBT community. Peterson Toscano, who is one of the most well-known survivors of the Exodus world, broke it down the other day in a piece where he quite simply labels Exodus-supporting groups as straight supremacists:
Why all the fuss? Why not let these folks have their freedom of speech even if what they have to say is wacky, antiquated, and panned by proper medical folks?
In the case of Exodus, here’s why we fuss. For one, we are NOT talking about a freedom of speech issue. Exodus is free to say whatever they want on their blogs and pulpits. No private company like Apple has to use their resources to promote Exodus’ message. Apple has the right to say, no.
Exodus spokespeople paint themselves in the media as kindly folks who simply want to help those who are unhappy with being gay. They don’t force anyone to do anything against their will. They do not want to interrupt the lives of happy homosexuals who are content with their sexuality or identity. That’s what they say, but that’s not what they mean. They are being wise as serpents and gentle as doves. They are duplicitous.
Exodus is a Straight Supremacist group that believes that heterosexuality, straight marriage, and gender normative behavior are superior to anything lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) people have going on in their lives. At Exodus conferences, in their books, through their many local programs they state that LGBTQ people are inferior to heterosexuals. They say over and over that LGBTQ folks are morally, spiritually, developmentally damaged. Just last week Alan wrote that even celibate gays who still identify as gay “fall short of God’s best.” In fact, he makes it clear that God’s best is for people to be heterosexually partnered, even if they are not heterosexual. They do not seem to consider the needs of a straight person who may well suffer as a result of this union (which is often the case.)
And what is Exodus’ big goal for 2011? To reach out to youth in middle school and high school with a message of hope! You don’t have to be bullied for being gay because you can chose the superior identity of being straight. They have a new iphone app in large part to reach out to the younger generation with their straight supremacist message. In essence they say, “The bullies are right. You are a worthless piece of shit, but we can bring value to your life. We can help you leave all that gayness behind and become holy and valuable to the world around you.”
You see, Ms. Pynchon, Exodus does not exist without an inherently defamatory framework which blames gay peoples’ problems on our sexuality, and which states that indeed we are worthy of hatred and scorn, and then makes money off promulgating the entirely false hope that one can leave all of these problems behind by denying our true selves and joining up with the Straight Supremacist cause. Imagine, then, a group which was based on the idea that any time a black person has problems, their skin color is the root of that problem, but if you spend several years and tens of thousands of dollars, you, too, can leave the African-American lifestyle and live as a Caucasian. It wouldn’t pass Apple’s policies, would it?
Now, there are racist websites and anti-Semitic websites and anti-gay websites all over the internet. No one is trying to “suppress” their rights to speak out. But Apple is a private corporation with a stated policy against defamatory and hateful apps. Facebook has similar policies. What we are doing here is simply asking Apple to abide by their own guidelines, and if that means it’s time for the Apple hierarchy to spend a moment getting educated on what Exodus International really does, so be it.
Apple had no problem deleting the bigoted Manhattan Declaration app, because the hate in that document was so in your face that a fool could see it. We understand that Exodus is far more serpent-like in the way they go about their business, but here is something important to understand: the entire ex-gay industry mostly serves as a tool to prop up the very same bigoted groups behind the Manhattan Declaration. Because there is an arm of the Religious Right claiming to love gays so much that they’ll help us find “freedom from homosexuality,” hate groups like the Family Research Council and the American Family Association are able to maintain a veneer [even if only in their own minds] of plausible deniability over whether they actually hate gay people. “Of course we don’t hate gay people! We love them enough to try to free them from their sin!”
Later in her piece, Pynchon engages in what I see as a deep over-analysis of the subject, trying to suggest that somehow Apple products have become the arbiters of our “national narrative”:
There’s something deeper at work in the demand for the expulsion of Exodus from the App store than what might underlie calls for the boycott of an enterprise whose policies don’t meet with a certain group’s approval – Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) and the HRC Index come to mind.
The furor over the Exodus App suggests that the iPad, by virtue of its shape and function, is assumed to be carrying our national “super story” – the tale a community tells about itself to establish a shared identity. As scholars explain, these national narratives hold us together and keep us apart.
When we demand that people be ejected from the public square based on the content of their speech, we’re usually doing so because we don’t want them to be telling any part of our communal story.
If the iPad and iPhone have become, by virtue of their information app-lization, a version of the public square, we’d be better off letting the public decide whose ideas are more consistent with our national character and whose are not.
No, Ms. Pynchon. It is not that complicated, at all. The Apple products are not The Public Square, and you’d be hard-pressed to point to a situation where gay activists are truly asking that Religious Right opinions be removed from The Public Square. Indeed, we spend our days highlighting and refuting their statements, thus giving their opinions more airtime on the internet [which IS the public square] than they’d ever have before.
This is very simple. Apple has a stated policy against discriminatory and defamatory apps, but unfortunately, as with so many sectors of our society, which have yet to catch up with the fact that anti-gay bigotry is no better than racism or anti-Semitism, they have failed to make the connection that this app goes against their policies just as a white supremacist app would. No one is trying to take away Exodus’s “Freedom of Speech.” We’re asking Apple to be consistent and treat their LGBT customers with the same dignity as they’d treat anyone else.