Free speech vs. harassment

By |2011-07-07T09:00:00-04:00July 7th, 2011|Uncategorized|

There’s a fine line between free speech and harassment. A great example of this is the Chris Armstrong suit against Andrew Shirvell.
Armstrong, a recent University of Michigan graduate, was the first openly gay president of the student body last year. Shirvell, then the assistant attorney general of Michigan, created a blog about Armstrong. Shirvell wrote that the student had a homosexual activist agenda, showed up on campus to protest him, picketed outside of his home, and even spied on him during a party. Shirvell was eventually fired from his job – not for stalking or harassing a college student he’d never met, but for lying about his actions during an investigation. He also used state computers and phones for his stalking pursuits.
Armstrong filed suit against Shirvell this spring, asking for damages for defamation of character. Shirvell is now living in New York (which, funnily enough, just became a whole lot friendlier to gays) and is representing himself in the suit. It is interesting that Shirvell doesn’t have anyone representing him; you’d think he’d have the support of one of the many anti-gay organizations out there. He continues to adamantly deny he has done anything wrong.
Shirvell did ask that his deposition be sealed from public view, which is a bizarre request. Depositions are almost never sealed in their entirety, because the public is supposed to have access to the details of the legal services its taxes pay for.
What is so unsettling about this case is that it proves just how agreeable our state climate is to those who dislike gays. Our state still doesn’t have any protections for LGBTs in housing or employment. Our state doesn’t allow same-sex marriage. And a strange, unofficial but widely practiced ban on second-parent adoption means that same-sex couples are also denied the ability to create families that are recognized by the state.
Our state also doesn’t have any anti-bullying law, even though it’s crystal clear that bullying is a problem, especially for LGBT students. Many people are trying to sway the state legislature to pass a version of an anti-bullying law that would offer protections to classes of students, including the LGBT students. The legislature put any serious debate about the bill off until it returns from its two-month break, so that’s a battle that advocates will continue to wage when students return to school this fall.
State Republican lawmakers insist that it wouldn’t be right to offer certain students special protections, that those special protections create an unnecessary burden on schools and lawmakers.
We say that bullying – also known as stalking and harassment – obviously lasts well into adulthood. The Armstrong v. Shirvell case is just one well-publicized example. A little bit of education and support in students’ formative years could help bullies like Shirvell from spinning out of control. Why wouldn’t our state attempt to provide that?

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.