Why two bigots ate their words

June 15, 2009

Sherry Wolf describes the wave of protest against two Sacramento disc jockeys who spewed hate about transgender youth.

WHEN SACRAMENTO radio hosts Rob Williams and Arnie States used their May 28 show on KRXQ to spew anti-transgender filth into the airwaves--they called gender-bending children "freaks" and "idiots" who deserved to be beaten--some listeners were shocked and horrified.

But more importantly, they took action.

Within hours, Facebook, MySpace and listservs were abuzz with protest messages and petitions. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation went on the offensive, and literally thousands of people from across the country called, e-mailed and texted their outrage at this repulsive hate speech to the radio station.

In a country where two young boys have hanged themselves in recent months over comments questioning their sexual and gender identities, and with rising levels of violence--including murders--of trans people, these words can literally kill.

That's why my recent encounter with a suburban Chicago school teacher brought tears to my eyes when she described getting her coworkers to call the station to demand they take those bigots off the air. "I was shocked how receptive my straight colleagues were," she said. "They didn't hesitate when I asked them to call, and pulled out their cell phones to do it right away."

Protests for LGBT rights have helped create a climate in which hate speech is challenged
Protests for LGBT rights have helped create a climate in which hate speech is challenged

This outpouring of solidarity for a legally unprotected and frequently derided group of people won a real victory.

After multibillion-dollar corporations like McDonald's and Bank of America withdrew sponsorship of the show due to Arnie and Rob's crass stupidity, the two hosts weren't only forced to apologize. More importantly, they devoted their June 11 show to transgender issues and exposed their drive-time audience to transgender people, and their families and issues--providing a rare educational moment on shock-jock radio.

We're a long way from winning full equality for LGBT civil rights, but this mass response to bigotry provides a glimpse of the shifting consciousness. Solidarity really is the only way to win. And it's possible.

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