Sunday's edition of the Chapel Hill News includes two letters in response to Molly De Marco's recent guest column imploring the Boy Scouts of America to welcome gay people into the organization. The paper's editors decided to publish the letters, despite the authors' inflammatory statements and deeply hateful rhetoric toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. In doing so, they have sent a message to our community that the Chapel Hill News is a no-holds-barred forum for the discriminatory fantasies of bigots.
One of the letters, by Tom Evans of Pittsboro, describes LGBT people as defective and mentally dysfunctional. The other letter, by Alan Culton of Hillsborough, likens homosexuality to violent assault, marital infidelity, and pedophilia.
Almost as disturbing as the letters themselves is a subsequent blog post in which editor Mark Schultz stated, "I don't think today's letters are offensive" (subsequently modified to "I don't think today's letters constitute hate speech"). These statements make me think it's unlikely the paper's editors will consider revisiting their letters policy.
Nevertheless, even as they aim to preserve an open-letter policy, the editors of the Chapel Hill News might want to consider whether they would have printed a letter that made equally disgusting claims about other traditionally marginalized groups. No open-letter policy need be truly open; otherwise there would be no need for editors. Editors exist to make judgment calls about the contents of their publications.
If the editors of the Chapel Hill News are interested in how to explain to prospective author–bigots why their letters will not be published, they could do worse than to start with something like the following:
We do not publish letters that describe women, people of color, gay and lesbian people, etc, as defective and mentally dysfunctional or that liken those groups to criminals, adulterers, and pedophiles. We believe that public expressions of bigotry against traditionally marginalized groups lead to and serve to justify violence against those groups, and we will not provide a forum for people to publicly express their private prejudices. If you can make your argument without resorting to (or embarrassing yourself with) such statements, we will be happy to print your letter.
The private prejudices of bigots have no place in our community's public discussion, and we don't need the Chapel Hill News letters section to remind us that bigots exist.