OutFront: Behind in Ethics
Since last November’s election the country has been passing through a turbulent period wherein fear seems to have often taken the upper hand. American GLBT citizens were warned by outgoing Senate Minority (and former Majority) Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV) and Broadway star, Brandon Dixon, from a curtain call for Hamilton, that we in the GLBT community had dreadful reason to worry about our rights as citizens with the impending elected Republican control of the government, federally and throughout the states. Even since the Inauguration there have been demonstrations and public meetings with politicians that have been rancorous. Some have even been violent and destructive of property.
Of course, parties and politicians come into power, and then are removed from power. That’s how a democratic republic works. Thankfully, the three branches of the government have a unique set of checks and balances between them and within them to counter extremes. And when extremes occasionally take root, then there is opportunity for those extremes to be reckoned with. This means the crucial necessity having a cool head and retaining the ability to rationally and civilly discuss disagreements.
Unfortunately, rhetoric from various quarters has been hyperbolic and inflammatory. The English language has become misused. Feelings of persecution have sometimes been exploited. Worse still, some GLBT community leaders have fallen under the spell.
On Nov.17 Lavender Media received a fundraising letter email from OutFront Minnesota, the state’s primary GLBT advocacy nonprofit organization. That letter stated a truly alarming claim when it said “Many young queer and transgender people are committing suicide in wake of the election results.” Nothing signifies the height and zenith of despair as consummately as suicide. It should never be taken lightly, or worse yet, as a way to score political points and gather financial contributions.
When asked for proof of those transgender people who committed suicide in the wake of the election results, OutFront could provide none. No death certificates from coroners or obituaries have been made available. OutFront’s Executive Director Monica Meyer says she was responsible for sending the fundraising email in question.
Meyer has not been reprimanded but OutFront Board President Dan Hawkins says, “I wouldn’t have phrased it that way. I don’t think it was 100% accurate. Institutions with much more power do this sort of thing every single day. I thought the wording was unfortunate, but it pales in comparison with what’s going on with much bigger institutions. Government organizations have so much more power than a little nonprofit.”
What is truly unfortunate is that this statement makes the state’s primary GLBT advocacy organization vulnerable to complaints under the Minnesota Statutes governing nonprofit organizations. In Minnesota Statute 309.5 PROHIBITED PRACTICES Subd. 5. False or deceptive practices, it states that misleading statements are prohibited.
What might the penalty be then? “Minnesota Statute 309.57 DISTRICT COURT JURISDICTION, PENALTIES, ENFORCEMENT. Subdivision 1. General. The court may make any necessary order or judgment including, but not limited to, injunctions, restitution, appointment of a receiver for the defendant or the defendants’s assets, suspension of the defendant’s registration, awards of reasonable penalties up to $25,000 for each violation of 309.50 to 309.61. In ordering injunctive relief, the attorney general shall not be required to establish irreparable harm but only a violation of statute or that the requested order promotes the public interest. The court may, as appropriate, enter a consent judgment or decree without the finding of illegality.”
OutFront could not support its claims that many young queer and transgender people had committed suicide in the wake of the election results, only nine days after the polls closed. Minnesota statutes prohibit misleading statements such as the one OutFront used in its fundraising efforts. OutFront’s assertion that much bigger or powerful institutions have used worse wording does not justify deceiving the public.
Moreover, OutFront’s suggestion that many youngsters are killing themselves to cope with election results legitimizes suicide as a solution and it trivializes self-murder, what Shakespeare’s Hamlet calls “self-slaughter,” as a logical tool for political protest.