So DC comics has hired Orson Scott Card, a famous sci-fi author, to write a couple of issues of Superman.
Orson Scott Card is also an activist who has said that “gay rights is a collective delusion,” and has called for revolution if gay marriage is legalized, has defended laws which make being gay illegal,1 and has sat on the board of directors of the so-called National Organization for Marriage.
So it’s not surprising that DC’s hiring him to write their flagship character has been controversial. A petition asks DC to “drop Orson Scott Card”; the comic strip Gutters sarcastically imagined Card’s take on what really doomed Superman’s home planet Krypton; one Dallas comic book store owner has announced that he will not stock Card’s Superman stories.
Card himself argues that “it should be perfectly legitimate to fire somebody” for being gay. If that’s legitimate, then shouldn’t it also be legitimate for Card to lose a writing gig for his anti-gay views?
I’ve known Orson Scott Card is a raging homophobe since the early 90s. I refuse to buy or read his work. But asking that he be denied work because he is a raging homophobe is taking it too far. Asking for workplace discrimination for any reason is counterproductive for those who want to end discrimination on their own behalf.
I can see nit-picky grounds for disagreeing with Lazarov (there are circumstances in which workplace discrimination is legitimate – discrimination against workers who refuse to do their jobs, for example).
On the whole, however, I agree with Lazarov. I oppose attempts to deprive people of work because of their political opinions. 3 I especially oppose pressuring publishers to drop artists and writers, because of the obvious free speech implications. Demanding that someone be fired is too strong and too mean an approach; this is a weapon that has been used against lgbt folks for too long. A lot of the terror of McCarthyism was in the attack on people’s employability.
Pressuring employers to fire someone, or publishers to drop authors, is a technique that – like direct violence – should be avoided by people on all sides, because it’s simply too cruel to be a part of legitimate political debate. To oppose people being able to work or publish because they disagree with us is both anti-free speech, and anti-worker’s rights. Those aren’t positions I’m willing to take up.
A few pre-rebuttals:
1. Let’s be clear: Although this is a free speech issue, it’s not a First Amendment issue. Card has a First Amendment right to say what he wants, but he doesn’t have a First Amendment right to freedom from consequences for what he says. In fact, readers have a First Amendment right to refuse to buy his work, and to petition DC asking that Card be canned, and publishers have a First Amendment right to choose not to publish Card.
2. Obviously, no one is obliged to buy Card’s comics, or any DC comic. I think it’s perfectly legitimate for readers who oppose Card’s homophobia to choose not to support Card’s work, or to choose not to buy DC comics.4 I also think it’s fine for a store owner to choose not to carry Card’s work.
3. If the Superman script Card turns is anti-gay in any fashion, I think DC would do the right thing by refusing to publish it.
4. I’ve seen some folks claim that if Card were famously anti-Black instead of famously anti-gay, DC would never have hired him to write their flagship character (and Marvel wouldn’t have hired him to write Ultimate Iron Man). Maybe this is true, although I’m not certain – people like Ron Paul and Charles Murray both seem able to find work despite their past racist writings. 5
But in any case, there’s a difference between views becoming socially and professionally limiting because there’s a genuine social consensus that those views are incompatible with decency, versus asking someone’s boss to have them fired because they’ve taken a side in a still-ongoing controversy. I’m not sure that either is good 6, but they are certainly different.
5. Let’s not kid ourselves about which side does this more. A significant number of anti-gay Christian employers routinely fire people for being lgbt, or for having the “wrong” views on lgbt issues, and as far as I can tell no one on the anti-SSM side ever speaks out for the people being fired.
- In 1990, Card wrote: “Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.” Card has since attempted to walk back this statement. ↩
- Link is safe for work, unless your workplace is seriously uptight. ↩
- There are a few obvious exceptions to this rule, such as political appointees. ↩
- Although DC, to its credit, includes a couple of high-profile gay superheroes in its lineup, including Green Lantern and Batwoman. ↩
- Or, in Ron Paul’s case, past ghost-written racist writings. ↩
- The social status of racism as a grievous sin, rather than as a common character flaw that most people need to resist, hasn’t eradicated racism, but it has eroded our ability to acknowledge racism and discuss it rationally. ↩