When former staffer James Stevens released the secret recording he made of San Antonio Councilwoman Elisa Chan, he felt her “anti-gay” comments would be her undoing. With a September vote upcoming to add gay and transgender people as a protected class in the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, the resulting silence or absence of Chan would stand as a warning to anyone who dared speak out against the revision. Now with Chan neither silenced nor out of office, the plan appears to have backfired. Rather than a massive outcry calling for her ouster, Chan, though the subject of much criticism, has received praise for championing freedom of speech.
In the secret recordings from May, first published in the San Antonio Express News on August 15, Chan says she never “bought in” to the assertion that individuals are born gay. She also expresses her opposition to same-sex adoption, believing it “confuses” children. Eventually, the discussion turns to the anti-discrimination ordinance. She asks aides to prepare a draft for an editorial, outlining her opposition to the revision based on four main items: the lack of discrimination in the city, resistance to additional bureaucracy, too much focus on national rather than local issues, and support for “family values.”
At two points in the recording she declares her basic philosophy concerning the revision:
Whatever you want to do in your bedroom, that’s none of my business, but do not impose your view on other people, especially become a policy… Because personally, I think it’s just disgusting just to even think about. All the… definitions…
Now, we do not want to attack any group… [H]owever they chose…that’s fine. I’m respectful of their choices… [e]ven though I don’t believe [in their lifestyle]. They’re free people. They can do whatever they want to do. But don’t just impose… Don’t just come back and say you’re being discriminated.
Chan is entitled to her opinion as are those who condemn her for the comments. However, an issue arises when critics twist words around and use political correctness as a means to silence dissent.
In its exposé, the Express News labeled Chan’s opinions as “homophobic” and “intolerant.” It focused heavily on the word ‘disgusting’ as used in the above excerpt and uttered under unclear circumstances earlier in the recording. Though the Express News asserted Chan used the term to refer to homosexuality, that is not completely evident from the context. In fact, Chan claims she used the term in reference to pedophilia and bestiality, which seems valid if that is what “[a]ll the… definitions…” describes.
The Express News revealed its true agenda the day after breaking the story. On August 16, the editorial board published an article titled, “Elisa Chan shows why ordinance is needed.” It rehashed the condemnation of Chan’s statements, taking them out of context, and arguing that they show why the city council must pass the ordinance revision. In other words, because not everyone agrees with the politically correct standards of the mainstream media, law must be used to reinforce these standards in personal dealings. Anyone who disagrees should be unmercifully ridiculed and silenced.
Thankfully, unlike so many before her, Chan did not take the bait. She refused to apologize or resign from office for her personal opinions. Foremost, she refused to be silenced. In a press conference, she affirmed:
My belief system is mine and it does not mean that I will like to impose those beliefs onto anyone else. Even though, the LGBT community and I do not share the same beliefs, I respect and support their personal freedoms and right to their lifestyle. I will, however, not change my own values or beliefs for political gain or survival.
I govern in fairness, because one of the basic tenets of our democracy is the guarantee of the right to live in any manner unless it poses a threat to an individual or society at large.
Political correctness will not win this day; standing firm as an individual in service to the whole community does. I stand strong in my First Amendment right to freedom of speech and our right to privacy. And as an immigrant, I consider this the greatest privilege of being a U.S. citizen.
In response, the Express News Editorial Board went further, publishing an article calling on Chan to resign. However, it is plainly clear she will not. If the voters in her district find her comments as distasteful as the editorial board does, then the voters will vote her out of office. Nevertheless, that seems unlikely given she represents a highly conservative district, where she won nearly 80 percent of the vote in her last election. Additionally, numerous individuals have expressed their support for Chan’s right to free speech in public comments on the Express News website.
Though the forces of intolerance in the media will continue to nit-pick public figures for expressing politically incorrect opinions, and though those targeted public figures will continue to issue apologies and conform, Chan’s stand represents a victory for free speech. If those calling for Chan’s censure and resignation are truly correct in their condemnation of her beliefs, then they should have no trouble countering these beliefs through rational argumentation rather than merely advocating self-censorship. In a free society, healthy debate is the best way to defeat ideas with which we disagree.