How Could You Represent Someone Like Milo Yiannopoulos?

How free speech protections fuel civil rights movements.

Milo Yiannopoulos trades on outrage. He is a professional provocateur who has turned insulting different groups of people into a specialty.

He has claimed that the very existence of transgender people is the product of delusional thinking. He has compared Black Lives Matter activists to the KKK. And he has fostered both anti-Muslim bias and disdain for women in one breath, characterizing abortion as "so clearly bad for women's health that it falls second only to Islam.”

Here at the ACLU, we vehemently disagree with Mr. Yiannopoulos’ views. We work hard, every day, with the very communities he targets, to fight for equal rights and dignity for all. We recognize that his words cause grievous pain to many individuals, their families, and their loved ones. Speech like his hurts.

Yet even though we know how wrong-headed Mr. Yiannopoulos’ speech is, the ACLU today filed a lawsuit to defend his free speech rights.

Say what?

We did not take this decision lightly. We understand the pain caused by Mr. Yiannopoulos’ views. We also understand the importance of the principles we seek to defend.

The constitutional principle here, of course, is that government can’t censor our speech just because it doesn’t like what we say. But we’re not representing Mr. Yiannopoulos just out of an abstract principle. We’re also representing him because free speech is crucial to progress in civil rights movements.

Without free speech protections, all civil rights advocacy could be shut down by the people in power, precisely because government doesn’t agree with the ideas activists advance. That was true of the civil rights fights of the past, it’s true of the movements facing pitched battles today, and it will be true of the movements of the future that are still striving to be heard.

The case we filed today is a good illustration of what we mean. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, a government agency, prohibits any advertisements on its trains or buses that attempt to “influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions.” Enforcing that rule, the WMATA told the ACLU that we couldn’t put up ads that show the text of the First Amendment (yes, really) in English, Spanish, and Arabic. It also refused ads from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) urging people not to eat meat and another one from Carafem, a non-profit that provides abortion care and family planning services. In Mr. Yiannopoulos’ case, it pulled ads for his book from its trains after passengers complained.

That’s quite a range of views that government decided to silence — from an organization promoting free speech, another advocating for reproductive health care, another urging protection of animals, and another peddling what the ACLU believes to be anti-trans, anti-Black, anti-woman, and anti-Muslim views. That speaks to a core premise of the First Amendment: If government can shut down one of those views, it can shut down all of them. And that would make it harder for any of us to engage in debate with the public and to try to change people’s minds about the issues that are dearest to our hearts.

Protecting the First Amendment rights of all of these speakers is crucial to the ability of civil rights movements to make the change we need to make. When we’re talking about oppressed groups espousing what are often minority viewpoints, the danger of being censored is not just theoretical, it happens all the time. Fighting against that censorship is part of how we ensure that the voices of the marginalized do not disappear from public view.

Consider the movement for LGBT rights. In 2010, a Mississippi high school student, Constance McMillen, wanted to take her girlfriend to the prom and wear a tuxedo. Both acts were inherently expressive, communicating that she’s a lesbian and challenging gender norms. The school said no, asserting they needed to protect other students from these “disruptive” statements. But a lawsuit we brought under the First Amendment ensured Constance could attend prom — as her true self.

In Delaware, Kai Short knew he was male from an early age, despite being assigned female at birth and given a traditionally female name. While incarcerated, the state barred him from legally changing his name, but he argued that the First Amendment protected his right to do so. Delaware ultimately changed the law, allowing Kai to be recognized as his authentic self.

If government can shut down one of those views, it can shut down all of them.

The First Amendment has also repeatedly ensured that advocates could organize and get their messages of protest out in support of the civil rights movement. The Supreme Court relied on the First Amendment when it ensured that the NAACP could disseminate its message through an economic boycott of racist businesses in Mississippi. And when Alabama tried to intimidate NAACP members — and effectively destroy the NAACP itself — by subpoenaing its membership records and exposing its members to retaliation by the state, the First Amendment shut it down.

The fight for women’s rights has also relied on free speech protections. When Virginia made it a crime to publish an ad stating, "Unwanted Pregnancy – Let Us Help You. Abortions are now legal in New York," it was the First Amendment that protected the right of the public to receive such information. And in litigation now ongoing, it is the First Amendment that enables us to challenge an Indiana law prohibiting abortion providers from telling teens seeking abortions without parental consent about their options in other states.

I could go on, but you get the point. In each of these cases, the Constitution's guarantee that we can speak our minds, regardless of what the government thinks about our views, has been crucial to our ability to be out about who we are and what we believe, to share our stories, and to build public support for our equality, dignity, and survival. Allowing government the leeway to "protect" others from our views silences us. And silence means an end to the progress we have been making across a wide range of issues, all over the country.

Some people may say that Mr. Yiannopoulos’ offensive speech sets him apart and doesn’t deserve to be defended. But the sad reality is that many people think that speech about sexuality, gender identity, or abortion is over the line as well. They’ll say that abortion is murder, civil rights advocates are criminals, or LGBT advocates are trying to recruit children into deviant and perverse lifestyles. If First Amendment protections are eroded at any level, it's not hard to imagine the government successfully pushing one or more of those arguments in court.

That means that we, as a country and a community, have to put up with a hefty dose of pain from people like Milo Yiannopoulos. But ask Constance McMillen, the NAACP, and women across the country if the First Amendment has advanced their equality. We think so, which is why we need to keep protecting it.

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Anonymous

I first joined ACLU after I learned about your defense of the marchers in Skokie. I was impressed when you defended the NJ Trump supporter who wanted to display a lawn sign. And I strongly support your decision to defend Mr. Yiannopulos, as much as I disagree with what he says. You are truly non-partisan, which strengthens your claim to being true civil libertarians.

Anonymous

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Anonymous

Milo H. Yiannopolous is a homosexual and he thinks it's OK for homosexuals to molest children. Milo Yiannapolous implied that he is OK with adults having sex with teenage boys because as Milo was sexually abused by a priest and this damaged his thinking, he calls it his first sexual encounter to justify in his mind that it’s consent and not sex abuse. This is unsurprising and Milo can’t be trusted.

You can be sure that Milo does not think that Harvey B. Milk should have been punished for committing homosexual statutory rape on a 16 year old boy in 1964. You can also be sure that Milo Yiannopolous would be against prosecuting Kaitlyn Ashley Hunt- 2013 Kaitlyn Ashley Hunt case in Florida, where a lesbian committed sex abuse on a teenage girl in a public bathroom and homosexual groups were against her being prosecuted for lesbian statutory rape-they even exploited children to rally for her carrying ‘stop the hate’ signs to protest prosecutor.

Before continuing, with homosexuality, if knowing and willing adults want to do this then it’s their life, though I think it should be treated the same way as tobacco use. I do not care about gay marriage. My side lost the information war on homosexuality especially when it became about gay/lesbian marriage topic and we are now losing information war on transexuality (they must abolish sex changes). I also want to say that I am not a religious person so please do not make it a religious discussion because I do not follow any faith.Though information war is lost,ugly facts and truths do not change.

Any conduct can be learned and this includes sexual conduct. There are homosexuals and lesbians who say that childhood sex abuse (especially those who are victims of a gay priest) are reasons why they think they do same sex behaviors in adulthood. Had they not been repeatedly molested, would they have turned out straight instead of gay or lesbian? It doesn’t take an expert to know that sex abuse in youth can mess up the mind and cause people to behave in ways they normally wouldn’t. Of course, not all who are sexually abused in youth become gay in adulthood-but the risk is higher.

A kid can become a mugger by living in high crime neighborhood, seeing muggings in childhood and learning this conduct. Yes, there are muggers who were not raised in high crime neighborhoods but still became muggers, but that does not rule out other causes. Many emphysema victims did not smoke and were not exposed to 2nd hand smoke and got emphysema due to bad genes but it would be dishonest to deny truth that if a person smokes, he or she is more likely to get emphysema.

Never have I heard straights blame childhood sex abuse for reasons a man has sex with a woman and fathers children with her. Yet sometimes have heard gays and lesbians say childhood sex abuse is reason they do same sex behaviors. Yes, it’s a proven fact that childhood sex abuse is a major cause of homosexual/lesbian conduct in adulthood. Anybody who denies the link is dishonest, delusional or both. I don’t deny possibility homosexuality could be genetic or inborn for some but that is unproven. Even if it’s true that homosexuality is inborn for some people, homosexual/lesbian conduct would still be bad for health.

If Milo Yiannopolous had not been sexually abused by a priest when he was 13, would he have turned out straight instead of gay? Possible he would have turned out straight but though won’t say definite. It’s not controversial to talk of nightmares, suicides, bed wetting often a result of sex abuse in youth. Yet when 1 talks gay/lesbian behaviors in adulthood because they learned this sexual behavior by being repeatedly molested, then gay groups with politically safe psychologists complain. The politically correct psychologists who deny this know it’s possible for a boy to turn out gay as a result of childhood sex abuse, yet deny what they know is true. Of course, not all who are sexually abused in youth become gay in adulthood-but the risk is higher.

While most gays and lesbians do not commit pedophilia, I have found that homosexual groups are more likely to tolerate pedophilia when it’s homosexual/lesbian. The fact that Milo would make jokes about his sex abuse by the gay priest makes me think that and his comments do not shock me because have heard this so many times before. Earlier in the post, I mentioned the 2013 Kaitlyn Ashley Hunt case and homosexual icon Harvey Bernard Milk (1930-1978). It’s homosexual groups who often push for lowering consent age laws-many places have lowered consent age laws to 16 and some have even lowered this to 13.

I have found that homosexual and lesbian groups will often say that they are against pedophilia, but then they make excuses for Harvey B. Milk committing homosexual statutory rape on a 16 year old boy in 1964 and push for trying to lower consent age laws. But there are other observations I have made.

From the times I have known gays, gays like teenagers (usually 18 or 19 -barely legal) to men in early 20s. Once a man hairline recedes (while it varies this often is noticeable when a man is in early to late 20s), most gays find him too old because the youth is gone. And just because a gay is in a long term relationship such as 20 years, that usually is not their only relationship. They often bring teenage boys to their home. Of course they won’t usually admit this to avoid arrest going to jail and why they are secretive.

It’s truth that gays like men who are boyish looking-those who still have a full head of hair and acne-there are many gays who have interest in 16 year old teenagers-such as Milk and Liberace. Once the acne clears, a man’s hairline recedes, full grown beard and so on such as in mid 20s, gays begin to lose interest because he looks too old.

Anyhow, those are my thoughts and if you want to reply, then please do so. I know that there are people who will be offended by what I have said here and will call me names such as the milder 1 of call me a Christian fanatic (though again I’m not Christian and not religious) to call me an ignorant idiot. You can call me ignorant,idiot, etc., but there’s nothing any1 can say to change my mind on this.

Christian Schmemann

I disagree for this reason: Fascists like Milo Yiannopoulos only use their freedoms to take freedom away from everybody else. Fascists have to be denied their rights in order to defend the rights of others. Our Republic has demonstrated (even before the white trash Nazi piece of sewer scum Donald Trump was appointed President by the Electoral College) that it is either unable or (more probably) unwilling to stand up to Fascism and Fascists using their freedoms to take freedoms away from others. Therefore, the only way we have left to defend our freedoms from Fascists is to start taking Fascists' freedoms away from them.

Murray

Lol, that's some nice satire. Oh wait, you're serious, let me laugh harder. Regardless of how people "feel", when you get noisy, perverted minorities, that's where I draw the line.

You can do what you like with your body but keep it to yourself pal. When you expect normal people to start making allowances for minorities, you're going to run into opposition. Don't mistake people tolerating things as being willing to put up with them forever and you can keep your arguments to yourself too. People's families and the security and future of the nation is more important than the weirdos will ever be.

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