Crystal sour voxWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
There is no statute of limitations on the penalties for making racist, sexist, homophobic or other ignorant comments.
The biographies of Howard Cosell, Michael Richards and Mel Gibson cannot be told without the inclusion of their career- and life-altering words regarding race. Those comments may run the gamut from Cosell’s “what was he thinking?” moment to Gibson’s spewing of heated and violent invectives, but their impact is rightfully devastating, with a long and radioactive half-life.
It looks like Crystal Dixon’s anti-gay beliefs are going to follow her for the rest of her career, and I have mixed feelings about that. I absolutely condemn her homophobic comments and feel no guilt that she is unable to separate herself from them, but I will always have compunctions about Toledo Free Press being the vehicle that delivered her to Waterloo.
Dixon is in the news across Michigan and the Midwest after being hired in Jackson, Mich. Jackson County and city are merging human resources departments; Dixon was hired to serve as director of the combined department. It did not take long for the media and public to discover her Toledo Free Press controversy, although it appears that the government officials who hired her missed it.
Or chose to ignore it.
The back story
Almost exactly three years ago, I published a column, “Gay rights and wrongs,” that discussed some post-Medical University of Ohio merger discrepancies in domestic partner benefits at the University of Toledo. As is my habit, I framed the argument with comments of my personal beliefs, to make my perspective and biases clear.
“As a middle-aged, overweight white guy with graying facial hair, I am America’s ruling demographic, so the gay rights struggle is something I experience secondhand, like my black friends’ struggles and my wheelchair-bound friend’s struggles,” I wrote.
My clear point was that discrimination is as alien to me as the power of flight; I can relate to being hated for a lot of things, but skin color, sexuality and physical handicap are not among them. In no way did I equate race, sexuality and physical challenges; there is no spectrum that can contain all those variations, is there? Other than “human”?
That section caught Dixon’s eye, but apparently not her senses, for she misinterpreted the comments and sent in a letter, “Gay rights and wrongs: another perspective.”
She identified herself by email as “Associate Vice President for Human Resources, University of Toledo and Elder/Minister, End Time Christian Fellowship, Toledo.”
“I take great umbrage at the notion that those choosing the homosexual lifestyle are ‘civil rights victims’,” she wrote. “Here’s why. I cannot wake up tomorrow and not be a Black woman. I am genetically and biologically a Black woman and very pleased to be so as my Creator intended. Daily, thousands of homosexuals make a life decision to leave the gay lifestyle. …
“God created humans with an inalienable right to choose. There are consequences for our choices, including those who violate God’s divine order.”
It was by no means shocking to know some people feel that way. It was shocking to know that a human resources professional felt that way, especially one who worked with young people in an academic setting.
Soon after the publication of Dixon’s letter, UT President Lloyd Jacobs sent a statement to Toledo Free Press that said, “[Dixon’s] comments do not accord with the values of the University of Toledo. It is necessary, therefore, for me to repudiate much of her writing and to make this attempt to clarify our values system.”
The letters that came into our office were not all anti-Dixon, but the ones with proper spelling and attribution were. Most of them called for Dixon’s firing. One of the more eloquent efforts, written by Ryan Bunch, read, “For [Dixon] — a black woman — to suggest it is OK to practice bigotry against gays and lesbians (or anyone for that matter) because they choose to be so is outrageous and intolerable! … The University of Toledo, if it truly sees itself as an enlightening institution and a local leader in 21st century morale, ethics and intelligence, should move to expel people like Ms. Dixon from its roster. …”
And, of course, UT did. And, of course, Dixon sued.
While I rejected what Dixon wrote, I defended her right to say it. A letter to the editor expressing an opinion shouldn’t cost your job, although Dixon’s specific duties were certainly compromised by the public airing of her anti-gay prejudices.
Now, three years later, Jackson has stirred up the hornet’s nest by hiring Dixon; the story of her comments, firing and hiring have been dug up and repeated and the local media has received scores of comments and letters.
Dixon, especially in the Internet age, is not going to be able to escape the letter to the editor that forever changed her life. I have no problem with that consequence, and since Dixon has never wavered in her stance, she hasn’t earned the benefit of a second chance.
The officials responsible for hiring Dixon deserve to be questioned for their choice.
The moral of Dixon’s story is that free speech isn’t free, and that while we are all free to speak our minds, we must be prepared to forever live with the ramifications.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at email@example.com.